Year in Review Panel Discussion: Net Neutrality, Cyber Security and IoT

On Tuesday, January 27th, tech enthusiasts around the Washington metropolitan area braved the snowy weather to gather at 1776’s downtown location for Tech in Motion’s ‘A Year in Review’ panel discussion. Mike Chan, co-founder of local startup ribl and organizer of Startup Weekend DC, moderated the discussion. Panelists included Rob Pegoraro (Yahoo Tech), David Young (VP of Public Policy, Verizon), Lauren Maffeo (Aha! Labs), Patrick Merfert (9Lenses), and Mike Leurdjik (Core Capital).

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Upon arriving, attendees were encouraged to enjoy some light networking before taking their seats to listen to the discussion on the biggest tech headlines of the past year as well as predictions for the upcoming year. Before the panel took to the stage to discuss the past year’s tech headlines, a few words were spoken by representatives from event sponsor companies Jobspring PartnersWorkbridge Associates, and Verizon FiOS.

Become a Tech in Motion sponsor in your city.  

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Mike Chan launched the discussion by making introductions down the line, and launched the conversation by asking each panelist to reflect on one big technology-related headline of the past year. With the annual State of the Net address having occurred earlier that day at the Newseum, Rob and David kicked things off seamlessly with a passionate dialogue about Net Neutrality, with each representing opposite sides and debating the pros and cons of net neutrality, title II, and Section 706. David finished the discussion by summarizing his stance supporting net neutrality rules, but asserted that implementation of title II would be a mistake.

Lauren then steered the conversation towards Fintech, a movement focused on disrupting the banking industry which gained tremendous momentum this past year. As an example, she cited the hugely popular Transferwise which has recently announced a 58M round of funding to expand their offerings internationally.

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Almost inevitably, the dialogue turned towards the security breaches of the past year. Corporations such as Home Depot and Target fell prey to credit card hacks, the now infamous Sony hack revealed multitudes of confidential data, and the Central Command Twitter account (@centcom) was hacked while President Obama was giving a speech on the importance of cyber security–all of which served to highlight the growing importance of this industry.

“A scary trend that we have been seeing and will continue to see is data breaches. The size, volume, and sophistication of these attacks are increasing,” Patrick stated.

He spoke at length about cyber security and the seriousness of the problems that it’s presented. Despite these problems, Patrick also highlighted an upside to the issue.

“The silver lining about this is that it’s a great opportunity for security and defense startups,” Patrick noted. “[There is] a ton of opportunity for new entrants and agile startups to tackle these specific types of attacks.”

In a change of pace, Mike Leurdijk observed that the rate of change in the industry has continued to trend upwards over time. Resources are becoming more easily accessible and there is an increase in the amount of disruptors and collaboration occurring in the space.

“This [the rate of change] is something that’s increased from the past few years and it will continue to improve,” Mike stated. “It’s cheap, affordable to become an entrepreneur, there’s a huge amount of opportunity in the enterprise space, you see corporate VCs going further…it’s an exciting time to be here.

Predictions for trends and headlines to look for in 2015 covered a wide breadth of the sector in the conversation. Topics included technology in the enterprise space moving to the consumer level, wearables continuing to tailor their offerings to fulfill the market need for devices that specifically address and target consumer needs, a value shift in startup accelerators and the democratization of angel investing.

Lauren predicted that cyber security and the broader genre of privacy will only increase in importance and relevancy. A recent study by Cisco estimated that 25 billion devices will be connected to the Internet and make up the Internet of Things in 2015.

“Global governments will not able to keep up with growing technology demands, therefore it will be up to startups and corporations to promote privacy and trust,” Lauren predicted.

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Interested in being a speaker or demo company at Tech in Motion? Contact us.

A topic that was perhaps the most popular in its prediction of continuing to trend from 2014 in to 2015 was the theme of diversity in technology. Mike Chan started things off by discussing how the lack of diversity seen is the black eye of the industry. When speaking on the diversity reports that companies are feeling pressured to release, he asked if these reports were part of a PR stunt.

Rob was quick to point out that of the companies that have actually released reports; their findings don’t necessarily cast them in the best light. An example cited was Twitter’s diversity report that resulted in backlash for not having a single female on their board. The debate then morphed into how to bring about change and increase diversity.

“The idea is to let this diversity happen more organically,” Lauren weighed in. “Once you start talking about setting quotas or things of that nature, that’s when things start to get tricky.”

Mike Leurdijk kept things in perspective when discussing the amount of time that it will take to make that change happen.

“Change needs to start at the bottom. It’s a cultural change that needs to happen. It will take a long time, but keep encouraging that change,” he asserted.

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After the discussion came to a close, there was a brief Q&A section. The audience, as ever, was filled with engaged and inquiring individuals who stayed long after the panel came to an official close to network with one another and speak with the panelists before the space, 1776, closed for the night.

1776 is a prominent startup incubator located in the heart of Washington. The startup incubator is a household name in the DC area, known for everything ranging from their Challenge Cup to visits by prominent figure includingg the British Prime Minister and President Obama. The space, which boasts an ultra-modern and comfortable interior, held the 120+ event attendees easily.

Interested in learning more about the DC chapter of Tech in Motion events? Check out the event page and join this rapidly growing membership base. The next Tech in Motion DC event will be a Demos & Drinks on February 24th at the WeWork WonderBread Factory.

Let’s Get Social in San Francisco: Mixer Recap

This summer, Raven Bar & Lounge prepared for 200 San Francisco techies to walk through their doors with the goal of connecting with the community. The dark lounges were lined with Tech in Motion flyers and photos, the bartenders sported meetup name tags and as the first guests trickled in, Raven’s signature cocktails began to flow.

Find a Tech in Motion mixer near you.

The goal of the night was to create an environment of pure and organic networking. Guests were encouraged to connect not only in person but also online. A large screen displayed a stream of live tweets from guests at the event. As an extra incentive to bring the event to the Internet, Tech in Motion offered free drink tickets to the first 50 tweets of the evening. This got the social media bug flying among the guests. As members met new friends in real life, photos of the new found connections slid on and off the screen. Excitement ensued when members noticed their faces on the big screen for the entire bar to see. The tweets were in – and the experience was positive!

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The venue was perfect for the night in more ways than one. Raven offered multiple levels for members to mingle and even an outdoor patio. This gave guests the opportunity to move freely throughout a variety of spaces and connect with as many people as possible. Additionally, Raven’s owner, Dave, could be found mingling with guests the night of the event. Dave stressed that one of the contributing factors in opening a bar in SF was that he wanted to engage the strong presence of tech in the area. He was more than interested in finding out what each member did and how they were involved in the booming Bay Area tech world.

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As the official event hours came to a close it was clear that the membership was not ready to leave. The drink tickets were long gone but the cocktails were still flowing. Members flocked to the three bars and continued to network passed the end of the event. The connections were flowing in the best way possible and guests were content with staying for one more drink in Raven’s comfortable setup.

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Around 9:30PM guests started meandering out of Raven’s large, dark doors. With business cards in their pockets and opportunity ahead, they left satisfied of a night well spent.

You can attend a Tech in Motion mixer in your area – just visit our Events Calendar to see when and where you can start making connections.

Recap: Demos & Drinks in OC, Smart Home Edition

At the end of September, Tech in Motion Orange County hosted a Demos & Drinks mixer – smart home edition! Some of the best home automation companies were on display at Eureka Building’s high-tech outdoor venue while 400 Tech in Motion members enjoyed drinks, viewing the latest home tech and meeting up with local techies and friends.

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Featured companies INSTEON, EDGEhome and Smartenit demonstrated how our Orange County members could use the latest smart home tech in their own homes.

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Medicast, a service that delivers doctors to your home within two hours with just a click of a button graciously sponsored the event and raffled off a service package to a lucky member!

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INSTEON entertained our members by demonstrating how they’ve integrated their Windows 8.1 phone app with Cortana, Microsoft’s digital assistant.

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EDGEhome and Smartenit both helped our members understand the logistics behind home automation. While Smartenit has been part of demo events other than Tech in Motion, they were sure to note that this was one of their best demoing experiences to date. They said the casual atmosphere and interest from our members really made their demoing process enjoyable!

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Founder Peter Cullen of Core Performance Consulting also sponsored this event, and provided our members with information on how his company can provide excellent Cloud based Accounting Services to small and mid-sized businesses.

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As always with our events at Eureka, people networked into the early evening and left our event with new information, new friends and new memories! We can’t thank our sponsors Workbridge Associates, Jobspring Partners, Core Performance Consulting, Medicast and Eureka Building enough for helping us put together this event!

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If you’d like to learn more information about joining the largest tech meetup in Orange County, please check out Tech in Motion Orange County to join the group and RSVP for our upcoming events!

Recap: Tech in Motion SF’s Panel Discusses The Future of Mobile

This summer, Tech in Motion San Francisco hosted over 200 attendees for The Future of Mobile Panel Event at Tagged HQ, home of the social network for meeting new people.The panel of experts included talented mobile developers from San Francisco and New York: Jeanine Swatton, Technology Evangelist; Bill Magnuson, Co-Founder & CTO at Appboy Inc.; Tom Anderson, Senior Developer Evangelist; and Alex Gaber: Mobile App Technology Developer.

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The night began with a full hour of networking prior to the panel, proving very productive and fun due to the color coded name tags. Name tags were divided accordingly between networkers, job seekers and hiring managers, so everyone had the inside scoop as to who was attending and why.

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With Tagged HQ’s cozy couches, Tech in Motion’s home-made sangria and a keg filled with Hefeweizen, the evening felt like a comfy tech talk at a buddy’s house. Once the moderator Owen Thomas, Editor-in-Chief of ReadWrite at Say Media, kicked off the discussion, the panelists were on point and engaged in talking tech.

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Owen initialized the discussion with the broad yet appropriate question of “what does the future hold for mobile development?”  The overall response was that the future of mobile is clearly seen in the amount of control mobile devices have over every aspect of one’s life.  Controlling your house, your health and even your business are all platforms mobile technology will have substantial advances in over the next years.

“The potential of mobile has just begun,”  claimed Bill, CTO of Appboy, Inc. “Mobile will continue to find new form factors, new populations and enable products and services to touch our lives in unexpected and fantastic ways.”

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He also pointed out how wearable tech is becoming a normal part of life. Simple yet complex gadgets can be worn while doing daily activities – and give data results that have never before been possible. Bill illustrated with the example of racing against friends down a mountain at a ski resort, and being able to track speed, location and video. Wearables and mobile smart phones are the commonalty nowadays. Although everyone has their limits on how many wearables one can wear at one time; Owen joked that the max is three wearables at once.

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Our dependencies and safety are increasingly becoming an even bigger issue as mobile technology advances. The gravity of how much information our devices hold and how we share our information has extreme pitfalls in addition to the extreme advantages.

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Jeanine, a Technology Evangelist, stated a startling truth: “People fear losing their phone more than death itself!” This comment won a shared laugh, as well as a genuine acknowledgement among Tech in Motion attendees.

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“For me, the take away was to remove the limits,” shared Tom, the Senior Developer Evangelist, on his view of breaking limitations in mobile. “People should stop thinking that the future of mobile is tied to the handset. It may be a watch, a TV, a car, a train table, tablet, almost anything you can think of.”

“Mobile is about getting access to your data and performing the tasks you want wherever you are with whatever device you have. Even going so far as to have the devices around you anticipate your needs and wants and perform those actions for you (i.e. a car that reroutes to avoid traffic).”

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With BlackBerry as the headlining sponsor, guests were given the opportunity to win a free device, the Z30 mobile. They were also introduced to the state of the art technology BlackBerry has to offer.

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Sinch acted as the social sponsor for the night and had prizes at their table too.  Sinch understands the needs of developers who want to create the next big thing. Apps are better when they are more social and with their tried and tested SDK, integrating communication features into yours is quite literally a Sinch!

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The guests finished out the evening with a question and answer session, sending the discussion flying. Tech in Motion members played off each other’s questions and concerns about the future of mobile. Each of the panelists stressed the importance of security, especially when building an app. They even incorporated personal stories of triumph and failure.

Tom made jokes about how long he’s been in the tech industry, and how he genuinely holds a strong optimism for this ‘new revolution of mobile technology’ that is happening right now.  Upon closing the formal portion of the night, guests mingled and networked over a final drink before heading home. To read some more live tweets visit MobileFOMO mobile marketing news, titled Tech in Motion Hosts Future of Mobile Panel at Tagged HQ: Recap.

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Don’t forget to check out the Tech in Motion event lineup for a chapter near you, or join San Francisco’s meetup to be at the next event there!

The Future of Virtual Reality

1097723620Written by Arthur van Hoff, CTO at Jaunt

Virtual reality is something many people have heard of, but few have experienced. Yet trying to put it into words is, as one blogger stated, “like trying to take a picture of your favorite song.” Poised to disrupt the way we see, live and engage with the world, the fully immersing experience of VR has the potential to change the face not just of gaming or entertainment, but has implications for education, travel, healthcare, real estate, and more.

Today, you can put on VR goggles and have an immersive experience beyond your imagination – with high-definition 360-degree, 3D video and binaural audio, you can feel as though you’re in the world’s most spectacular places, on stage next to your favorite musician, or on the field cheering on your home team, even when you’re thousands of miles away.

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The truly exciting part about virtual reality is that this is just the beginning. The potential applications for this technology is something that excites us tremendously and we are continuously exploring.

Much of the content that is currently being developed for virtual reality goggles is simulated or digitally produced, along the lines of video games. At Jaunt, we’re building the full-stack technology to create cinematic VR. This includes the camera, software editing, and content production. Instead of exploring a simulated world, you can be transported to other places in the real world.

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This also means exploring new means of storytelling beyond the current capabilities of traditional film-making. We’re discovering new ways to use the technology, and it’s opening up huge new doors for writers, directors, actors, artists, and other content creators.

We shared some of what we’ve discovered and created at the Tech In Motion event this week. We enjoyed sharing the experience of cinematic VR with you and you’ll see some action photos in an event recap posted later in the month.

Tech in Motion Silicon Valley is also proud to announce their September event, Security & Technology: BYOD, Home, & Mobile {Sponsored By Microsoft & Appvance}. You can RSVP here.

arthurAbout the author: Arthur van Hoff is serial entrepreneur and was most recently CTO at Flipboard. He started his career in Silicon Valley at Sun Microsystems where he was an early developer of the Java programming language. Since then he has started several successful companies. Arthur has expertise in machine learning, big data, mobile applications, 3D printing, and computational photography. He is originally from the Netherlands and has a master’s degree in Computer Science from Strathclyde University in Glasgow.

From Russian Linguist to CTO: A Recap of Philadelphia’s First Fireside Chat

On Wednesday, March 26, Tech in Motion Philadelphia hosted their first ever fireside chat at CityCoHo Philly Nexus with Chief Technology Officer (CTO) Richard Bunker of the Neat Company. Led by Christopher Wink of Technically Philly, the conversation covered Bunker’s journey from Russian Linguist to successful CTO, with a healthy dose of insight into the future of the Neat Company.

“I was paying to go to school for Russian literature by doing jobs as a programmer for Polaroid and Pepsi,” Bunker said about his beginnings, “and I discovered there are better paying jobs as a programmer than there are as a Russian literature student.”

Bunker’s path to CTO was never a straight line, but instead a varied path that included positions such as managing director, president and CIO. His first leadership gig was at SEI, as Vice President over about 50 software developers, followed by a stint as CIO for Procurian.

“CIO’s don’t become CEOs, so I made the move to the front office,” said Bunker of his transition to a Chief Technology Officer position.

Bunker leads the tech department as CTO of the Neat Company, which offers an integrated system of software, hardware, cloud services and mobile applications that allows users to perfectly scan documents and manage them in Quick Books, Constant Contact or other programs. Neat’s technology recognizes the type of document that is scanned with their hardware and intelligently parses the data accordingly.

“We’re going to keep selling hardware. We have groovy scanners,” Bunker acknowledged, “but the value is in our software…And I went to high school in the seventies; I’m allowed to say groovy!”

A little known fact about the Neat Company is that they process 12.5 Lowes receipts per minute, according to Bunker. Anyone with a small business has receipts and is going to keep scanning them. While Bunker believes this could be done directly with an in-browser application, Neat’s clients still prefer the mobile app.

“A lot of the hard stuff – synchronize, categorize, move things around – is going to move to the cloud,” said Bunker, indicating that the mobile app would soon become just a thin app. “We’re operating a cloud business at scale.”

When the conversation turned from cloud services to the Philadelphia tech scene, Bunker was full of optimism for the city, citing the high number of students and how the money made when companies are sold stays in the area as the former founders begin new startups. Neat Company even sponsored a code camp recently to give back, but Bunker sees the real growth for the community coming in the future.

“We are hiring people and we are doing things very close to what you would find in Silicon Valley,” Bunker told the audience. “These skills are becoming part of the community; those skills become a part of Philadelphia.”

While Chris Wink was a stimulating moderator for the conversation, Bunker inspired quite a queue of technologists waiting to speak with him after the Q & A wrapped up. Beforehand, he left the crowd with a phrase that has become his mantra.

“I try to say yes when people ask me to do things,” Bunker said with a smile.

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In addition to an educational evening from Bunker and Wink’s dialogue, guests also enjoyed bites from the Corner Foodery and beer donated by Shawnee Craft Brewing Company. CityCoHo graciously donated their space for networking and the fireside chat, as well.

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Thank you to sponsors Jobspring Partners and Workbridge Associates, who made the event possible.To join the Philadelphia chapter of Tech in Motion, please sign up here.

Recap: Results of Chicago’s Tech Trivia Event

On Wednesday, January 29th, Tech In Motion: Chicago hosted its first ever Tech Trivia event with over 150 techies present. As everyone arrived, teams were formed and then it was off to the races! We broke the event up into 4 rounds, worth 20 points each, plus a final bonus round. If you weren’t able to make it, here are the questions we asked – see how well you would have done!

Round 1: Logos

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Round 2: General Chicago Trivia

  1. There were 7 Chicagoland companies that filed for an IPO in 2013. Name one. Textura, CDW, Claires, Potbelly, ASC Acquisition, Levy Acquisition, Hennessey Capital Acquisition
  2. In October 2013, John Tolva stepped down as the city’s CTO to join which environmentally focused engineering firm? PositivEnergy Practice
  3. Which online clothing seller did Groupon acquire in January of this year? Ideeli
  4. Howard Tullman, a veteran Chicago entrepreneur, was just named as the CEO of what company in November of 2013? 1871

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Round 3: General Tech Trivia

  1. What does HTML stand for? Hyper Text Markup Language
  2. What programming language does Android use? Java
  3. What is the #1 blogging platform in the world? WordPress
  4. Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded what large internet based company? Google

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Round 4: Multiple Answers

Name 10 of the 50 fastest growing companies by five-year revenue growth according to an article published by Crains in June of 2013.  Answers HERE

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Bonus Round: Tech In Motion  Name 4 past Tech in Motion presenters.

And here are the results:

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Congrats to our winners, Team V Nation, who walked away with $125 in Amazon gift cards and some great SWAG from our sponsors!

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So how do you think you would have done? Any suggestions for us next time?

We want to thank everyone for coming out to the event and being such great participants. Thanks again to Jobspring Partners, Workbridge Associates, Microsoft, Start-Up Institute and Grind for helping make the event a huge success!

Socialie Lets Startups Test Their Strategy

Socialie: the Startup program allows for free trial.

Guest post by Kristin Adams, founder and CEO of Socialie

Hi friends and colleagues. I would like to start off by introducing myself; my name is Kristin Adams, founder and CEO of Socialie. My team and I could not be more excited to take part in the upcoming Tech in Motion Philadelphia event: Entertainment Tech Drinks & Demos. We love any opportunity to rub elbows with the best and brightest of the tech world, and from what we’ve heard, there’s going to be some serious talent at this shindig on January 30th. We view this as an opportunity to not only discover what our fellow tech companies have been working on, but to also educate you on the platform we’ve been building with the hope of getting some feedback from Philly’s finest. In exchange for your honest opinions and expertise, we’d like to offer you our platform for a 3-month trial at no cost. Now that I’ve hopefully reeled you in with the whole “free” thing, allow me to tell you a bit about who we are and what exactly it is that you’d be getting.

We believe people are the most important element of social media, so my team and I created a tool that helps companies leverage the people behind their brands by building a connected network of their social accounts and then allowing them to easily send network members suggested content for approval, editing and publishing via SMS. Our platform helps you manage and leverage your non-owned social media marketing strategy and drive your brand message to wider audiences (Click here to find out what is non-owned social media marketing is).

The idea for Socialie came about back when I was running social media for the UFC. One of the biggest pain points while working with sports and entertainment clients was seeding content to very busy and mostly mobile brand influencers. The 400 athletes on the roster were a huge social asset, but it wasn’t easy to consistently get them to share brand content across their social channels and then for us to track it. I wanted to solve this problem. So I left my job, moved to Philly and built a small team of people who believed in my idea and were willing to work their butts off to help me bring it to life.

Now, back to the good stuff; how you’ll be getting this for free. We decided to put the Socialie tool into the hands of the smartest, most creative and passionate group of people we could think of: startups! For a limited time only, we’re offering the Socialie platform at no cost, and all we ask in return is that you share your feedback and help us spread the word. We want to learn from you what’s working, what’s not working and where we can improve. So give your marketing budget a break and try out a new word-of-mouth marketing tool that makes it easy to promote your company’s mission. Did you just roll-out a new feature? Published a great blog post? Get everyone promoting your stories and content.

In order to sign up for the program, head over to socialie.com/startups and fill out the form at the bottom of the page. Once you sign up, we’ll be in touch to schedule a demo. The signup deadline is January 31, so hurry up and get on it!

And don’t forget to RSVP so you can get entertained at the Tech in Motion Drinks & Demos this Thursday!

How To Prototype Your App With People (Using Mechanical Turk)

Ted Mann SSWhen my iOS app SnipSnap was accepted to DreamIt Ventures two years ago, it was little more than a screencast and a high-fidelity prototype built on Keynote templates. Vaporwear. We were planning to build a fairly sophisticated OCR app for coupons and had zero technology. But we learned you can overpromise like this with early features–if you know your way around Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service.

M-turk, as it’s known for short, allows you to outsource small jobs to real people. You can route tasks there via their API, allowing your app to deliver work to remote workers and then take back the results. Without all those outsource workers, we never would have been able to get SnipSnap working at the scale needed to prove out the capital investment in writing OCR software.

Step 1. Proving Out The Concept

The goal of our iOS app was to parse out all coupon details and then return back a digital version ready to redeem in-store. We thought of it as DIY mobile couponing. I knew the concept would work in stores, as I’d spent the prior six months photographing coupons–Babies “R” Us, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target–and then successfully redeeming them off my phone’s camera roll. It just worked. I knew how much more valuable this experience would be in app form, with all the structured coupon data enabling features like expiration-date alerts and location-based reminders and scannable barcodes.

Having seen the effectiveness of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) at powering a class of business-card scanning apps, like WordCard Mobile and CardSnap, I figured we could take that same approach and apply it to coupons. Thus was born my spiffy prototype and lofty promises to the DreamIt selection committee. After quitting my nice stable job at Gannett, and reassuring my pregnant wife all the while, I ventured off to West Philadelphia to build this seemingly simple utility in three months or less. It took less than one week to realize how horribly misguided I’d been.

Sh*t, ORC Software Is Hard

OCR on coupons was, quite simply, a bad idea. We tested every option–from the free, open-source Tesseract OCR library, to Abbyy’s crazy expensive in-app SDK and various other server-side OCR products. The app could extract some text, but not nearly enough.

The problem: Coupon layout is sloppy, irregular, and unstructured. Perhaps most problematic, even when we did extract text, we had to formulate countless natural-language patterns to be able to parse the text into the appropriate fields, like the expiration date. Our mentor put it bluntly: Our approach was DOA.

Around the same time, I heard about another business card scanning app, one that had been acquired by LinkedIn. When I first used CardMunch I was disappointed; it didn’t give you a result instantly. But then, after a few minutes, the details of the card were identified perfectly. How’d they do that with just a semi-blurry photo? I puzzled over this for weeks until a much smarter entrepreneur friend gave me a clue: “Dude, they’re just Turking ’em.”

All The Cool Startups Are M-Turkin’ It

Crowdsourced labor is perfect for fulfilling simple, routine tasks that can’t be otherwise automated. Got a business card that needs parsing? You can M-turk it. Photos on your social network that need to be screened for pornographic images? M-turk to the rescue. Audio that needs transcribing? Yup, works for that too.

The more I talked with other entrepreneurs, the more I realized that this approach was not only viable, but advisable. M-turk essentially allows a startup like SnipSnap to brute-force a problem that there isn’t an easy technological solution for (yet). In reading Lean Startup, this is more or less how Aardvark (acquired by Google) built their ask/answer MVP. The DreamIt folks informed me that Adaptly, a star from a former DreamIt class, also brute-forced their product at the outset.

I’d like to say that after we had this aha moment, and hooked our jumper cables up to the Amazon service, it all clicked. Alas, M-turk integration proved to be daunting. We were also building our native iOS app and backend at the same time. Come Demo Day, we were not fully M-turk ready. We did have a viable prototype, which demo’d nicely for investors. But even then, it was powered by three friends logging into a crude admin UI and manually parsing the coupons off-site. Some call this the “Wizard of Oz” approach. And it worked beautifully up to about 10 users. Of course, there was no way it would scale when we actually hit the app store.

The Key To Leveraging M-Turk At Scale

Running out of time and frustrated by the M-turk architecture, we looked for an even easier way to plug in. Enter Houdini–a dead-simple API for creating M-turk tasks, or HITS. SnipSnap would send a coupon image, Houdini would generate the HIT, and it would then post back all the coupon details in a exactly the format we needed. Within just one week, we were rocking and rolling. Almost 100% accurate!
Then, about 2 weeks after launching, came the Apple feature in the New and Noteworthy section. Our servers held up, but all of a sudden we had an M-turk backlog. And with 100,000 new users and twice that many coupons submitted in a week, things piled up quickly. But there was a simple solution: Raise the price of our HITS. At launch, we were paying $0.05 per coupon parsed. The minute we bumped it up to $0.12, the laws of supply and demand kicked in, and we watched the horrendously long backlog evaporate in about a day. Incidentally, $0.02 of that went to Amazon, a small percentage to Houdini, and the rest to the worker, or Turker (Houdini has since changed their pricing model). Houdini even afforded us a dead-simple way to send a task to multiple Turkers, compare the results, and throw out any outlier data–consensus workflow automation, or, in layman’s terms, quality control.

Over the course of the last year, SnipSnap has become the fastest growing coupon app. We have grown close to 1 million users and over 16 million coupons snipped, and began working with several of the largest national retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond and Aeropostale and Sears. All the while, M-turk continued to power at least part of our system. As we reached scale, we found that we needed to graduate from Houdini’s solution, which, while simple to set up, didn’t afford us the ability to create custom functionality (like, say, having the Turker rotate and crop a coupon image before parsing it). So we built our own form and buckled down to do the full M-turk integration.

Specifically, we found that for our type of HIT, a form that placed the fields beside the coupon image, with certain text auto-completing, made the task infinitely easier (and hence faster). That, we learned, is critical for M-turk: No matter what form you build, put yourself in the shoes of the worker, and complete a couple hundred tasks. If your HIT is boring or annoying (or worse: time-consuming), chances are they’ll see it that way too, and be that much more disinclined to complete them. Our form got a lot better and, some Turkers said it was actually kind of fun.

Eventually we developed methods for image recognition and barcode scanning and, yes, even OCR. We continue to work with researchers on approaches to correcting perspective in angled images and text, and have patented some of the tech we’ve built. And yet, Mechanical Turk continues to be the ultimate fall-back whenever all those automated measures have a low degree of confidence. Even as we’ve reached the level of 200,000 coupons snipped a day, it has proven to be incredibly scalable and cost-effective.

HOW TO GET STARTED WITH MECHANICAL TURK

  1. Check out the simplified services that sit atop M-Turk, and simplify integration, like CrowdFlower, Houdini, and ScalableWorkforce. Many others listed here: http://www.quora.com/What-are-some-crowdsourcing-services-similar-to-Amazon-Mechanical-Turk
  2. Consider using a consensus workflow to maintain quality, but also know the trade-offs: time and money. These tasks will always take longer to return a result, as you need multiple Turkers to complete. And if you have 3 workers reviewing each task you’ll pay 3x as much.
  3. Creating Gold tasks is a good way to evaluate worker quality. These tasks have preassigned answers and workers are judged by how closely their responses match. A great way for weeding out the sub-par workers and spammers.
  4. Be careful about modifying your HIT prices. Once workers become accustomed to your tasks, a change in pricing (especially downward) could cause you to instantly lose a chunk of your worker pool.
  5. Streamline your task. Add auto-completes to fields, make sure tabbing around the form is simple, consider that many Turkers are on small screens. The simpler and speedier your task is to complete the better.
  6. Spend an hour doing your tasks. Sum up how many you completed, and multiply this by your HIT price. This is the hourly wage you’re paying your M-Turk employees, and don’t you forget it.

 

This article originally appeared in Fast Company

Capturing the Rise of Philly Tech

When I got to Philadelphia in 2004 there was not much of a tech scene to speak of. At least not one I could see. As I would find out later, a lot of the people were here, but they had not yet coalesced into a community. Within a few years, however, events like Ignite Philly and the first BarCamp Philly began to reveal a Philadelphia that looked a lot like the temporary tech community I witnessed every year at SXSW Interactive.

This whole time I was a filmmaker, having made my first movie in high school, when editing meant wiring two VCR’s together and hoping for the best. So it was only a matter of time before my two passions collided.

In 2012, my co-producer Maurice Gaston and I began shooting the web series Developing Philly, about the rise of what we called the “innovation community” in Philadelphia (because “tech” was just too narrow). We interviewed luminaries like Alex Hillman, who helped define coworking not just for Philly, but for much of the world, Wil Reynolds, who showed how you can build a tech business that helps sustain a neighborhood, and Josh Kopelman, who took lessons from the last tech boom to empower this one.

Earlier this year, we completed the series and debuted the first episode during Philly Tech Week. It ran for seven weeks, got lots of acclaim, and is available now at DevelopingPhilly.com. It was very fulfilling to give back, in our own way, to the community we love by attempting to document it and how it has impacted – and been impacted by – the city we love.

My co-producer and I are working on season two now, but first we have to go run that very conference that helped build this community. In part based on our work with Developing Philly, we’ve been asked to organize this year’s BarCamp Philly! How’s that for coming full circle?

You can check out the first episode of Developing Philly below:

Episode One – “The End Is the Beginning”