Rich Stew at Web Innovators Bash
If you’re hungry for a taste of Web 2.0 technology, Boston style, just attend one of the Web Innovators Group meetings, hosted every other month or so by David Beisel, a vice president in the Cambridge office of Menlo Park, CA-based venture firm Venrock. Last night’s gathering, the 14th in the series, filled the second-floor ballroom at Cambridge’s Royal Sonesta hotel and spilled into the lobby. Designed as a combination of three six-minute “main dish” presentations and several 30-second “side dish” talks, the forums give entrepreneurs from early-stage Web startups a chance to show off what they’re doing to their peers. But the meetings are also massive social-networking events, and they’re growing at a pace that unmistakably signifies a mini-Renaissance in consumer Internet services underway in the Boston area.
Monday’s event was “the largest to date by far,” according to Beisel. The chefs de cuisine included Jon Finegold of digital picture-frame content provider Frame Media (profiled on Xconomy today), Robin Chase of eco-friendly ride-finder service GoLoco, and Jesse Engle of Swatchbox, creator of the just-launched online interior-decorating toolkit DesignMyRoom.com.
In spirit and philosophy, GoLoco and DesignMyRoom are virtual opposites—and they illustrate the huge range of innovation emerging from local Web companies.
Chase is the co-founder of Zipcar, the fleet of on-demand Priuses, Mini Coopers, and other cars used by tens of thousands of drivers in Boston, Chicago, London, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C. If Zipcar is about cars waiting for riders, Cambridge-based GoLoco is about riders waiting for cars; it’s a way to be social and environmentally conscious at the same time.
In its current form, GoLoco is a Facebook application—one of hundreds created since Facebook opened its site to outside software developers in May—that matches up people making car trips with people needing rides. Say you live in Boston, you’ve been infected by the Ikea virus, and you’d like to find a passenger to split to cost of your next trip to Ikea’s Stoughton outpost. Just add the GoLoco application to your Facebook profile and search for people who want to travel to Ikea.
If you tried that search today, as it happens, you’d see that Chase herself is looking for a ride; the site calculates that taking her along would earn you $10.74. GoLoco can handle the actual payment for a 10 percent fee—which many people are happy to pay, Chase said last night, simply to avoid the hassle and awkwardness of exchanging cash and change during their drives. If you complete the drive, GoLoco will tell you how many pounds of carbon dioxide were not released into the atmosphere thanks to your eco-awareness.
Facebook wasn’t working terribly well when Chase demonstrated GoLoco’s features on stage last night—one of the hazards of yoking your startup’s main product to another company’s site. But if GoLoco eventually succeeds on Facebook, it could grow into a stand-alone service, Chase says. I asked Chase after her talk whether there’s any thought being given to integrating GoLoco’s service with Zipcar’s reservation system. She said that such a combo would make perfect sense, but that it’s up to the folks at Zipcar, where she’s merely a shareholder these days.
DesignMyRoom.com, by contrast, is all about being a dutiful consumer (and finding the right spots for all that furniture you’re going to lug home from Ikea). Westborough-based Swatchbox, the site’s creator, is the company behind the PC interior-design tools offered in the past by companies such as Benjamin Moore (which is also one of the firms sponsoring the new site). DesignMyRoom’s main feature is a Web-based “DesignBoard” that works like an interactive issue of Architectural Digest: pick a blank room, paint the walls, and then drag in images from the site’s catalog of commercially available area rugs, window treatments, coffee tables, plumbing fixtures, and the like into the space. Once you’ve got a design that pleases you, DesignMyRoom.com will spit out a shopping list telling you where to buy the real objects. After signing up to try the tool this morning, I was able to pick out $548 worth of furniture and paint in less than 60 seconds.
In addition to the main dish presentations, the evening included six side dish presenters, including job site Oncero; fantasy investing site The UpDown (profiled here last week); mobile entertainment platform AdME; mobile recommendation engine Mobleo; SNIF Labs, a developer of social-networking hardware and software for dogs; and fantasy-celebrity league Fafarazzi. Watch for our profile of Fafarazzi later this week.