Birchbox’s two data scientists build recommendation algorithms for its grooming samples

NEW YORK — In most tech meetups,  people are asked how many people have heard of Birchbox? Most of the nearly hundred people raised their hand. If you’re still wondering, what it is about, it’s this: Birchbox delivers monthly boxes of beauty or grooming samples, picked to match your profile.

Headquartered in New York City, with operations in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Canada and Belgium, the company has grown at a fast clip with a strong following among its first clientele–the female set and secondary target, the male set.

Last November 19, CTO Liz Crawford talked about her role and how the company operates at the NYC European Tech Meetup which held the event at Spotify’s roomy industrial-themed office. Inside, it’s hard to believe you’re in New York.

Birchbox reportedly does not have a “global content system” as of yet, but the United States is home for its marketing initiatives and infrastructure. Engineering, however, is hard to internationalize, she said.

“There’s a lot of hidden complexity in running a business like Birchbox,” she said. “We often ask ourselves how much do we need to spend for operational infrastructure and software.”

Birchbox has two data scientists who build recommendation algorithms. They rely on signals. For example, they try to find out if customers favorited or liked a product online. “Our data scientists work on optimizing (samples in our boxes).

“Figuring out what to send to customers is actually hard. The more customers we get, the harder it becomes,” she added.

What is a good box can be different for anyone? “All we want is for the experience to be personal to you,” she said.

Crawford said there are similarities with the boxes in the different countries, but the US box has admittedly “more features.”

Eventually, after subscribing, customers buy the brands from the samples in the box.

As the holiday approaches, Crawford who admits to working late lately said things will be picking up again soon and it will be a busy time for Birchbox.

Birchbox reportedly doesn’t charge any shipping or handling fees—just the $10/month, $110/year for the Beauty Box and $20/month for Birchbox Man. If your shipping address is in a state it operates, sales tax will be applied to your order.


Artists, lawyers lament ‘copywrong’ people and search as enabler of piracy

NEW YORK–Moral rights versus individual rights. That’s the struggle the entertainment industry faces these days when individual rights have blurred the lines between individual ownership and what is other people’s content, the title of the breakfast forum hosted by Gotham Media last November 18 at the Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz at 40th Street on Madison Avenue.

Setting the tone early, singer-songwriter-record producer Blake Morgan was livid throughout the hour-long talk, as he riled at the way piracy is downplayed and what it really means— robbing people off their livelihood. “Without copyright, I have no rights,” he said. “There is a fundamental lack of respect for my profession by these ‘copywrong’ people.”

Morgan was lamenting how his work is perceived to have no value and how it affects many musicians like him who are middle class, and even those who are big entertainment names like Metallica which was “brought to its knees” by people clamoring for —and downloading — free music. But there are artists fighting back like Taylor Swift who are not allowing their music streamed online. This week, Adele did the same.   

Morgan was with panelists Sandra Aistars, senior scholar and director for Protection of IP at George Mason University; Michael Friclas, EVP and general counsel at Viacom; and Stephen Mayes, photographer. Rick Kurnit served as moderator.

“We are dealing with a cultural issue,” Mayes said, as he stressed how people neglect to see the product: the person or what he calls “who you are.”  

Friclas said courts are wrestling with the copyright issues but he offered a glimmer of hope. He cited how European courts are blocking pirate sites. The movie-streaming site Popcorn Time is now off the air, he said.

He added how Paramount Pictures is also making efforts to narrow the gap of theater screening and online pay-per-view screening to limit unscrupulous online streaming.

There’s a lot of work to be done. “(There are) 20 hearings in Washington (on copyright issues),” Aistars said, adding how misuse of fair use is also a concern. A big company got its way to make books available online through some deal with publishing houses–but it left the authors without any compensation at all.   

Morgan can’t believe there is a discussion whether piracy is good or bad, but his story of a how a 22-year-old gets his music free online somehow and his father is a musician is the perfect example of how tough the battle is for any artist to protect their work.

So what other methods can be done to curb piracy? Fricklas said, “Search (engine) is the problem. It’s the enabler of piracy.”


Can predictive analytics make data scientists more productive?

NEW YORK–How do you make data scientists more productive? Jeremy Achin has an answer for you.

The current path to becoming a data scientist is based on learning statistics, programming and algorithms, then applying practical knowledge and practicing real world experience which can unfortunately take up a lot of time.

The better way, he insists, is automated using modern tools and computational power where you can go dive right away into your practical knowledge and real world experience and then just add if you want, statistics, programming and algorithms later.

Achin was talking about his company DataRobot, which he said offers predictive analytics fast. By fast, Achin believes DataRobot can cut down time it takes for a data scientist to solve a problem in hours rather than months.

“People take months to manually build regression models. There are technique-agnostic ways to assess and interpret predictive models,” he said.

Achin spoke with other presenters Josh Bloom of, Alexi Le-Quoc, founder of Datadog and Haile Owusu, chief data scientist of Mashable at Data-Driven’s monthly meetup last November 16 at Bloomberg.

Where DataRobot is about speed, Wise is about easy–making machine learning easy focused on letting users build and deploy models for predicting customer behavior. It’s interesting to note here that the founders were from University of California, Berkeley, astrophysics professors and researchers who have worked together for over a decade.

Today, it is pushing the limits of cutting-edge machine learning technology for customer success. It offers a host of intelligence routing/triage, response recommendation, auto response, knowledge-base deflection and many more.

In its presentation, Datadog showed how its cloud service helps customers monitor infrastructure and software.  

Datadog gathers performance metrics from your application comp; it visualizes and pull in data real time, and alerts because your understand is only as good as your monitoring.

Founded 2010, the company raised $31 million primarily from Index Ventures early this year.

Dog Parker, State of Place lend new meaning to hyperlocal service

NEW YORK–Last November 9, Coinvent held a whole-day tech startup fair with several startups and inspirational talks at the Metropolitan Avenue in Chelsea.

Dog Parker was one of the most popular startups as it showed a “doghouse” that provides secure dog parking when you’re out and about in the city with your dog and you need to run an errand. Dog Parker partners with businesses to place Dog Parkers in front their stores.  

Launched in Brooklyn in October 2015, the plan is to expand to the rest of New York and then to as many cities. This service will be offered to members only. Dog owners must sign up online at to get an access card to use Dog Parker.

Annual memberships cost $25 per dog. Once approved, a membership card will be mailed to you and allow you to access the network of Dog Parkers. Membership works similarly to ZipCar and Car2Go if you have used those services before.

But how long can you park a dog? Dog Parkers have a maximum time limit of three hours per 12-hour time period. The price is $0.20 per minute ($12 an hour). Membership is an annual fee of $25.

Each Dog Parker is reportedly cleaned by a Dog Parker sanitation crew on a scheduled weekly basis and then as-needed if there are any specific issues. Sanitation wipes are available to users at each location to anyone who may want to use them in addition to its sanitation system.

Each Dog Parker aims to keep the temperature inside comfortable for the dog in both the summer and winter. In the summer it plans to have solar-powered fans for air circulation.  On extreme temperature days where the temperature inside the Dog Parker goes below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or above 85 degrees, it will not be available for use.

Complementing Dog Parker’s business model somehow is State of Place. Founder Mariela Alfonso said it aims to harness the power of predictive urban data analytics to not only enhance the public good, but also to maximize economic development and engage the community.

State of Place quantifies walkability of existing neighborhoods; identifies built environment assets and needs; prioritize built environment changes with maximum impact on walkability and economic development; forecast the walkability impact of planning scenarios & development proposals; objectively compare planning scenarios & development proposals based on their walkability potential and measure the walkability impact of planning, urban design, and development projects post-implementation.

The benefits is predicted to help provide data–driven evidence of walkable development opportunities; economically justify urban design “asks” of developers; maximize resource allocation and get the biggest bang for your walkability buck; establish an evidence-based RFP process; foster community engagement; turn your planning team into walkability experts and tap into State of Place’s walkability thought-leadership.

State of Place also allows developers, investors, and brokers to leverage the pent-up demand for walkable places while also facilitating stakeholder buy-in by quantifying how delivering walkability is more than just a social good.

For communities, it offers a comprehensive diagnosis of their built environment assets and needs that can be benchmarked against other communities. It serves as an advocacy tool to more effectively justify changes to existing policies, garner developer support, and target key design interventions.

In the talk-workshop portion of the event, Coinvent delved on several diverse subjects ranging from building a world-class startup and the future of phone services to selling your company and hyperlocal marketing.

Among 60 startups in expo, Hotels By Day lets you find last-minute deals

NEW YORK–Last November 3, Alley Boost held a half-day startup expo featuring more than 60 startups at La Venue on 12th Avenue, blocks away from the Javits Convention Center.

Many of the startups came from AlleyBoost’s meetups like Hotels By Day; it’s for those looking to find rooms on the same day. It’s definitely for travelers who need to find rooms last minute. Hotels By Day was the favorite in a show-and-tell demo some months back.

With the sharing economy gaining favor, Triggr is looking at having its laundry and dry-cleaning pick-up service a hit among New Yorkers.

Tommy Tranfaglia of Dream It Reel offers video editing services with huge discounts for early registrants to his site.

Justworks was also at the expo but since it mainly handles human resources and payroll matters in the US, Global Tax a few tables down helps assist foreign startups. For legal advice, Moisan Legal P.C. utilizes technology to foster a collaborative client/attorney interaction. It aims at providing an ongoing strategic resource to enable businesses to operate effectively.

Zuznow is dedicated to providing a sophisticated platform for automatically converting any web application, no matter how complex the design of functionality. CEO Chen Levkovich was at the expo.

How would you like to give your phone’s lock a makeover? With Go Locker, you can convert it to look like cubed tiles or animated characters.

Jessica Tang of Smart Vision Labs was giving away forms for people to have their eyes tested for free. “We can come to your office to offer an eye exam to your employees,” she said.

Majestyk, which wowed us months ago with its successful Kickstarter-funded Cognitoys, was at the expo to promote something different–its app development service with its heavy concentration on branding. It prides itself in creating a seamless user experience for any brands that need to make its apps work across different platforms. Gonzo Estupinan said he is also in the business of web and app development.

Sports Wonks is a sports social network that gives fans and athletes a platform to share their thoughts, get the latest news and highlights, and more.

Not all startups had sites or apps to promote. Meraj Mohammad said he offers insights on “testosterone living,” as he eventually hopes to provide an online resource for those interested in the subject.

AlleyBoost’s expo was meant for startups to find business opportunities, generate leads, connect with investors and find talent. For attendees, it was a chance to see early startups which, in turn, also become opportunities for job-seekers, the media and investors to network and stumble upon some diamonds in the rough.

For Peatix, future of ticketing will have some form of empowerment

NEW YORK–The future of event ticketing will have some kind of empowerment and engagement, according to Taku Harada, CEO and co-founder of Peatix who presented at last November 2 at the Japan NYC Startups at Pivotal Labs.

Peatix is a mobile event and ticketing system that closed a $5 million Series B round led by Digital Garage last March. It has raised a total of $9 million. About 70 percent of its attendees find out about coming events through its mobile events solution which has no service fees.

Peatix is designed to let event organizers manage their events from a mobile device and it has done so in 80,000 events. Its innovative, mobile-centric solution for event management ranges from concerts to conferences.

Harada was born in the United States, but grew up in Japan. Having lived in both countries, Harada knows how important it is to target the global marketplace. Which is why he has offices in Japan where he started back in 2011, Singapore and New York with about 30 employees.

Harada admits that the ticketing world is “ridiculously competitive” with high maintenance and low margins, which is also why he thinks having authentic and distribution (methods) are important factors to succeed in the space.

Peatix is always rethinking event ticketing as it also makes event recommendations. It offers new events and communities, offers from sponsors, smoother entry to communicating with attendees and organizers.

Harada founded Peatix together with his former colleagues at Amazon, and has served as its CEO since its inception. Taku also held the position of representative director and CEO of YOOX Japan until August 2009.

Prior to YOOX, Harada held various positions at Amazon Japan, including head of its mobile and online marketing divisions. He also launched the iTunes Music Store in Japan while at Apple in 2005 and led its marketing team.

Harada began his career at Sony Music Entertainment’s international business affairs division in Japan. He holds a B.A. from Yale University.