Tech + Gadgets
Back in the early days of the web, there were some who predicted that online shopping would never take off, because, in addition to other hesitations, most people would never entrust their credit card information to a website.
Amazon started proving the critics wrong soon after it launched in 1995, and when eBay joined the party the following year, it quickly became apparent that ecommerce represented a massive new business opportunity where a lot of players were going to make (and/or lose) a lot of money.
Cut to the present tense, and ecommerce generated some $165.4 billion in sales last year, or roughly eight percent of the retail product sales in the U.S. According to Forrester Research, that figure will reach the neighborhood of $279 billion by 2015.
Meanwhile, with Groupon and Living Social, daily deals and flash sales, the sheer volume of marketing and shopping information coursing over the Internet has become deafening. Email, Facebook, Twitter are all bursting at the seams with the stuff.
Diffbot is one of those applications (and companies) you probably are not even aware of when you use it, but that's not necessarily a problem for the company's co-founder and CEO Michael Tung.
That's because his product is a "visual learning robot," that hundreds of developers are using to translate web content into better mobile apps, and as such it stays pretty much under the hood.
"We've invented this visual ID algorithm," says Tung. One of our core insights is that the entire web can be classified down to 30 page types. There are product pages, event pages, news pages -- we can identify them visually with 99.999 accuracy."
Diffbot technology identifies each page's components, such as nav bars, footers, etc., as part of its identification process. Design standards are such that there is a high degree of similarity between the various page types grouped by category.
One customer using Diffbot at present is AOL's recently launched Editions, which is a personalized daily magazine for the tablet.
S.F.-based zozi might be worth checking out the next time you want to challenge yourself by pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone.
The startup offers experiences like hang-gliding, mountain biking, or abalone diving. There are also more prosaic options, like tennis, golf or cooking lessons.
“We are the go-to place for high-quality experiences,” says founder and CEO T.J. Sassani, whose inspiration for the company came when he encountered bull sharks while diving in Australia a few years back.
“At that moment, I suddenly realized there was nothing to fear – the sharks couldn’t care less about me – and I decided to try and make these kinds of experiences easier for other people to have.”
It’s Get Back to School time, and Inkling, the leading company reinventing textbooks on the iPad, has just won Apple’s approval for its 2.0 app. CEO Matt MacInnis calls it “the single most complex iPad app out there," and he may well be right.
It combines a 3-D rendering engine, a complex reading engine, and a full social search engine all wrapped into one, which also syncs across the devices you use to access it.
From a developer’s perspective, that’s complex.
Fortunately, from a user’s perspective, Inkling is simple to use. You tap on this, pull out that, scroll down here, and dig deeper over there.
The most striking aspect of Inkling 2.0 is the interactive social layer it has integrated across its current inventory of 50 academic titles, which will grow to 100 titles by year’s end.
As entrepreneurs from all over pour into San Francisco to participate in the latest tech boom, rents are rising across the city. And one of the best ways to gauge that rise is to check out HotPads, the map-based housing search engine and listings service.
As it turns out, HotPads, the company, is part of this trend itself. The 20-person startup, which started as a tiny venture in Washington, D.C. in 2005, has just moved its headquarters to the Mission District.
“I’ve been trying to get back here for six years,” says co-founder Douglas Pope, whose first job after college (Notre Dame) was in this area.
HotPads uses its own mapping technology – back when the company started, Google Maps had not yet fully emerged from the laboratory, plus the search giant was not focused on mapping rental housing listings.
HotPads also offers additional layers of data, including neighborhood information, price comparison tools, school district and public transportation overlays, and so on.
In other words, the service tries to provide the kind of information you most need when you’re seeking a new place to live.
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.
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.