Tech + Gadgets
This city’s entrepreneurs are systematically disrupting virtually every established industry in the country, and next up looks to be the gift card industry, which currently produces some ten billion pieces of non-biodegradable plastic a year.
Meet Giftly, a SoMa-based startup just a few weeks into its public beta. Giftly provides a way to personalize the gifting experience, leveraging social networks and location-based data so you can treat your family members and friends to places near them, like restaurants, shops and clubs.
Based on Yelp’s open API, Giftly allows you to choose among thousands of places all over the country, with all of those ratings and reviews at your fingertips. An email goes out to the recipient with instructions how to use the customized gift certificate, which is as easy as showing up and “paying” with your credit card — Giftly then credits the gift to your credit card bill.
“Think of Giftly as a smarter, more sophisticated version of the traditional gift card,” says CEO and founder Tim Bentley. “You can personalize it to, say, three coffee shops here in San Francisco, and the person you’re gifting can use their smartphone to access the gift, go into any of those shops, without having any new plastic card involved at all.”
One of the top tech companies in San Francisco floating just below the surface of broader consumer consciousness is StumbleUpon, the discovery engine that co-founder and CEO Garrett Camp calls the "forward button for the internet."
StumbleUpon helps you find and share great content out along The Long Tail, and the more you use it the better it becomes at finding those gems that make the web, at its best, so entertaining and informative.
It's a bit unusual among startups in that it's about ten years old, and has already been through a major acquisition (for $75 million by eBay in May 2007) followed by an even more unusual event in April 2009, when its founders, including Camp and his co-founder Geoff Smith, bought it back from eBay at a deep (though undisclosed) discount.
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.
You hear it every day. It's a mantra in the startup world: "Timing is everything."
Like most old proverbs, this often proves to be true, until of course the time that it doesn't. And that's when things begin to get interesting, from my point of view.
The story of one of the city's most active mid-size PR firms in the technology sector, Allison & Partners, is illustrative.
Scott W. Allison launched his company here in the city in early September 2001, just days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. When it comes to starting a new venture in a field that is highly dependent on clients who can pay, his timing couldn't have been worse.
Ever since Tim Armstrong became its CEO in April 2009, AOL has been going through a makeover. The company hired a large number of experienced journalists and bloggers, expanded through Patch into localities all over the country, and made some high-profile acquisitions, including HuffPo and TechCrunch.
But if the company is going to deliver on what SVP Marty Moe described to me in mid-2009 as a business model built on "high-quality content to scale," it is going to take a lot more than just good writing, a network of hyperlocal hubs and absorbing other media properties.
What it will take will be technological innovation of the sort driving the boom-without-a-name currently sweeping through San Francisco and the Valley. Armstrong, Moe and team know that and that's why they've opened an office in Palo Alto, filling it with developers, as well as a gaggle of startup tenants, and an executive team experienced in the ways of the Valley.
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."
Come January 2012, sea lions won’t be the only gawk-worthy animals in the Embarcadero: A rare and brainy breed is headed to the waterfront locale — the Wharton MBA student. Celebrating 10 years in SF, Wharton San Francisco is expanding and relocating its campus from SF’s historic Folger Coffee Building to another converted coffee roasting plant—the Hills Brothers Plaza at 2 Harrison Street. Inside the airy 37,000 square-foot digs, design and architecture firm Gensler is transforming the Ivy League’s new space into a crave-worthy learning environment that will have its Philadelphia counterpart lusting for a West Coast visit.
The San Francisco Bay Area may be the global center of technology entrepreneurism, but not every big idea originates here, of course, although most do seem to find their way here sooner or later.
That's the case with Formspring.me, the social network that helps people find out more about each other and themselves by asking and answering questions.
"It's a vehicle for self-discovery and also for self-expression, says CEO Ade Olonoh, the soft-spoken computer scientist who started Formspring in Indianapolis late in 2009 and moved the company to SoMa last year.
Get ready for an app that will have you walking into poles, missing your stop on Muni and cooing at your phone screen. The California Academy of Sciences just released their free Pocket Penguin app, which is a live webcam continuously pointed at their tiny colony of African penguins, and essentially the biggest time suck to ever hit your phone (both Android and iPhone). Trust us–it's hard to look away.