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David Weir

Housing Search Engine HotPads Joins the Party in San Francisco

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.

ZeroCater Takes the Pain Out of Ordering Your Company Lunch

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.

BookLamp, a “Pandora for Books,” Launches Today

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.

Dropbox Perfects its "Fundamental Building Block" for the Internet (Plus a Love Story)

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.

Giftly Set to Disrupt the Traditional Gift Card Market

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.”

SoMa-Based StumbleUpon Provides a "Forward Button" for Discovery on the Internet

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.

Getaround Building a Car-Sharing Marketplace for the Rest of Us

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.

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:

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