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Scott Allison: At the Heart of Every Great Company is a (Potentially) Great Story

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.

A Tale of Two AOLs — New York and Silicon Valley

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.

Zaarly: A Buyer-Led Marketplace Taking San Francisco By Storm

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:

A Peek Under the Hood at Uber

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."

Gensler Designs High Tech Urban Campus for Wharton San Francisco

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.

SoMA-Based Formspring Thrives on Curiosity

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, 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.

Penguins Anyone? Check Out the Academy of Sciences' New Penguin Cam Phone App

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.

Highlights from Last Night's SVNewTech Meetup

Silicon Valley NewTech, the Bay Area's largest and oldest tech meetup group, gets together every month inside a conference room at DLA Piper in Palo Alto to eat pizza, drink some beers and listen to presentations from startups. At nearly 7,000 members strong, SVNewTech chooses four startups every month to showcase their product through a 5-minute demo and presentation, followed by a rapid-fire question and answer period from the audience.

Soundtracking Lets You Broadcast The Soundtrack of Your Life

How many times has a song instantly reminded you of an experience from years ago buried in the back of your brain? Maybe it was the first time that band ever blew your mind, or something you listened to during your move to a new life in a new city. With SF-grown app Soundtracking, whatever songs impact moments of your life can now be broadcast to the world via your social nets.

Y Combinator Partner Harj Taggar: "San Francisco is Becoming Silicon Valley"

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.

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