Platforms that pick your clothes, find the right people

By Dennis Clemente

Meetup showcases platforms that shops for you, picks right people for the job

NEW YORK—The AXA  Equitable Center makes for a grand entrance. Thus said Matt Turck, long-time host of Data Driven, as he welcomed the crowd to its majestic auditorium, complete with velvet curtains and flattering spotlight. One of the most attended meetups in the city, Data Driven is holding its meetups at AXA for a few months until the Bloomberg auditorium finishes its renovation.

At the meetup last March 16, Data Driven divided the talks based on its format. Eric Colson, chief algorithms officer of Stitch Fix; and Kieran Snyder, founder & CEO at Textio presented their companies while Peter Fenton, general partner at Benchmark and Eliot Horowitz, co-founder & CTO at MongoDB sat with Turck to discuss their companies and their industry in general.

Colson opened the night’s data talk with StitchFix. “There is no shopping in our site, because people hate shopping.”  That got people’s attention. What StitchFix does is create your style profile and give you five hand-picked items. You keep what you like and send the rest back.

Recommendations have worked for several companies. For Amazon’s sales, 35 percent; Linkedin’s connection’s, 50 percent; Netflix’s watched movies, 75 percent and StitchFix, 100 percent of its sold merchandise.

Colson said they combine both data and human insights to make StitchFix work. There’s no denying the importance of human insights because of their wealth of experience, according to him.  “(But) they can’t be doing the same things as (its data/algorithms),” he said.

Next presenter Snyder said Textio mines data from recruiters and hiring mangers to find patterns that work, showing how it works to help companies hire better. It was as simple as copy pasting a job posting from a site to a Textio blank field.

Using statistics and machine learning, it analyzes job text and outcomes data using listings from a set of companies.  It makes use of patterns that it finds to predict the performance of job postings and help you fix it before you ever publish it, with analytics and feedback right as you’re typing.  It makes use of color to highlight words (green for phrases that work) and red (for least successful ones) that should help its clients get the talents they need.

It offers real-time feedback as well as sharing and collaboration on job listings with colleagues. On average, Snyder claims that people who use Textio see a 24-percent lift in qualified applicants, a 17-percent drop in time to hire; and a 12-percent increase in underrepresented applicants. “We found words like synergy don’t work among underrepresented applicants,” she said.

Snyder said the best feedback loop comes from its customers, as she also observed how job listings can amplify a company’s voice, throwing wrong assumptions about the lack of creativity of job listings. Expedia is one of its customers.

With MongoDB, Horowitz asked the audience, how many are frustrated with their databases? When MongoDB came into the picture in 2007, it was tackling what is seemingly a persistent problem with databases. In 2009, Salesforce ported their database to MongoDB.

“Developers say (MongoDB) is a pretty good experience,” says Horowitz, adding it looks forward to making users more productive by offering more ways for developers to keep using it.

Addressing a monetization question, Horowitz offered consulting and support, its BI tools and cloud services.

Started in 2007, MongoDB takes pride in having 85 percent of work done in New York.  In 2015, the company released its 3.2 version that helps address a pernickety issue these days—encryption.  It also started a BI connector with Tableau and Compass.

What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Peter Fenton, who invested in Twitter when it was only 25 people, echoed the sentiments of Paul Graham of Y Combinator: “Is the entrepreneur deeply authentic?” He also points out how feeling uneasy can actually work for you, if he means being grounded enough to think of the realities of the startup business.

“Take two those variables and layer around that,” he said.

As for figuring out which is promotional and authentic among the current crop of startups, he describes the tech startup world based on how whales breach and then submerge again. “We’re moving (in a) cycle, but we’re making the ecosystem healthier.”

Fenton pointed how institutional money may have given tech startups longer capital runway and burn rate, but valuations do go down and money may not be as easy to get.

For radical growth, Fenton thinks ubiquity is crucial. However, he points out how some technology has a gestation period (before they hit critical mass).

TripExpert opens API to developers

NEW YORK–Last March 9, TripExpert, Pass the Plate LLC, Criteek and TenViz presented at the NY Tech Breakfast at Microsoft in Times Square.

http://www.meetup.com/NYC-TechBreakfast/events/226907378/

TripExpert, the platform for expert (media) reviews on travel, announced its API at developer.tripexpert.com and an upcoming beta of its app weeks from now. TripExpert gets eyeballs through media syndication, according to Emily Hughes and Andrew Nicol.

Referring to the difference between media-based reviews and user reviews? “There are huge disparities in the reviews,” he said, citing the prevalence of fake reviews in high-end hotels.

TripExpert extracts a piece of information (from media), so it doesn’t need permission, although in some cases, they negotiate with individual publications.

TripExpert puts more weight on opinion or reviews of some pubs.

Next presenter, Pass the Plate makes giving to charities easier with its phone app as it pointed out the $360 billion opportunity in donation industry, citing a Blackbaud index.

It also sees a fragmented market and think his app can address the needs of 1.6 million registered non-profit companies in the United States. A donor can give to non-profit companies from one location. A 501 c3 company,  it charges 50 US cents per transaction fee and get 2.65 percent. For every donation, it mails the check to the recipient. It needs to vet non-profit companies and one way to do that, as suggested by an audience, is to have mission statements visible on the app.

Criteek presented its Saas platform , which automates the process of sourcing, hosting, curating and streaming video product reviews. Beyond eyeballs, it hopes to get clients, brands and retailers on board its B2B platform. Right now, it focuses on sports reviews.

“We are going (for) retailers (as) they are already in touch with their customers,” Kyle Wilkinson said.

Predictive analytics for finance and investment management is TenViz’s business It offers a range of data-driven solutions using both traditional statistical and most recent machine learning tools to solve complex problems for customers.

It will focus in the following areas: asset management, retail banking, commercial banking, retail and consumer goods, energy and utilities. It is $90 a month after its free trial.

Addressing comparisons with Bloomberg, Konstantin Fominykh said TenViz is more analytical.  Getting critical information days ahead of an investment would really be good, one pointed out.  

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.

http://www.meetup.com/NYCEuropeanTechMeetup/events/226685519/?a=ea1_grp&rv=ea1&_af=event&_af_eid=226685519&https=off

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.

 

Counter phishing attacks with Area 1, classify images with Metamind

NEW YORK–Last October 12, Area 1 Security, Birchbox, Livefyre and Metamind, presented at the packed Data-Driven meetup at Bloomberg.

http://www.meetup.com/NYC-Data-Business-Meetup/events/225285863/

Last October 12, Area 1 Security, Birchbox, Livefyre and Metamind, presented at the packed Data-Driven meetup at Bloomberg.

http://www.meetup.com/NYC-Data-Business-Meetup/events/225285863/

Area 1 Security’s Oren Falkowitz and Livefyre’s Ramana Rao presented themselves as companies from Silicon Valley.

Area 1 the cyber-security app that counters phishing attacks, focuses on stopping phishing attacks before they happen, the most common form of attacks now in our computer devices.

Area 1, raised $15 million this week, following Falkowitz’s presentation at the meetup. Falkowitz used to work for the National Security Agency.

“It takes 90 seconds from the time a phish to a user click,” Falkowitz cautioned. “Companies learn of attacks one year later. A new approach is required.”

Rao presented how Livefyre’s real-time content and engagement platform works. For those not familiar with the company, you often see them as the engine in the comments section of most websites.

Livefyre and Salesforce were in the news recently for its agreement to integrate their respective platforms that are seen by many as an effective way for companies to create a more cohesive marketing strategy.

MetaMind’s Richard Socher talked about the power of deep learning for enterprise, the future of understanding unstructured data. This includes speech recognition and a general image classifier which he demonstrated. You can create own image classifier with a free API. It’s an effective way for people to classify photos together in a category using an easy drag-and-drop technology.

Birchbox’s Liz Crawford presented her discovery commerce platform for beauty products last. Birchbox lets you get monthly deliveries of beauty or grooming samples, picked to match your profile. You can also customize your shipment by picking a sample or adding subscriber-only product deals.

Birchbox has come a long way. This week, it launched its own makeup line, Love of Color.

One Month, Thinkful present online programming courses with Hopscotch

NEW YORK–Last September 2, General Assembly held a talk featuring three companies offering online coding courses, One Month, Thinkful and Hopscotch at its offices in the Flatiron District.

https://generalassemb.ly/education/extra-credit-meetup/new-york-city/16481

Chris Castiglione, co-founder of One Month, the Y Combinator-backed learning platform, talked about how One Month is precisely that—it helps anyone learn any of its technology-based online courses in one month. These are online tutorials in Ruby on Rails, HTL, CSS, Growth Hacking, iOS and Programming for Non-Programmers.

Castiglione said it has more than 25,000 students, including employees from various companies. “We have students build (something) from day 1. By day 5, you have something you can upload on Github or Heroku,” he said. “If you don’t know what that means, you’ll know.”

While bootcamps preach total immersion, One Month lets learners take their time—15 minutes a day for 30 days, all online. “We have our own style compared to other courses out there. We are a school, not a library like Lynda.

One Month builds a course in 3 to 4 months and offers it for $49 a month.

Dan Friedman, co-founder of Thinkful, spoke next, took the opportunity to announce new educational offerings on its site. Tonight, it will start offering a library of online courses at $99 a month and in the following week, it will feature graduates of its programs.

Founded three years ago, Thinkful raised $4.5 million in a new round of funding last January, which is aimed at expanding its educational offerings online.

Unlike bootcamp classes which can set you back by a whopping $15,000, Thinkful offers a more affordable solution to learning starting at $300 to $1000 a month. One is paired with a mentor in a real-time online learning system or what Friedman calls the “magic of one-on-one plus the flexibility of online,” inspired as the company was on the one-on-one mentoring study by Benjamin Bloom.

What type of student do they get? “They go to us after they go to Codecademy,” he said. They get students paid for by the companies they work for, as part of their corporate training.

Next presenter was Samantha John, co-founder of Hopscotch, the iPad app that teaches kids how to create an app. Launched 2 years ago, it reportedly has 2.5 million downloads. “There’s no typing, no tricky syntax, just drag blocks of code with your fingers and play what you make instantly,” she said.

It ended up being used a lot in classrooms, she added.

Matching social enterprises and developers for a common good

RapidFTR in Uganda from Rapid FTR on Vimeo.

By Dennis Clemente

When you meet Vanessa Hurst, you’ll notice her smile; it’s a perpetual smile that makes her effective in playing matchup. She has been matching developers and social entrepreneurs in her meetup, Developers for Good (developersforgood.org), since 2010.

The meetup gathers all organizations of all different needs and stages and those with limited technical skills, even the underfunded.

Last January 30, ThoughtWorks (thoughtworks.com), the tech consulting company, hosted the event in its 15th St office, kicking off the informal talk with the presentation of its company espousing its mantra: “To better humanity through software.”

ThoughtWorks’ Chris George took the stage first, talking about two of its three-year-old projects, RapidFTR (rapidftr.com) and Democracy Now! (democracynow.com)

RapidFTR is a mobile app that helps aid workers collect, sort and share information about children in emergency situations with CouchDB as its initial backend. It has recently moved toward the Android platform.

The other project, Democracy Now!, is an independent media organization that George says “pushes a lot of stories that mainstream media is not discussing.”

“We used some of the early versions of Ruby on Rails. We are still changing the codebase today, but it has provided its challenges, as we provide a more updated experience with the latest technical tools out there,” he adds.

The attendees then took their turn about their own social enterprises, so the developers present in the meetup could find out how they can extend their knowledge and technical expertise on prototyping, forming a technical strategy or even when planning projects.

Unlike most meetups where enterprises have running sites already, Hurst’s meetup had attendees who clearly needed extra hands to launch their enterprises. Bill Graham (wmgraham1@hotmail.com) is on a mission to initiate a program that seeks to improve education on a global scale with volunteer developers out there.

Smaller in scale but already up and running is bourne-digital.com, a children’s publishing and educational software company, focused on meeting the needs of urban schools. Recently named a groundbreaking startup by O’Reilly Media and included in its publishing startup showcase, it plans to launch an adaptive reading platform for tablet devices. It is also looking to hire a CTO. Email founder Daniel Fountenberry at daniel@borne-digital.com

Maria Yuan’s issuevoter.com site aims to help people get involved in elections. She first envisioned her site when she received email alerts about IPOs while working on a campaign in Iowa.

It occurred to her that people could receive email alerts about biils that were up for vote in Congress or the State’s legislature. So, she thought, why not have this same function and more for people to have a say on these matters?!

It was also interesting to hear from a more established social enterprise, newmusicusa.org, which stands up for the rights of the whole music community, from composers to performers. The organization reportedly provides over $1 million each year in grant support for the creation and performance of new work and community building throughout the country.

More attendees spoke up about their own social enterprises – and how they need both developers and non-technical people to help them get their ideas rolling. For them, the Developers For Good meetup helped them network with the right people.

Hurst’s Developers for Good started in 2010 when Hurst said she grew frustrated working for a financial services company. She initially volunteered her database skills before practicing “what I love” now.

Search and SharePoint 2013; Social, next?

By Dennis Clemente

If you’re going to talk about the product you’re championing, you might as well do it in your own backyard, right? Last January 9, the SharePoint MeetUp group covered the topic, “Search-Driven Design Patterns for SharePoint 2013” at the Microsoft office at 1290 Avenue of the Americas.

For the uninitiated, Microsoft’s SharePoint 2013 is about how organizations work together and optimize how people work. Essentially, it’s a collaborative platform. The goal: to run your business more efficiently.

The group tackled search queries from a design pattern perspective. Comparing the 2010 with the 2013 launched a healthy exchange of ideas about SharePoint2013 helps in idea sharing, organizing teams and projects, and discovering people and information. In many of these classes, though, you just hope there was a brand it could have talked about as an example; Home Depot was mentioned albeit briefly.

Nicholas Bisciotti, one of the attendees, liked the topics that were raised, but he thinks it would be good to “resolve” them in the next session
• Role-based search solutions based on job function, where person is, who they are (possibly with rank profile)
• SharePoint 2013 Search with non-SharePoint UI
• SharePoint 2013 Search for mobile
• Leveraging geographical data in Search

It’s also good to know SharePoint has gone social—and it would be great to watch that tackled by a group already immersed in the SharePoint platform in the next meetup of this solemn, more studious group.