A few years ago, Arram Sabeti was working for the startup Justin.tv, where one of his daily duties was ordering lunch. The company was hiring at the time, and went from nine people to thirty.
Looking back on that experience now, he recalls that dealing with everyone’s food preferences (from the carnivores to vegetarians to vegans) became “the biggest pain, the most draining thing I’d ever had to do.”
It may come as a surprise, therefore, to find out that today Sabeti is doing pretty much the same work, albeit on a far larger scale.
He’s running his own startup, ZeroCater, which arranges for some 14,000 meals a month to be delivered from 80 leading local restaurants to companies all over the Bay Area.
But the difference between how he did had to do this work back then and how his company does it now says a lot about how technology can turn formerly painful tasks into profitable new businesses.
And, it also helps explain why consumer-oriented startups are disrupting virtually every aspect of our lives here in the Bay Area and beyond.
Aaron Stanton is a book browser – he loves to hang out in libraries and bookstores.
At least since 2003, while still a student at the University of Idaho, he has been dreaming of a way to improve the book-browsing experience with the help of technology.
Over the past eight years, he organized a “book genome project,” dedicated to “breaking books down into their constituent elements on a large scale,” which in turn led him to form a company, BookLamp, which is debuting today.
By any measure, Dropbox, the startup that lets you easily sync files between your computers, phones and tablets, is one of the hottest young companies in San Francisco.
It's well funded, and reportedly about to get a massive new infusion of cash that would translate into a $5 billion valuation.
It's getting ready to move its 65 employees from a cozy office in the old Phelan Building on Market Street to a new 85,000 square-foot headquarters near the baseball stadium, in what Mayor Ed Lee says is the second largest (behind Twitter's) new tech-sector lease in San Francisco so far this year.
And co-founder and CEO Drew Houston told 7x7 that he hopes to hire enough engineers and designers and others to grow the company to over 400 employees over the next few years.
When Jessica Scorpio uses the word “overpopulation," chances are she's talking about cars, not people.
“There are a billion cars on the planet today, and if we don’t do something, in 20 years there will be two billion,” says the Getaround co-founder. “And at any minute, 92 percent of those cars are sitting empty – only 8 percent are being used.”
Getaround is a company on a mission to change all that. Like Airbnb, Zaarly, and other peer-to-peer (p2p) marketplaces, Getaround is an example of how collaborative consumption can have a transformative effect on the way we live our lives and share our resources with one another.
Right now, Zaarly co-founder Bo Fishback is living that part of the dream every entrepreneur hopes for, having launched a company that – at least in its infancy – is rising like a rocket.
Zaarly is a buyer-led marketplace, sort of a reverse eBay or Craigslist, and a hand-held replacement for those anemic "Wanted" sections in the classifieds.
It launched just seven weeks ago and it works like this:
Once upon a New Year's Eve, after StumbleUpon founder and CEO Garrett Camp dropped $800 on three cab rides, he decided there had to be a better way to get a ride when you really needed one.
He started Uber, a marketplace that connects you via an iPhone or android app with your own private driver. That may sound simple enough but take a peek under the hood, and it turns out be one gigantic math problem, says Ryan Graves, Uber's VP of Operations.
"A lot goes into matching drivers with riders," he told me, "and we measure everything. After someone opens the app, how often do they refresh the screen? How fast does the driver respond? How accurate is his ETA?"
Using GPS, Uber's system identifies the closest on-duty driver to where the rider's location. The driver has 15 seconds to respond. "Drivers love it," says Graves, "because it means less time with an empty backseat. When they're empty they are treating the Uber app like it's hot."
Few people are better situated to evaluate the current tech boom than Harjeet Taggar, a partner at Y Combinator, which twice a year, invests a small amount of money (~$20k) in dozens of promising startups from all over the country.
The startup teams move to Silicon Valley for three months, during which YC works with them to get their companies into a position where they can appeal to investors at Demo Day, when a bunch of big-time investors show up.
During the past few funding cycles, Taggar told 7x7 that he has noticed a definite pattern.
When it comes to a legacy technology that badly needs to be disrupted, it's hard to imagine a better example than the college textbook.
Students have to lug these anachronisms around in backpacks, only to read a chapter here and there as assigned by their professors. New editions appear every two or three years, rendering the older editions essentially worthless.
Second-hand bookstores do a thriving business on campuses as students try to stay within their budgets. Book-sharing, renting, and lending as well as illegal copying all occur as well.
A professor trying to teach from a core textbook in many subjects often finds it resembles the Winchester Mystery House, with chapters added on willy-nilly to a structure that originated many editions in the past, often decades ago.
The Brothers Morin — Jeff and Dan — as business partners fit together like peanut butter and jam, which is a good thing because the company they've built, Outgoing.me, organizes dinners for people with shared interests to meet up and talk.
This Thursday night, for example, at the Ironside, there are still a few seats left for a chat with Dan Nguyen-Tan of Public Bikes, where the conversation will revolve around cycling and high-end design. But that's just one of six to seven dinners each week organized by the Morins and their team around themes ranging from nonprofits to photography, wine tasting, hiking and running.
"We're about helping people, especially people new to the city, to meet other interesting people like them," says Jeff Morin. "It can be hard to meet anyone outside of your workplace at first. This beats going to the bars alone on a Friday night."
The CEO of Salon.com, Richard Gingras, held an emotional "all-hands" meeting with his staff today to tell them he is resigning, effective July 8th, to become global head of news products for Google.
Over the past two years, Gingras has retooled the San Francisco-based quality content site into a leaner operation with significantly higher traffic, but still has not been able to propel the company to profitability.
Since its founding in 1995 (Disclosure: I worked as a consultant with the founding team), Salon has consistently provided high-quality, award-winning coverage of politics, entertainment and the arts, but it has never reached the break-even point financially.