Join a Q&A with Tech Founders David Cancel, Joe Chung, Jules Pieri, and Ellen Rubin at XSITE 2011 on June 16

6/2/11Follow @wroush

Founding a startup means facing so many hazards and unknowns that it can feel like establishing a new country. How are you going to encourage immigration to build up your population (i.e., customers)? How do you husband your natural resources (capital) and attract strong leaders (employees)? What if your constitution (your business plan) needs to be revised? How do you respond when there’s civil unrest, or you’re attacked by a rival nation?

Okay, I don’t want to take the metaphor too far. But given the Boston region’s history of supporting revolutionary ideas, it seemed appropriate that Xconomy Boston’s flagship annual event, XSITE, should include a few conversations with the founding fathers (and mothers) of local technology startups. The “Founders’ Stories” afternoon breakout session at XSITE 2011, which I’ll be moderating, is what I want to tell you about today.

In keeping with the overall theme for XSITE this year—”the entrepreneurship era”—our idea for the Founders’ Stories track was to assemble veteran entrepreneurs and investors from the Web and information technology sector to share personal experiences illustrating both the challenges facing early-stage Internet and technology startups and the solutions available to meet them. We’ve recruited four of the area’s most thoughtful entrepreneurs for this panel; they’ve all made frequent appearances in Xconomy’s pages:

David Cancel is the founder and CEO of Performable, a Cambridge, MA, startup focused on automated Web analytics that help online brands generate more clicks, sales, or other forms of “conversion.” A veteran of the Boston startup scene, Cancel previously co-founded Web traffic monitoring company Compete (sold to UK market research firm TNS in 2008) and a short-lived Facebook advertising network called Lookery. The first time we interviewed Cancel about Performable, back in early 2010, the company was focused on automated multivariate testing, a way for small companies to test many variations of a Web page to see which one produces the desired results most effectively. Since then, the company’s vision has expanded significantly; as my colleague Greg reported, Cancel now says he wants Performable to be “the Salesforce.com of online marketing,” offering technology that tracks every interaction with every customer and provides recommendations for improvement. Of course, there are plenty of other startups that want to be the next Salesforce.com—and at XSITE, I’ll ask Cancel about the challenges of positioning his startup in a crowded, fast-moving technology area.

Joe Chung is co-founding partner at Redstar Ventures, a Cambridge, MA-based venture incubator that provides a home base for pre-startup entrepreneurs-in-residence who are busy evaluating business trends and market opportunities. It’s similar to TechStars and Y Combinator in that it intends to invest in the companies it develops, but different in that it’s banking on seasoned entrepreneurs rather than specific pitches. I’ll get Chung to tell us more about what’s going on inside Redstar, but I also plan to ask him about two contrasting experiences in his own entrepreneurial past. In 1991 Chung co-founded Art Technology Group, which became a mainstay in the e-commerce software world, went public in 1999, and was acquired by Oracle last year for $1 billion; it’s one of the Boston area’s great Internet-era success stories. Chung’s next e-commerce venture, Allurent, didn’t fare quite as well. Founded in 2005 to promote what Chung called “Shopping 3.0″—enriching online shopping experiences through flexible new user interfaces—Allurent was hard hit by the economic collapse of 2008-2009, slimmed down drastically in 2010, and was ultimately acquired by Jenzabar, a maker of university administrative software. I’ll ask Chung to compare the ATG and Allurent experiences, and to talk about how entrepreneurs decide when it’s time to move on.

Jules Pieri is founder and CEO at Daily Grommet. The Lexington, MA-based startup runs a curated marketplace for consumer products made by companies with interesting, authentic, inspiring stories to tell—and it tells them through short home-grown videos, with one new product featured each day. Pieri’s background is in industrial design—she worked for Burroughs, Data General, Continuum, Keds, and Ziggs (a LinkedIn competitor) before launching her own company. When I first met her back in 2009, she explained that she wanted Daily Grommet to be movement, not just a business. So many new consumer products are launched (and so many fail) every year that it’s hard for small or family-owned manufacturers to get noticed, even if they have innovative ideas—and Pieri’s idea was to get her own customers involved in identifying and supporting companies doing meaningful work. Today the company calls that concept “Citizen Commerce”—they’ve even trademarked the phrase. I’ll ask Pieri how she lined up support for such an unconventional idea, what she’s doing to spread the word about Citizen Commerce, and what it’s been like to launch an e-retailing operation in a part of the country better known for building enterprise software and hardware.

Ellen Rubin is the founder and vice president of products at Bedford, MA-based CloudSwitch. The company has a distinguished history at XSITE: Rubin brought the cloud technology startup partway out of stealth mode during our inaugural XSITE Xpo lightning-presentation contest back in June 2009. Today CloudSwitch offers a system that helps big companies with their own on-premises computing infrastructures tap into public computing clouds such as Amazon’s EC2 computing platform and S3 storage service. The idea is to mask the boundaries between internal and external computing resources, so that companies can run their biggest computing jobs in the cloud without having to rearchitect their software. Rubin hatched the idea for CloudSwitch (and lined up support from Matrix Partners, Atlas Venture, and other leading New England venture firms) after a long stint as a marketing executive at data warehouse appliance maker Netezza, which went public in 2007. I’ll ask her how she’s applying the lessons from Netezza’s growth to CloudSwitch, and how (like Performable) her company is coping with competition that is the downside of being in a red-hot technology field.

As always, we’ll leave plenty of time for you to frame your own questions for our talented breakout panelists. But you’ll only be able to do that if you register soon for XSITE, which is just two weeks away. Remember—the first 50 people to register in June will be entered in a drawing to win a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer courtesy of Google. I reviewed this tablet last month and I think it’s the first Android device that’s in the same class with Apple’s iPad.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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