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SYMSYS161: Symbolic Systems in Venture Capital

“At a venture capital firm, you’re working 12 a.m. to 12 a.m. – there’s no set 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule,” said Zavain Dar ’10, a senior associate at Lux Capital, a New York-based venture capital firm.

This flexibility in their schedules gave Dar and his colleague Nan Li, an investment partner at Investment Endeavors, the opportunity to teach at Stanford this winter. Dar and Li are teaching Symbolic Systems 161, a brand new course titled “Applied Symbolic Systems in VC and Entrepreneurship”. The class was met with great excitement, and had a waitlist of 40 students despite its capacity being doubled from 30 to 60.

Nan Li (left) and Zavain Dar (right) co-teach SYMSYS161: Symbolic Systems in Venture Capital

Nan Li (left) and Zavain Dar (right) co-teach SYMSYS161: Applied Symbolic Systems in VC and Entrepreneurship.

The idea for the class started when the two were talking last fall at Innovation Endeavors, a venture capital firm run by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The two had endless conversations and debates about the similar histories of artificial intelligence (AI) and venture capitalists, and soon the pair were unknowingly cultivating the curriculum for their class. Dar explained that the class, in many ways, is a continuation of the conversations that the two had.

“Today, AI has moved from hard-coded logic to statistically-driven correlation independent of reason,” Li said, paralleling the history of artificial intelligence with that of venture capital firms. “Today, VCs think in terms of logic.”

Dar and Li will apply their theory and try to predict the future trends of venture capital firms. Read more >>

CS27: a happy marriage of humanities and CS

(KEVIN HSU/The Stanford Daily)

CS27 group Cureador present their project to the class. (KEVIN HSU/The Stanford Daily)

“Have you heard of Tinder?” Professor Sebastian Thrun asks me immediately after I enter the classroom. He’s standing in the front of the room along with another student, Baris Akis, who’s presenting his group’s project: the “Thinkers Accordion,” an app that presents the name of a philosopher or author or sociologist, etc. along with a small blurb of the person’s main ideas and important thoughts. If the user likes it, he/she can swipe down for more detail, but if the user isn’t really interested, he/she can just swipe to the side for another individual – a process based on Tinder, the hit dating app.

Married couple Petra Dierkes-Thrun, from the Comparative Literature department, and Sebastian Thrun, from the CS department, co-teach CS27, Literature and Social Online Learning. Read more >>

Stanford Startups: Conspire, a startup for smarter connections

Save yourself from the trouble of searching for an employer, investor or customer and awkward introductions at networking events. Conspire, a digital network platform, will help you find the strongest path of connection to any person you’re interested in and figure out the best way to get introduced through analyzing your email interactions.

Alex Devkar ’04 and Paul McReynolds ’04 are former Stanford dormmates who bonded over a common interest in computer science and a vision of creating a startup company. Fast-forward eight years later, they have launched Conspire. Read more >>

Stanford Startup Series: Neoreach

About a year ago, in Stanford’s ENGR145 Technology Entrepreneurship class, Jesse Leimgruber and Misha Talavera pitched NeoReach in front of classmates, professors and venture capitalists. They explained their vision for a tech-enabled advertising marketplace. On August 27, 2014, after a series of accelerators, NeoReach stepped out into the limelight when it raised $1.5 million in seed funding while 19-year-old Jesse was still an undergraduate student at Stanford.

NeoReach is an online platform that connects brands with bloggers and social media influencers who are looking for new brands to endorse. Brands looking to promote their product post an offer on the NeoReach platform where social media influencers select a brand that fits their channel, and share the sponsored product or content on their social media page. Brands compensate influencers on a cost-per-click basis. Read more >>

Boosted Board product review & price update

Boosted Boards, a Stanford startup that raised over $460,000 in a Kickstarter campaign in late 2012, began officially selling its longboards in June this year. The Dish Daily was lucky enough to be able to ride one for a week to check it out.

Photo courtesy of Boosted Board.

Photo courtesy of Boosted Board.

The board was priced at $2,000, but as of today, Boosted Boards is offering a line of three products: Single, Dual and Dual+ models with boards starting at $999 for the Single, $1,299 for the Dual and $1,499 for the Dual+ (the original model), all significantly cheaper than the original board’s price tag of $2,000. Furthermore, for those who bit the bullet and bought the pricey boards early on, Boosted Board is showing its thanks with a price adjustment (up to $500 back). They have some more sweet perks that you can find on their website, including free upgrades as well as an extended warranty for current owners.

I should preface my comments with the disclaimer that I am an intermediate-to-experienced longboarder, having used one as my main mode of transportation over my freshman and sophomore years on the Farm. Occasionally, I sought out some hills in the area for recreation (the hill from the Knoll to Theta Delt, looping back down to Mayfield, for example, is a monster) so I’m fairly comfortable with speed. For the most part, I’ve used my longboard to commute to classes, so that’s the angle from which I’ll be reviewing the Boosted Board. Read more >>

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 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 (, 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, 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’


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.