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The latest news on Startups from Business Insider

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    Brian Chesky

    When Airbnb's founders were just getting started, they had no way to fund their short-term apartment rental business. They maxed out a binder full of credit cards and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in charges.

    When they ran out of credit cards, the founders needed a new idea. It was during the McCain-Obama election, so they decided to turn boxes of Cheerios and Captain Crunch into political schwag. CEO Brian Chesky recalls contacting a print shop who shipped him 1,000 cardboard boxes labeled "Obama O's" and "Captain McCain."

    With a hot glue gun, Chesky and his cofounders built the boxes and stuffed them with cereal. "It was like origami in my apartment," he told the crowd at South by Southwest.

    Chesky and his co-founders were able to land themselves on a national TV show and they sold out of the cereal, which offset some of the cost of their apartment rental company, Airbnb.

    Later, Chesky and his co-founders pitched Paul Graham to get into his Silicon Valley startup accelerator program, Y Combinator.

    Chesky says the interview didn't go well, but in a last-ditch effort, his co-founder whipped out a box of Obama O's and handed it to Graham.

    Graham asked, "What's this?"

    They explained how they were funding their startup. Graham was impressed. That was in 2008, right after the financial market crashed. Graham told Chesky and his team that he was looking for startups that wouldn't die during the nuclear winter.

    "He was basically looking for cockroaches [to let into his accelerator program]," Chesky recalled. "He said we were cockroaches and that's why he funded us."

    Airbnb grew quickly after Y Combinator. Now investors have given it $120 million and say the company is worth multiple billions.

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    TinderSouth by Southwest is an annual technology, film, and music conference in Austin, Texas. It's in full swing right now; tens of thousands of investors, entrepreneurs, writers, and early adopters have flown south to catch a glimpse of the Next Big Thing.

    In previous years, Foursquare, Twitter, and Skype-owned GroupMe broke out during the conference. Each gave conference goers a better way to communicate and find friends during their time in Austin.

    This year, the break out app seems to be Tinder, and it was already up-and-coming before the conference.

    No one is using it in Austin, but everyone is talking about the Hot-or-Not dating app, from Ashton Kutcher to Path's Dave Morin.

    We've even heard extremely bullish investors describe it as "the next Facebook."

    Others think Tinder is a fleeting fad, like Chat Roulette was, but they're still fascinated by it. A group of investors we ate with Saturday talked about it over dinner. All admitted to using it and loving it.

    What's amazing is that Tinder hasn't had a physical presence at South by Southwest at all. Its co-founder is speaking Tuesday at one of the smaller conference venues, but the startup hasn't thrown any outrageous parties or done anything to attract attention.

    Tinder is a simple dating app that anonymously finds out who thinks you're attractive nearby. If you happen to think the other person is good looking too, it offers an intro. If not, the person never knows you weren't a fan. Before we left for South by Southwest a venture capital warned us: "Tinder is one of the most sought after deals right now."

    It seems like that person was right. Profiles have been rated more than 1.5 billion times on the app.

    We polled a few other people to see what startups were getting a lot of use at South by Southwest. Investor David Tisch told us about one of his portfolio companies, Splash. Splash has been used by companies instead of Eventbrite to throw parties and track RSVPs in Austin. Instead of just collecting ticket sales, Splash allows you to make an entire event website quickly.  

    Others are using old South by Southwest favorites GroupMe, Foursquare, and Highlight.

    Now read: Tinder, The Judgmental And Addictive Dating App That's Sweeping College Campuses

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    At an annual tech conference in Austin, Texas that attracts over 40,000 early adopters, startups are desperate to make their mark.

    South by Southwest is the place where companies like Twitter, Foursquare, and Skype-owned GroupMe have picked up their first users.

    This year, one of the many startups that's invaded Texas is Lyft, a Silicon Valley startup that offers rides to people in cars that have ginormous pink mustaches pasted to the front.

    Lyft has raised more than $7 million from investors such as Mayfield, K9 Ventures and Forerunner Ventures, and it operates in two cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles. It's a ride-sharing service and its founders say they're giving thousands of people a "lyft" per week. Tens of thousands of people use the app, which launched last June.

    Lyft competes with other ride-sharing platforms such as Getaround and Uber. But unlike either of those, users aren't required to pay drivers. They just give a suggested donation amount. And while Lyft sounds a lot like hitchhiking, the founders say they've found a way to run their company legally.

    Below, the founders explain what their startup is, and how they're promoting their company at South by Southwest. Their goal was to "keep Austin weird," so instead of picking conference goers up in cars, they've hired people to give people rides on piggyback.

    Here's their demonstration, below.

    *An earlier version of this post said the company had raised $1 million. It has raised over $7 million.

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    Mike McGlade is experiencing his first South by Southwest, an annual technology, film and music conference in Austin, Texas that attracts more than 120,000 people during one week in March.

    Unlike a lot of other companies, that spent lots of money renting out bars, giving out free food, and running quirky promotions to stand out, McGlade decided to keep it low key. He is the only person here from his Los Angeles-based startup, FastPay. He's staying in a Motel 6, and he didn't buy a badge for the conference.

    Instead, McGlade came to network. His days consist of going to the gym, meeting friends, and attending other startups' parties.

    It seems insane to fly five hours for a few days of networking with people he already sees in Los Angeles, but McGlade thinks SXSW is worth it. He actually thinks it's a waste of time and energy to try and make a name for yourself at a place with so much noise; the conference has simply gotten too big to be a great launch pad any more.

    Here's what it's like to be a startup at South by Southwest, and why it's the conference tech people can't seem to skip.

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    On January 1, Mike McGlade made a tough decision.

    He quit Facebook.

    What started as an experiment has turned into a better way of life for the startup CRO. McGlade says he experienced "withdrawal" during the first few weeks. After that, he filled his new-found free time with phone conversations and meetings.

    All in, he says it's a "net-positive."

    Here's what it's like to quit Facebook cold turkey.

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    poverty in silicon valley

    Silicon Valley has more jobs than it did at the height of the dot-com boom.

    But despite its seemingly healthy economy, poverty is on the rise, Martha Mendoza of The Associated Press reports.

    The number of people on food stamps recently hit a 10-year high and homelessness went up 20% in two years, according to the annual Silicon Valley Index

    "In the midst of a national economic recovery led by Silicon Valley's resurgence, as measured by corporate profits and record stock prices, something strange is going on in the Valley itself," Cindy Chavez, executive director of Working Partnerships USA, told the AP. "Most people are getting poorer."

    But why?

    It's mostly due to the cost of living in Silicon Valley.

    The median price for a home is $550,000, while rent is, on average, a little under $2,000 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. And a family of four in Silicon Valley needs about $90,000 a year in order to cover rent, food, transportation, and childcare, according to the nonprofit Insight Center for Community Economic Development.

    The average income for Hispanics, who make up one in four residents in Silicon Valley, fell to an all-time low of $19,000 a year, according to the annual Silicon Valley Index. In the meantime, Silicon Valley's wealthiest are worth billions of dollars.

    "The fact is that we have an economy now that's working well only for those at the very top," Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel told the AP. "Unless we adopt a new approach to economic policy, we're going to continue going down this path, which means growth that does not really benefit the great majority of people in this country."

    SEE ALSO: The Dot-Com Boom Is Back In Silicon Valley

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    zombiesNo entrepreneur ever wants to admit failure.

    But there is a worse fate: running a startup that's become a zombie.

    Referly cofounder and CEO Danielle Morrillwrites on her blog that she decided to change the course of her company after realizing it had become an undead startup

    Referly was designed to help anyone earn money for driving product purchases. People would get paid to write articles and include product links in the content. But Referly's most important metric, revenue, wasn't growing at a promising rate, Morrill says. It effectively started to fall into the zombie trap.

    She compares the idea of a zombie startup to the movie "The Sixth Sense." 

    "Kind of like in the 6th Sense when Bruce Willis doesn’t realize he is dead and tries to have a nice dinner with his wife, there are startups out there who are still “operating” but might as well not be," Morrill writes.

    It's only been six months since Referly debuted at Y Combinator's spring 2012 demo day, but Morrill is willing to admit that it died. 

    "It's not the kind of dead where the website goes dark and everyone gets jobs elsewhere," Morrill writes. "But the idea that we started with turned out to be the wrong one, so we killed it and yesterday I acknowledged publicly to ourselves and everyone else that we have to change our course." 

    After going through this experience herself, Morrill left some tips for entrepreneurs to help them determine if their startup is turning into a zombie.

    Here are few hints, in Morrill's words:

    • You don't want to get out of bed in the morning.
    • You haven't hit 10% week-over-week growth on any meaningful metric (revenue, active users, etc).
    • You're working on the same idea after 12+ months and still haven't launched.
    • You've hired consultants to figure out revenue, culture, or product in a company of less than 10 people.
    • You've launched a consumer service and have less than 2% week-over-week growth in signups

    SEE ALSO: Silicon Valley Poverty Is Getting Much Worse Amidst Insane New Tech Wealth Boom

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    It is easy to write off Grindr — a location-based dating application for gay men — as a hookup application because, well, that is what it is.

    But the company, which is approaching its fourth anniversary, has amassed more than five million users who spend on average 90 minutes each day using the application. Billions of messages fly across the service every year, and 76 percent of the company’s revenue comes from money generated by Grindr users who fork over cash for the service’s premium features.

    Click here to read more >

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    Peter Arvai Prezi

    Prezi is quickly becoming the de facto alternative to a boring PowerPoint presentation.

    In the past 10 months, the company has doubled its user base, from 10 million to 20 million users, gaining 1 million new users a month.

    It's likely to get even more popular because the online presentation site recently added support for sound.

    Prezi launched in 2009 and soon won over TED, the nonprofit behind the conference series and TED Talks video lectures, as an investor. The TED folks thought that Prezi was going to pitch them as a customer, but gutsy cofounder and CEO Peter Arvai used a Prezi to ask for an investment. It worked and TED organizer Chris Anderson agreed to invest an undisclosed sum. Since then, Prezi has raised a total of $14 million from venture capitalists such as Accel Partners.

    TED speakers are obviously encouraged to use Prezi. But TED and Prezi last month launched a worldwide contest asking people to submit their own Prezi based on a TED Talk that inspired them. The winner would get his or her presentation showcased on the TED blog.

    Last week, Hedwyg Van Groenendaal of the Netherlands won for her Prezi based on Bryan Stevenson’s 2012 TED Talk “We need to talk about an injustice."

    Here is the winning example of a Prezi using sound. It's definitely thought provoking.

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    girl lying down sad

    It's relatively common for startups fail. 

    In fact, three out of every four venture-backed startups fail, according to a recent report by The National Venture Capital Association.

    But that reality doesn't make it any easier on entrepreneurs, who likely poured their heart and soul into a product, to watch their company fail.

    "It feels as if you have just lost your child," self-proclaimed "failed entrepreneur"Harsh Snehanshu writes on Quora. "You try to look back at it, and can't restrain from feeling sad about it, about the amount of passion you have invested that didn't bear fruits, about the grand dreams that were trampled in a snap of a moment, about the convincing promises you made to your parents which didn't keep true. It's depressing, to say the least."

    But at the same time, Snehanshu writes, it feels powerful. That's because moving on from a failed product can be liberating, as you can focus your energy toward something new. 

    After his startup shut down, he traveled for a bit, explored other entrepreneurial ideas, and even wrote a book about his failure.

    His biggest takeaway: "an entrepreneur might fail, the the entrepreneur in him never dies."

    Head on over to Quora to read more first-hand accounts of what it feels like to run a startup that fails.

    SEE ALSO: Startup CEO: It's Time For Me To Admit That My Startup Is A Zombie

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    Automatic is the latest startup to garner loads of attention. CNBC's Jon Fortt even tweeted that it's the "biggest idea [he's] seen since the iPhone."

    Here's what the company's all about.

    For $69.95, you can pre-order the device pictured to the right. It plugs into your car's data port (click here to see if your car is supported), and feeds data about your driving to a companion iPhone app.

    The app monitors your driving habits and makes suggestions on how to get better mileage and improved performance out of your car. Automatic claims that "you can save up to a third on gas with only a few adjustments to how you drive."

    When you accelerate quickly, for example, Automatic will give you a subtle audio cue to let you know that there's a better way to drive.

    And you know that pesky "Check Engine" light that you've been ignoring in order to save a trip to the mechanic? Automatic will be able to tell you the exact problem, and it might even be something you can fix on your own.

    And hopefully you never need this last feature, but if you're in a crash, Automatic will alert 911 with your location.

    So for those of us who want to soup up our driving experience without springing for a self-driving car from Google, Automatic seems like an excellent choice. Watch the company's demo video below for more.

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    steve mullholand of sole collector

    A little over a decade ago, Sole Collector founder and General Manager Steve Mullholand tapped into the sneakerhead culture.

    And boy, was it a smart move. 

    That's because Complex Media, a network of digital publications geared toward men, just acquired Sole Collector for an undisclosed amount to further grow the business.  

    Sole Collector is a one-stop shop for sneakerheads to stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest sneakers. Sole Collector provides original sneaker-related content in the form of a quarterly magazine, website, and iPad app. Its website also has a forum for its users to discuss and review sneakers, as well as a marketplace to facilitate the buying and selling of sneakers. 

    But what exactly is a sneakerhead?

    Sneakerheads are people who actively collect athletic shoes, and are incredibly passionate about sneaker culture. They typically go out of their way to track down exclusive, rare styles of sneakers from brands like Nike and Adidas.

    On Mullholand's passion for sneakers

    When Mullholand was in middle school, he tells Business Insider, almost everyone wanted to have a cool pair of sneakers.

    That's probably why Mullholand distinctly remembers when his mom bought him a pair of leather, high-top Converse sneakers. He wore them to his physical education class and gave them all kinds of performance reviews, from traction to style, but didn't really have anyone to tell other than his mom, Mulholland says.

    "Pretty much all kids, they want to be outgoing in sports, they want to look good," Mullholand says. "Even back when I was a kid. But now, if you go to New York City, which is the epicenter of sneaker culture, if you are wearing an amazing pair of shoes, you will have strangers come up to you and just say, 'Wow, those are an amazing pair of shoes' and you'll give the nod of 'Oh, I know these are nice.'"

    Today, Mullholand has at least 1,000 pairs of sneakers — 200 of them that are "really nice," he says. 

    How Mullholland turned his passion into a business

    Before launching Sole Collector in 2003, Mullholand founded In Style Shoes. While traveling in Japan on business for In Style, he was blown away by some sneaker magazines there.

    "I couldn't read one word of them," Mullholand says. "They could've been saying crazy bad stuff about (the sneakers), but the pictures looked cool. So I brought this magazine back, I took some photos of it, and put it up on our forum. I asked if people would want it. Everyone said they'd love to have something like that."

    sole collector websiteEnter Sole Collector.

    "Our main goal was to create a luxury experience for the readers and the people that visited the website," Mullholand says. "We made sure we had the highest quality papers, the best cameras, and the best sneaker writers. [...] It's a higher-end experience than I think a lot of people would expect."

    Sole Collector started off as an online forum with a few hundred users, which has since grown to nearly 400,000 today. Shortly after launching the forum, Sole Collector integrated a blog featuring original sneaker content. 

    "There are literally posts on our website that have over 1,000 comments," Mullholand says. "And that's pretty rare on the Internet. You don't see a thousand people talking about a single subject."

    Today, the site brings in 4.4 million unique visitors a month, and has the world's largest sneaker forum with more than 385,000 members. It's also the largest marketplace for sneakers, other than eBay, Mullholand says. At any given time, there are more than 15,000 pairs of sneakers on the site that you can buy from sneakerheads.

    As of right now, all of the transactions happen offline, so Sole Collector doesn't get to reap all of the benefits. 

    But it seems that will be changing. 

    What the acquisition means for the future of Sole Collector

    Complex Media will be looking for ways to let Sole Collector get credit for the commerce it drives. 

    "We will be, not just experimenting, but getting into ecommerce come the second half of the year," Complex Media CEO Rich Antoniello tells Business Insider. "So this is an acquisition that checks every box for us. This really works on a lot of levels.”

    Sole Collector will continue to operate as its own entity. Mullholand will keep his title of GM and his team of 10 people will continue to work on Sole Collector. The main difference will be cross-pollinated and co-branded content, Antoniello says.

    For example, Complex and Sole Collector could do something like a joint list of the best 50 Jordans of all-time.

    "We’re not just going to suck their content and duplicate it on Complex, Antoniello says. "That is not our model."

    The ultimate goal is to double, or even triple Sole Collector's monthly unique visitors and page views by applying Complex Media's process of content development, in addition to content amplification to Sole Collector. 

    Why Mullholland is selling his "baby"

    “Here’s the thing. When I started this company, my mom said you have to put your employees first," Mullholand says. 

    Mullholand's mother owns her own tech company that he says is substantially bigger than Sole Collector. That's why when she gives advice, Mullholand listens. 

    "So one of the things was, I made sure no employee ever missed a paycheck," Mullholand says. "I made sure that they were taken care of. I made sure that they had the right equipment. Even during the (economic) downturn, we didn’t lay anybody off. Everybody was able to still pay their bills. But when the downturn happened, money became very very very tight for a small company like mine."

    At that time, Mullholand says it was difficult to attain any amount of credit or bank loans. He also didn't want to give up full ownership and potentially shake up the company's culture in doing so.

    Since 2006, the company has relied solely on its cash flow, Mullholand says. But now it's at the point where it needs a helping hand to further grow the business.  

    "I felt like we had the premium experience," Mullholand says. "We had the body of a Ferrari. I mean, it was high-end leather, the outside of the body just looked sick, but we didn't have the Ferrari engine. And that's what Complex gives us. They have the power, the resources, and the means to exponentially grow Sole Collector, and I couldn't do that by myself."

    SEE ALSO: How One 'Epic Failure' Led To A Massive Hit In The App Store

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    Alex Kipman Microsoft

    By its very nature, the tech industry is full of creative people working on amazing new things.

    Even so there are some people that stand out above and beyond.

    These are the people who change the game. They create mind-blowing technology and startups that alter the industry.

    Sometimes they do this over-and-over again.

    Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design, Apple

    Jony Ive is the star designer responsible for many of Apple's biggest, most important products including the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad and iPad Mini.

    Word is, he's in charge of Apple's rumored upcoming iWatch, too.

    Gabe Newell, cofounder, Valve

    Don't call billionaire Gabe Newell the boss of Valve Software, the uber-successful gaming company he cofounded in 1996.

    The company says it has "no bosses, no middle management, no bureaucracy. Just highly motivated peers coming together to make cool stuff."

    But Gabe is clearly Valve's creative heart and soul. Valve became famous for its video games (like Half-Life and Portal). Then Newell launched Steam, an online social gaming site that serves nearly 2,000 titles to over 50 million gamers.

    Valve’s Source engine is also a wildly popular game development tool.

    Julie Uhrman, founder, CEO Ouya

    Julie Uhrman has been a game industry exec for a long time, at Vivendi Universal, IGN, GameFly, and other places. 

    Ouya is a new Android-based video game console running its own version of the Android operating system that Uhrman dreamed up last year, designd by legend Yves Behar.

    She put Ouya on Kickstarter to gage interest and the project went crazy, raising $8.6 million from more than 63,000 people. It's due out in June.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    GroupMe sxsw 2013 startup t-shirt Caitlyn brew PR

    Startups are known for their T-shirts.

    Which ones rocked the best designs at the ultimate startup conference, South by Southwest?

    We collected our favorites from all over Austin. GroupMe takes the cake.

    Dropbox offered its iconic shirts in multiple colors.

    Grand Street, a New York-based startup that sells a few awesome gadgets per week, repped its brand with this shirt and hat.

    Fox promoted its show New Girl with a quote from one of its characters: "Can't we just take a moment to celebrate me?" Although, seeing as SXSW is a tech conference, it'd be funnier if Eric Schmidt had said it.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    Pearl Malkin Happy Canes Kickstarter

    Pearl Malkin just proved it's never too late to start a business.

    The 89-year-old woman has raised $3,606 from 154 backers to fund a new line of walking canes on Kickstarter.

    Her project, Happy Canes, decorates the sticks with flowers Malkin hand glues herself. She came up with the idea when she had vertigo and needed a cane. She went to the store and set out to make it prettier. "I thought it was a nice hobby for me," she tells CNN.

    Her grandson helped her set up a Kickstarter page. This week she met her goal.

    "I want to be an example to young and old people that age shouldn't be a barrier for what you want to do in life," she said.

    Malkin will use the money to buy a wire cutter (the scissors she's been using hurt her fingers) and she'll step up the quality of the flowers she uses to decorate canes.

    "I may live to be 100 and I want to stay busy," Malkin tells CNN.

    Here's the video from CNN.

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    Jamplify Andy Pickets

    Andy Pickens and Moses Soyoola were coworkers at Goldman Sachs, but they wanted to start their own business.

    The pair left finance to launch Jamplify last July, a service that creates social campaigns for brands and turns their fans into effective advertisers.

    Unlike some of its competitors, Jamplify isn't strictly a Twitter or Facebook social media play. Jamplify gives each fan a unique url to promote a favorite artist, business or initiative. The fans can then share that link in blogs, on message boards, on Facebook, YouTube and more. Those who drive the most referrers over the course of two to three weeks win tiered prizes.

    One campaign for Jasmine Villegas, a 15-year-old pop star who went on tour with Justin Bieber, drove 190,000 people to her YouTube video. The 190,000 people were referred by just 670 fans. That's about 280 people per fan, which is higher than Jamplify's usual referral rate. Pickens tell us the average fan drives 50 people during the "Jampaigns." Jampaigns are the company's word for the social media campaigns it runs.

    Pickens says his company has pilots going with some of the top record labels and so far, his team has worked with about 150 brands. In addition, he and Soyoola have raised $600,000 from more than a dozen investors. The round closed three weeks ago, and it consists largely of angel investors in New York City and Nashville where Jamplify participated in a startup accelerator program.

    There are a lot of startups trying to reward fans for their word of mouth (and typing) efforts, such as CrowdTwist and Plyfe. Pickens says Jamplify is different because it isn't costly for a brand to run a campaign; they are a SaaS solution. And a Jampaign can be turned around quickly. If a label only has two days to promote a new music video, for example, Jamplify can work in that time frame.

    Jamplify doesn't really care how engaged a single user is. Instead, Pickens says he cares about how many people fans refer. Pickens thinks it's an advantage to have fans focus on just one thing: spreading the unique urls.

    "For competitors, the referral link is just one of the levers that a promoter can pull," he says. "When the link isn't the only mechanism, people aren't so intent on driving referrals."

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    When I made plans to attend my first SXSW conference, friends told me it wasn’t for technology people anymore. “SXSW is only for marketing and PR now,” they said. Is this true? I needed to find out for myself, and I heard there would be fun and free food, so I headed to Austin.

    On Saturday SXSW hosted The Lean Startup @ SXSW Interactive, a sub-conference that featured engineers and executives from startups such as Etsy, Meebo, and Uber. I was excited to see some of the talks because the agenda sounded diverse and interesting, but the 10-15 minute presentations were too short to have any serious depth. I enjoyed myself and I learned a few things, but it wasn’t up to the standards of a serious technology conference.

    I headed to the huge exhibit room on Sunday. There seemed to be some wheat among the chaff but the crowds made it frustrating to navigate. I found myself hiding out in the Meetup pavilion to network with some other media technology people I already knew.

    So the talks were underwhelming, and the exhibits were crowded and mediocre. Was this a mistake? Should I not have come to SXSW? Luckily, SXSW has one thing going for it that trumps all those drawbacks.

    The best thing about SXSW is being surrounded by some of the most creative people in technology, who are all their doing their best to pretend to be extroverts for that one week a year. Since everyone is there to mingle, there isn't the time pressure to have an agenda that exists outside of the SXSW bubble. Conversations can get deep and interesting when no one is in a rush and there's always another party around the next corner. It’s a place you don’t necessarily mind waiting on a moderately long line, because some of those conversations are the most random and memorable. You might meet a kid with a neat app idea, learn about a product that helps you professionally, or just hear a great story about something that happened at a party the night before.

    Are there a lot of marketing people? Yes. Do salespeople try to sell you on their companies’ products? Yes. They aren’t there in overwhelming numbers though, so you still feel like the average person you might meet is probably going to be interesting in some way. You can’t get that anywhere else: the mix of entrepreneurship, creativity, and smarts in everyone you meet makes SXSW such a great time. 

    The panels and exhibits are compelling but the people are what make SXSW. Having a badge is a plus but wouldn’t be a requirement, as the parties are where the people are and those generally don’t require badges as long as you RSVP in advance.

    I’m sure “it used to be better” and longtime attendees might think it has jumped the shark. Someday maybe the marketers and salespeople will tip it into irrelevance but my experience in 2013 was that it’s not there yet. I definitely plan to attend again next year, and if you do too maybe we’ll run into each other standing on line for tacos.

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    Formspring, a once-buzzy site that counted more than 28 million users for its ask-me-a-question service, was the Snapchat of its day—an Internet service popular with teens and misunderstood by adults, and well-funded by eager venture capitalists.

    Now, four years and $14 million later, CEO Ade Olonoh announced that the company is shuttering its doors at the end of March, writing that Formspring wasn't able to "sustain the resources" to keep going.

    Formspring had an incredibly rapid rise, hitting a million users in its first 45 days and growing to 32 employees. It faced a wave of controversy as teens exploited the anonymity of its question-asking service to bully others.

    But it never established a clear method of making money, and traffic hit a plateau last summer.

    It's the rare obvious, public failure of a once-buzzy consumer-Web startup. Most die far more quietly—and many will meet Formspring's fate as they fail to raise more venture-capital financing.

    Here's a video of Olonoh talking about Formspring in early 2012:

    SEE ALSO: And Now We're At The Point Where Startups Are Running Out Of Cash

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    nate silver

    The world is constantly reporting on itself, whether it's through SEC filings, blog posts, or Twitter. 

    Nate Silver already has a grasp on this by using big data, but what about everyone else?

    That's why Recorded Future is such a genius idea. It captures all of that data and compiles it in a timeline to give its clients a peek into the future. 

    With speculation about Foxconn phasing out its Chinese workforce, Recorded Future is tracking everything from rumored reports of Foxconn opening factories in the U.S. to news of a hiring freeze in China.

    Recorded Future will look for signals like covert behavior, words and phrases like "frankly" and "as you know" that imply someone is about to lie, specific dates, or unusual behavior from a company.

    It's important to note that Recorded Future itself does not predict the future, but gives its clients  the necessary information to dive into deep analysis.

    Recorded Future VP of Product Matt Kodama says it's quite fascinating if you look at product releases. There are tons of people involved in the development of a product, with some people responsible for building parts, while others are in charge of things like marketing and distribution. 

    “As that gets closer to the end, there are lots of people who know what’s up," Kodama says. "So somebody is going to leak the information about the release date, but very early on, it’s all hush hush. If you look at the speculation of just regular people, you know, 'wisdom of the crowd,' about when some of these consumer products are going to launch, it’s actually pretty accurate."

    Sometimes that information surfaces a few weeks out. But other times, it's months out, Kodama says. 

    If you're an executive at Samsung, for example, you would want to know when Apple plans to release its next iPhone so that you don't end up launching a phone at the same time.

    But Recorded Future also covers geopolitical events. In preparation for the Kenyan election, Recorded Future created an event feed to help its clients identify any potential indications of violence. 

    "Tons of governments around the world were interested in the Kenyan elections because the past ones have been so violent," Kodama says.

    Kodama couldn't provide exact numbers, but said that there were definitely governments using Recorded Future as a resource. 

    Using the feed, government officials could view the feed in a timeline view to see the sequence of events. Or, they could look at the map to quickly identify which parts of Kenya are generating the most election-related information. 

    "That’s our innovation, looking at that text and sorting out what people mean when they talk about time," Kodama says. "The reason that’s important is because analysts are trying to understand sequences of events, causation, and predict the future. They can see that information organized by time and start making guesses about what’s going to happen next."

    Recorded Future has raised a total of $20 million from a slew of high-profile investors like Google Ventures, Atlas Venture, IA Ventures, and the venture arm of the CIA, In-Q-Tel.

    SEE ALSO: Roadmap To The Future

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