Lanyrd: Twitter Meets LinkedIn Meets IMDB for the Conference Circuit

5/12/11Follow @wroush

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healthcare and government. “We haven’t done any push toward any particular sector,” says Downe. “As we start to grow and fill out the product we think it has a much broader appeal.” That appeal may be limited only by the popularity of Twitter itself, which is estimated to have 200 million users worldwide.

Natalie Downe and Simon Willison

Downe and Willison aren’t your typical Y Combinator co-founders. For one thing, they’re British—and right now the company’s headquarters location is in limbo as the pair try to work out visa issues that would permit them to return to the Bay Area. Also, they got married last year, 10 years after meeting as students at the University of Bath—it’s only the second case of married co-founders in the annals of the venture incubator, according to Y Combinator partner Jessica Livingston. And there probably aren’t any other YC startups that built the first version of their product during a feverish, aborted honeymoon in Casablanca (more on that in a second).

Finally, Willison was semi-famous in the tech startup community even before Lanyrd joined Y Combinator. While working for the Lawrence Journal-World in Lawrence, KS, in 2005, he helped to create Django, an open-source framework since used to build thousands of database-driven websites.

He went on to work for Yahoo, and then for the UK’s Guardian newspaper, where he worked on “data journalism” software like that used by the newspaper to crowdsource the analysis of expense reports for members of Parliament. Downe, meanwhile, was in Oxford managing Web development for non-profit groups and trying to build a tech scene in the ancient university town, and then in Brighton working for a user experience design firm called ClearLeft.

Lanyrd was born during the couple’s honeymoon last year in Morocco. “Ten days after we got married we gave up our flat and went traveling,” recounts Downe. “We took our laptops, because we thought we might find some side projects to make money. After about three months, we ended up in Casablanca, where we got quite sick. It was Ramadan, and there were no restaurants open for two weeks. So we got an apartment with a kitchen, so that we could actually eat, and spent those two weeks working on Lanyrd.”

On the day of its launch, the site attracted 14,000 users and only got more popular from there, which put a kink in the remainder of the Morocco trip. But it worked out all right—the couple played tourists each morning, coders each afternoon. “Ducking donkeys is actually quite stressful, so a lot of people go back to their hotels at mid-day because they’re exhausted,” says Downe. Adds Willison: “Three hours of exploring Marrakesh and three hours of developing means you’ve got a very balanced life.”

Willison says that after having spent so much time on the conference circuit talking about Django, he knew there was a need for a tool like Lanyrd, many features of which “came from our own experiences as public speakers and looking at what was missing from that world.” One of the those elements: a way to avoid missing out on events that might interest you. “There was one event a couple of years ago, a geospatial and GIS and mapping camp, that was organized by a co-worker and was literally held at the office where I worked, and I didn’t hear about it until the day it happened,” Willison says. “It was really frustrating. We set out to make sure that that would never happen again.” If you sign up for Lanyrd’s personalized daily e-mail newsletters, you don’t even have to visit the site to find out which meetings your Twitter friends are going to.

But perhaps you don’t trust your Twitter community to find every interesting event in your field; in that case you can go to Lanyrd.com and browse the listings by date, city, or topic. If you’re a startup entrepreneur looking for a conference to attend in Silicon Valley next Tuesday, or in Boston in mid-June, for example, you might be interested in Beyond Mobile: Computing in 2021 or the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (to pick two totally random examples).

That’s the discovery side of Lanyrd. Then there’s the content side. One of the paradoxes about big professional conferences is that once you get to one, you miss most of what’s said. After all, it’s impossible to attend every session, and it’s difficult to … Next Page »

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

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