Category Archives: Startups

By yesterday I thought I’d had enough of sessions. That said, I started the day at a session on How Open Licensing is Transforming Design. I went because I have a vested interest in Creative Commons and copyright on the web, but also because I was too lazy to stand in line to see Mindy Kaling. I’m thrilled I went, as I learned about things like The Noun Project and how Autodesk is licensing all of its training content under a CC-Sharealike license. It’s good stuff.

Autodesk Embraces CC

Autodesk Embraces CC

From there, I again lost interest in sessions and ended spending a good part of my day observing and talking to people. On Saturday, I saw a session by Kristina Halvorson, who spoke about how marketing has gotten out of control and there is more emphasis on the tools than strategy. On Sunday, I sat at a table across from some young marketing folks from HBO’s Game of Thrones and watched everything Kristina said happen in front of my eyes. There is a lot of out of control marketing here at SxSW. Some of it is very effective. Some of it is ridiculous. For instance, I watched these folks count their retweets excitedly and take silly photos in hopes those would be get more retweets. There was no effort to engage the retweeter or acknowledge that, really, only 7% of Americans are actually on Twitter.

On the other hand, Chevy is here with a fleet of 40 Chevy Volts that are filling the taxi/Uber void in Austin this week. Most of the drivers are from an interactive agency in Boston that represents Chevy. The folks are friendly, funny and helpful, which is pretty great considering they are driving folks around in a strange city. My favorite was Tim, who was in a Twitter “war” with other drivers. They’re all having a great time and the influx of free rides have really made getting around Austin easier – especially in the rain on Saturday. The Chevys are quite effective as far as marketing – I’m hyper-aware of them, I know they can help me, and at this point, I can even tell you a little about the Chevy Volt.

Free Chevy "Taxis" at SXSW #chevysxsw

Free Chevy “Taxis” at SXSW #chevysxsw

The Exhibit Hall opened yesterday as well, and that was overwhelming in its sheer size. It combines film, interactive and music and no stone is left unturned. I only got through half of it yesterday and I need to go back and check out a few more things today. As privacy and data have been big themes here at SxSW this year, Ghostery really stood out to me as a great browser plug-in for knowing who is tracking you at any point in time.

A View of the Exhibit Hall

A View of the Exhibit Hall (click to enlarge)

Additionally, I’ve got a list of startups and apps to check out, including Pond5 (photos), Push to Start (lawyers for startups), Jelly speakers, Pollstar Pro, Moverio (Epson’s version of Glass) and many more. Fodder for future blog posts, I suppose.

Today it’s Edward Snowden, brought to us via a Google Hangout (yes, really) over 7 proxy servers. I need to see a few more things in the Expo and then I head home.


At 8 p.m. on December 31, 2013, 6 year old Sofia Liu was walking in a crosswalk at Polk and Civic Center in San Francisco with her mom and younger brother when she was struck and killed by an Uber driver. Uber is a ride-sharing company that provides “car service on demand” via a smartphone app. Wherever Uber provides service, simply launch an app and Uber will automatically locate you and connect you to the closest driver. Within minutes a driver will pick you up and get you to your destination. There are several ride-sharing companies providing car services on demand, including Lyft and Sidecar. Uber has been growing and innovating beyond typical taxi services by promising quick pick-up and drop-off, as well as delivering Christmas trees and even kittens.

When the driver struck little Sofia, Uber stated he was “not employed by Uber at the time of the accident because he did not have an Uber customer in the car with him”. Since he was “between fares”, Uber claims they are not responsible for the death. However, an attorney representing the family of Sofia is filing a wrongful-death lawsuit against both Uber and the driver alleging that the driver was an Uber contractor using Uber’s app at the time of the accident. Furthermore, the attorney claims that the driver was “texting while driving” using Uber’s app to prepare for his next fare, causing him to be distracted.

Uber is declining comment over the lawsuit, but it seems like the attorney’s strategy is to associate the driver with Uber simply by the fact that the driver was logged into Uber’s app. This will take the discussion about if and how to regulate start-up services like Uber to the next level. Are the Uber drivers too distracted by technology in the car making them unsafe to be on the road? That will be the key question for a judge or jury to answer. In the meantime, San Francisco has one of the highest rates of pedestrian-vehicle collisions in the nation, so watch out for yourself out there! At least one San Francisco Supervisor seems to be “on the case“.

By the way, according to Uber, the driver that struck little Sofia has been “deactivated” as a driver in their system.

There’s a seemingly never-ending sea of new apps to explore at SXSW. You find out about them from marketing tricks including pop-up demonstrations when people gather around, roving folks in bright shirts bribing people with free food and drink, kiosks with flashy animations, tons of flyers left lying around, posters taped to every blank spot on every pole in town, overhearing conversations, and of course, bumping into friends. There doesn’t seem to be a “breakout app” that has captured the conversation, but I’ve discovered a few that I’d like to mention:


LevelUp is (yet another) payment app — but with a twist: it’s really easy to install, configure and use. I was standing in line to buy an over-priced slice of pizza and a cup of $10 bad wine when I saw a poster inviting me to “LevelUp and save $5 on my next purchase”. So, as I stood in line, I downloaded the app. There were only 2 people in front of me, so the test was to see if could get the app downloaded and configured to buy my pizza in just a few minutes. The download went swiftly, the app asked me if it could “scan” my credit card and then requested that I confirm a few security details. I then connected it to Facebook for login, and I was ready to go. Right as I finished the configuration, it was my turn to order. LevelUp displays a QR code, which is scanned by a device connected to the market’s cash register (kinda like the Starbucks app). I scanned, and was ready to go in seconds. For using it, I got an instant $5 off my order, which resulted in free pizza for me (although I had to fork over a lot for bad wine). The app is available for iOS and Android right now.



Highlight is not a new app for SXSW, but is getting a lot of buzz here right now. Highlight senses the area you’re in and alerts you if your friends are nearby. The idea is to take social networking to a hyper-local level. The app is simple to configure: it will search your Facebook friends and ask you to choose the ones you want it to scan for. It will also search your phone’s contacts. Highlight is available on iOS and Android.



GonnaBe is an app that lets you make plans to hookup with friends. You can quickly create “events” and invite your friends to join you. Say you just grabbed a 4-seat table in a hot bar and you want to alert your friends who are nearby to join you, you no longer have to text them individually. Just create your plan, and then share it to your followers or social channels in seconds. Scan your feed to see the plans of the friends you follow or see the feed of the hgh helpful for low thyroid public plans around you if you’re feeling spontaneous. GonnaBe is available now for iOS and soon for Android.



The Twist app is a convenient way to let people know when you’re going to arrive at an event. Their thinking is that people are constantly late, and Twist will make life easier by eliminating the stress and headaches caused by uncertain wait times and travel delays. Twist monitors your calendar and email and will automatically let people know when you’re going to arrive based on your location. Twist can automatically send an update to the parties that are waiting on you to let them know when you’ll be there. So no more fumbling in the car, endangering your life (and others) trying to peck out a text explaining you’re stuck in traffic… while you’re in traffic! Twist is available for iOS.



Tired of those sites that promise to sell your gadget for you and earn you tons of dough? They’re great, but they sure do take a fat percentage. Well, here comes Vendly — a free marketplace for you and your friends to sell and buy anything from each other. No middleman, sort of. Vendly is easy to use, simply snap a picture with your phone, add a description, share it via email, Twitter or Facebook and then wait for your networks to see and buy! Vendly is available on iOS and Android.



Foodzy promises to turn getting healthy into a game! Foodzy is yet another “personal food journal” but one with a twist. Instead of just entering everything you eat from a never-ending list of ridiculous food databases, with Foodzy you turn what you eat into an activity stream with a real-time dashboard giving you a picture of how your “food day” went. You can also connect your gadgets like a FitBit to let Foodzy know how much you’ve exercised. Foodzy translates your calories into its own “Bits” point scale and awards you badges and extra points for engaging in healthier activities. It’s available on iOS and Android.



Kismet is another “social planning” app in what’s seemingly becoming a crowded field. Kismet promises to simplify your social life by connecting you to nearby friends and letting you make plans together. When you send out an invite to friends, they can RSVP (even without the app). Everyone you invite to the event you’re planning are placed into a closed “group” where you can message each other to work out the details. Kismet is available on iOS.



Yiftee lets you send small gifts (usually $20 or less) from your phone or the web for any reason: birthdays, thank-you’s, or get well wishes. Yiftee works with local businesses to fulfill the gifts. Giftees receive them on Facebook, email or text and stop by a local merchant to pick them up. Yiftee is available on iOS.


There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about Vine — Twitter’s new “Instagram” for video app – since it was released last week (as a matter of fact, Apple removed it from the Editor’s Choice area on the App Store this morning). Most of the chatter is revolving around Vine’s purported (clean, and not dirty, we hope). Simply browse the #howto hashtag to see a ton of demonstration vids. Just this morning, I’m browsing vids that show me how to “make steak tartare” or how to “solve the Rubik’s cube” in 6 seconds or less.

If Vine can overcome the typical human need to share “what shouldn’t be shared” socially, it could be a powerful app for sharing knowledge (the non-porn type)… ;)

You may be asking what is Vine?

Found this terrific post on the emerging “peer-to-peer” economy and its potential problems. A lot has been circulating recently about Uber‘s service and others like it. Tom Slee has taken the time to uncover some of the issues that unregulated services bring with them:

In Peer-to-Peer Hucksterism Slee contrasts what the founders of AirBnB and who makes electronic cigarettes Uber are saying about “community” versus what they’re doing as a “business”. As P2P becomes more prevalent and becomes funded and backed by billionaire venture capitalists, it begs the question about how much regulation is needed. Especially in light of the tragic rape of the young Indian woman who was traveling on an unregulated bus.

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