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The Dish Daily

Good Reads on Media and Tech

Inspired by a similar feature in the MIT Technology Review, we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite (vaguely tech-related) reads from the past week. Check them out!

1. Snowden, Surveillance, Secrets

On October 9, former NSA director Michael Hayden explained his side of the story in a fascinating event to kick off Stanford’s new speaker series, the Security Conundrum. On October 24, Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden, opened in theatres.

In between these two events we picked up on some stories about these characters. Wired published Snowden’s original emails to Laura Poitras, the filmmaker he initially contacted with his leak. In another article, Poitras muses on how technology can link whistleblowers like Snowden to journalists like herself here (German news magazine Der Spiegel actually has a webpage telling you how to contact them securely, in case you ever feel morally obliged to inform on your friendly local intelligence agency). Finally, the New Yorker has a fascinating profile of Poitras.

2. Something to Chew On

The MIT Technology Review published a piece on folks devoted to the “scientific identification and exploration of deliciousness”, accompanied by neat pictures of their strange creations. Ever wanted to know what goes on in a food lab? (Surprised that food labs are a thing?) Fermentation, fresh flavours and fun with formica.

Science and gastronomy intersect in other ways too. We’re reminded of IBM’s efforts to harness the power of Watson in the coolest food truck ever here. Finally, Stanford CS/linguistics professor Dan Jurafsky wrote a book on how we talk about food, which was featured in the New York Times a while back. We wonder what he’d say about a food lab’s menu.

3. Heads Up:

FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver’s data blog, is releasing a series of short documentaries called ‘Signals’. Check out the snazzy trailer for the first installment here.

Learn Dothraki via iPhone app [disclaimer: I don't actually have an iPhone so I haven't actually checked it out.]

4. Hey…

We enjoy having good reads on our retinas (other forms of media too). Send cool tech things our way and we’ll be sure to check them out!

Contact Justine Zhang at justinez ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Stanford startups, a series: Crowdbooster

This is part of a larger series on Stanford startups that we’ll have throughout this year. We’ll cover interesting and promising startups around campus and from alums as they come up. The first is a YC-backed startup founded by Stanford alum Ricky Yean (’10).

Startups are painfully common on campus. Bathroom stalls are covered in promotional graffiti for “my startup,” in a clearly desperate stab at viral marketing. Few startups can make it out of the process successfully, but we’re happy to report on one such dream-come-true. Crowdbooster is a YCombinator-backed company that offers social media analytics to help people tell their stories in more powerful ways.

Ricky Yean, CEO and co-founder of Crowdbooster, started working on side projects while he was a junior at Stanford. Startups weren’t as popular as they are now, but inspired by the YC Startup School, BASES and his love for startups, Yean started working with David Tran, now CTO and co-founder of Crowdbooster. Although their projects didn’t take off, Yean and Tran went on to work on a lot of projects that interested them.

“David and I kept working together on many, many projects. We built products for things that were interesting to us,” Yean said.

The summer after they graduated from Stanford, Yean and Tran got into YCombinator. Even at YC, they didn’t stop iterating and thinking of new ideas. Yean received advice from Paul Graham (YC co-founder and general venture capitalist) to try to understand his users’ needs better.

“I went up and down University Avenue to talk to each store owner and find out what they needed,” Yean said.

After being rejected by several shop owners, Ricky went to Coupa Cafe, where the owner accepted to receive his help to boost their social media presence.

Through that experience, they realized how important analytics was for social media. Crowdbooster was born from the notion that it is important not only to measure your social media impact, but also to help people understand what content matters, how to tell their story in the most effective way. With this focus on becoming a storytelling tool rather than just an analytics website, Crowdbooster attracted clients like Ashton Kutcher, Britney Spears and Lil’ Wayne in their early days.

“Social media is just another medium, like paper, TV and radio,” Yean said. “What matters is the quality of the content.”

As a startup founder, there are a few big lessons I learned from chatting with Yean. The first is to find things you’re passionate about. For instance, in my startup’s case (OneTune.fm), we are all very passionate about music. I listen to music all the time — when I’m working, studying, working out and even when I’m falling asleep or showering. My friends and I all use several different music services and we’re unhappy with the existing services.

The second lesson is to take advantage of the resources you have as a student. We use computer clusters and study rooms constantly, and rely on professors and mentors all over campus. As a student, Yean also took advantage of the fact that a lot of people in the industry would be willing to talk to students and tell them about their companies.

The third is to never stop innovating. You always need to keep learning because the moment you settle, you’re setting yourself up for limited growth as a person and as an entrepreneur. Before OneTune.fm, I worked in several side projects with friends and, although a lot of them didn’t take off, I was happy to keep working on new projects. Thankfully, I’m now working on one that I believe can make it to the next level, and am excited to apply some of these lessons learned.

Contact Lawrence Lin Murata at lmurata ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

Location-sharing Stanford startup HelloWorld acquired by Life360

HelloWorld, a location-sharing app created by a Stanford hackathon team, has been acquired by Life 360 for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.

HelloWorld (as we reported a few months ago here) was founded by Ernestine Fu ’13, Michael Carter, Max Goodman, Jeff Himmelman and David Li ’10. A hackathon project coded over a few hours in August at YCombinator’s YCHacks, the product was a mobile app for iOS and Android that allowed users to make text and photo location-based updates.

These updates let friends know what you’ve been up to and where you’ve been, without revealing your exact location. Instead, friends could only see how far away you are. Users could also ping each other to let them know they’re nearby. Posts were ephemeral and lasted only 24 hours, encouraging users to be open about sharing their location.

Following the acquisition of HelloWorld, Stanford student and founder Ernestine Fu will lead a new “Special Projects” division at Life360. As it stands, Life360 is a messaging and location-sharing mobile app primarily focused at connecting families as well as close friends, and it has raised $76.1 million in funding to date. Additionally, Life360 has over 100 million users.

Though offered funding from various angels and VCs early in the development of the startup’s app, HelloWorld turned down those initial offers. However, talks with one interested angel, Life360 co-founder and president Alex Haro, progressed into an acquisition opportunity as it became evident that the HelloWorld product and team would mesh well with Life360’s larger user base. Three of HelloWorld’s other four founders will join Life360 in different roles, while one will take an advisory role as he continues work on a separate startup.

Letter from The Dish Daily staff

The Dish Daily is a new addition to The Stanford Daily. Prior to its merger with The Stanford Daily, The Dish Daily was an independent tech blog composed of mostly Stanford students, headed by Tim Hsia (JD/MBA ’14). We are extremely grateful to the writers before us who grew The Dish Daily into what it is today: a relevant, thought-provoking and timely tech blog for the Stanford campus.

Seeing that we are embarking on a new page of The Dish Daily’s journey, we decided to write you this letter so we’re clear about our purpose and vision.

We will:

  1. Cover major tech events, trends, companies and products
  2. Feature Stanford student startups and interesting people around the Valley
  3. Offer balanced opinions on what we see going on in tech (good, bad and in between) Read more >>

Stanford solar technology startup acquired by SunPower

On July 2, Dfly Systems, a startup founded by three Stanford students, was acquired by SunPower, a solar technology company with Stanford origins. The acquisition was announced later in the summer.

Andrew Ponec ’15, Darren Hau ’15 and Daniel Maren ’16 founded Dfly Systems in the spring of 2013. The company builds circuit boards that fit in the junction box on the back of every solar cell. The technology aims to increase the efficiency of power plants while also reducing hardware costs.

Since having founded the company, all three students have gone on leave from Stanford, and the trio also made Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list under the “Energy and Industry” subcategory.

The idea for Dfly Systems hatched from an introductory course in green electronics taught by Bill Dally, professor of computer science and electrical engineering. Ponec and Hau worked together on a research project that extended beyond the class.

“We really had no idea what we were doing at the time,” Ponec said. “We got a little ways into the project when the quarter ended, and we asked Professor Dally again if he would consider allowing us to continue the project, as a kind of independent research project with him.” Read more >>

Stanford-sponsored social enterprise SmileyGo rapidly expands past international borders

SmileyGo, a student-founded social enterprise founded approximately two months ago, has built foundations internationally with the help of its Stanford sponsors Tina Seelig Ph.D. ’85, Tomas Kosnik, Ernestine Fu ’13 M.S. ’13 Ph.D. ’19 and Rebeca Hwang ’11.

Aiming to foster communities and provide equal opportunities for children in underserved communities by connecting firms and educational NGOs, SmileyGo has over 35 members and is currently operating in over nine countries worldwide. Earlier this month, the enterprise also expanded to Canada and the United Arab Emirates. Read more >>

There’s an ‘I’ in Twitter: Platform allows narcissism

“Christina Smedley is a useless. Piece of sh*t,” Rakesh “Rocky” Agrawal, former Pay Pal director of strategy, tweeted of his colleague.

Let’s just say that’s not how you start your new job or win over your co-workers.

Twitter has allowed a space for anyone to converse in real-time with its 255 million active users. To know there’s a big audience waiting for you can be dangerous and heighten self-importance.

“The belief that there is an audience interested in following one’s moment-to-moment postings suggests egocentrism, self-aggrandizement, and self-importance—the very characteristics of narcissistic individuals,” psychologist Bruce McKinney said in the journal Communication Research Reports.

Some may think millions of users are just dying to hear what you are doing moment-to-moment. This narcissism could cause desensitization. The lack of physical barriers and face-to-face confrontation causes Twitter users to be less sensitive and encourages them to write whatever is on their mind (#nofilterneeded). The only possible reaction is a reply or Twitter direct message, which isn’t threatening because it’s still distant. Read more >>

LaunchPad

Ten Stanford startup companies presented at the annual LaunchPad Beta Trade Show on Tuesday at the Stanford d.school.

Co-taught by Michael Dearing of Harrison Metal, and Perry Klebahn, founder of Atlas Snowshoe Company and Timbuk2, LaunchPad is an intense spring quarter, application-only class. Although listed as a 4 unit course that meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:15 p.m. to 6:05 p.m., students consider it to be one of the more demanding classes at Stanford.

(JOE HANSEN/The Dish Daily)

(JOE HANSEN/The Dish Daily)

Here are a few of the startups that featured in the LaunchPad Beta Trade Show:

Blueprint provides high school, community college and college students with a way to map and “build academic and career plans” that are “tailored to their current interests and experiences.” Founded by Rachel Romer and Mike Howard, two Stanford business school students, the website is beautifully designed but one must create a login in order to explore careers and create a blueprint. If Blueprint was integrated with one of the larger MOOCs it could have tremendous influence in student decisions around classes and career. Blueprint could also benefit high school guidance counselors and undergraduate advisors.

Switchmate is an internet of things startup that enables people to turn on and off light switches with their app. Think Nest but for one’s lights. Switchmate has begun selling these light switches for $29.99and will be launching a crowdfunding campaign later this summer. Switchmate is a team of three with strong technical talentThe Dish Daily has covered Switchmate before in a piece about internet of things and Stanford startups. Read more >>