Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Latest from TechCrunch

The Latest from TechCrunch

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(Founder Stories) Ben Lerer On The Startup Gold Rush

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 07:38 AM PDT

ben lerer

As Chris Dixon wraps his conversation with Thrillist co-founder and Lerer Ventures partner Ben Lerer, Lerer offers his assessment of the present day start-up environment. From his perspective it is a mixed bag. (Note: this was taped before the most recent financial meltdown)

“Since we started investing, we’ve seen a lot more money enter the market . . . so it’s tougher to be a seed stage investor because valuations are going up.”  However, Lerer continues “the advantage for us is that there is more money at the Series A stage and so more of our companies are given a chance to go on and continue.”

Dixon weighs in on the current landscape by relaying chatter he’s heard from some investors. He says, “what bothers them about the current environment is less the valuations being so high but more the fact that the time is so compressed that they have to make a decision [to invest] in three days.” Dixon’s opinion? “I think it is a mistake on both sides.”

Picking up their conversation in the video below, Dixon asks Lerer who the competition is when it comes to investing. Lerer responds that a lot of it comes from people with financial resources who are new to the tech investing game who, “throw money at it” and “don’t understand the ecosystem.” He continues with, “there are some silly checks being written.”

Make sure to watch the entire clip for additional insights, along with Part I, Part II, and Part III of this interview with Lerer, and other past episodes of Founder Stories here.



Person:
BEN LERER
Website:

Ben Lerer is the Co-Founder and CEO of Thrillist.

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Financial-organization:
LERER VENTURES

Lerer Ventures is a New York-based, seed stage venture capital fund run by Ken and Ben Lerer. LV invests in founders in the earliest stages of a startup’s life,...

Learn more

Person:
CHRIS DIXON
Website:

Chris Dixon currently works as the CEO and Co-founder of Hunch. He is also a contributing writer for TechCrunch. He previously was the CEO and Co-founder of SiteAdvisor, which...

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Google’s U.S. Mobile Head Talks Local Intent, M-Commerce, Geo-Targeting And More

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 07:00 AM PDT

jason

Mobile advertising is a booming business, and Google, armed with its $750 million purchase of AdMob, clearly wants a piece of that pie. One angle Google has been pushing late is the combination of local and mobile, whether that be through Places, Offers, Sites, and soon, Google Wallet. Jason Spero, Google’s head of mobile for the Americas sat down with us to give us a little more insight to how the search giant is looking to capitalize on advertising, local and mobile.

One of the major factors Google is looking at when it comes to developing its own mobile offerings and products is consumer behavior, says Spero. He says one in three interactions on a mobile phone has local intent, and because of this, Google is incorporating this behavior into its own mobile products for businesses. “Part of this strategy is giving users the build a mobile property that works on a phone or tablet,” explains Spero.

Included in this strategy is the mobile version of Google Sites, which the company just launched as a way for small businesses to create a simple mobile landing page for free. Via these lightweight mobile sites, users post information and even include click-to-call features. After a week of availability, over 3,500 mobile landing pages had been created by small businesses.

One interesting feature that Mobile Sites offers is the ability to actually sell products via the landing page with Google Checkout as a payments platform. Spero says that’s a reflection of the Google belief that m-commerce is going to be critical on phones. But it’s not has simple has just clicking the buy button. It’s also integrating comparison shopping on the phone, click-to-call functionality, and online search for stores. “Ultimately, the experience that a user wants on their phone is delivering all those pieces to the puzzle,” he adds.

Another way Google is investing in m-commerce, says Spero, is though its Google Wallet initiative, which will allow consumers to pay for items via an NFC chip in a phone and an NFC reader at the merchant's checkout.

In terms of local advertising, Spero says that Google is exploring ways of using ad formats to move customers in the physical world, or via a transaction. Click-to-call ads are a particular focus for Google, and Spero says that these ads perform well on phones because the natural path for a consumer is to want to engage the phone and get more info from a merchant or service. The key in these advertisements on mobile phones is a ‘call to action’ element, which can work for a retailer, florist, insurance company and many other smaller businesses. So far, he says that over 500,000 Google customers are running click-to-call campaigns on a mobile phone. In terms of other forms of mobile advertising, Spero says that because of traffic to the web on mobile phones is exploding, display environment growth is ‘astounding.’

Of course geo-targeting is also a key component of mobile advertising, and integrating the location of a user could to improve targeting and perhaps CTRs. Spero says the demand for geo-targeted ads from advertisers on the local, regional and national level is huge, and that basically businesses in all these categories are competing. Today, Google can target advertising by state, and digital metro area, but soon the search giant wants to be able to target by city of zipcode (Google is only using a visitor’s local information if the user gives permission).

It’s clear from talking to Spero that Google wants to be a one-stop shop for businesses, both large and small, to engage with mobile. Whether that be through offers (which Spero doesn’t consider advertising), payments, mobile ads, mobile sites, mobile analytics and more, Google wants to be the go-to destination. The vision, as he explains, is for Google to be able to help these businesses manage everything, through the killer combination of local, mobile, commerce and advertising.

But quantity of products doesn’t necessarily come hand in hand with quality, and Google will have to make sure that these offering across segments not only work together, but also provide value for businesses (and consumers).




uTest Doubles Down On Security Features, Partners With Veracode

Posted: 14 Aug 2011 04:50 AM PDT

In the wake of news recently that software and computers are being compromised by hackers and rogue states left right and centre (not to mention the recent attacks on Citibank and Sony) it’s clearly going to make sense that your systems are well checked out, whether you’re a large corporate or a startup.

So it’s timely that software testing marketplace uTest is today expanding to offer security and localization testing services. That means it will have an end-to-end suite of testing services for web, desktop or mobile apps, adding to its existing services like functional, usability and load testing. uTest CEO, Doron Reuveni says the startup is aiming to become a 'one stop shop' for real-world testing.

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Hello World: Israel is Out-Classing You in Civil Disobedience

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 11:58 PM PDT

J14_1

In the four weeks since the social protests have begun in Israel, hundreds have been killed, dozens of women have reportedly been raped, a number of children tortured, and countless districts have been looted. The authorities have imposed a complete lock-down on all cellular networks. All access to Facebook and Twitter has been blocked. Little information is going in, or out.

Except the absolute, complete opposite.

The social protests in Israel began 4 weeks ago with a national outcry over the rising price of basics such as cottage cheese. They then snowballed into a full-blown national movement by way of a simple act by a then unknown young woman. The act? Striking a tent in Tel-Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard in protest of high apartment rental costs.

A single tent became the heart and soul of the movement whose main gripe is that the middle-class is bearing the brunt of an imbalanced budgetary spend. “The People Demand Social Justice” is the key chant.

The protests are local, scattered all across Israel, drawing hundreds to hundreds of thousands. Big name musicians volunteer to headline these protests. Barricades and PA systems, all donated. People talk about the movement at every cafe, over every lunch, at every business meeting, at every family dinner.

There have been a few skirmishes with the law. Small stuff though… For example, small groups of protesters were arrested by the police for blocking roads and were released without charges within a day.

Small potatoes aside, it’s been four weeks and zero acts of the barbaric, non-discriminatory violence we’ve seen across the middle east, and even in the UK. No shots fired. No stores looted. No form of communication has been shut down. In fact, not only have the Israeli police and army not taken any role other than safeguarding the protests themselves, they have even been applauded, literally, by hundreds of thousands for their efforts.

While in neighboring countries regimes are slaughtering the opposition, in Israel we have complete free speech to criticize our politicians and leaders. As I’m typing this, on the TV is Israel’s version of SNL doing a parody skit of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mishandling of the situation (they have him wearing a red t-shirt with Che Guevara on it). YouTube mashups featuring the PM’s soundbites? Posted below for your scrolling convenience. Professional-level videos advertising the protests? Also, posted below.

Sorry Shervin, no need for your curation and retweeting on this one, the Israeli people are doing A-OK. Really, look:

The backbone of the movement has unquestionably been Facebook, via pages, and events, and of course Twitter, via the #j14 hashtag. A revolution needs a site, right? Right.

At this point there’s no guessing which people will next rise-up and demand political and social change. The world is not what it used to be before Tahrir. I wonder though how many of these future civil disobedience movements will be modeled upon Israel, where technology and love trumped violence.

Photo Credits: Itai Bachar




EZOfficeInventory Lets SMBs Easily Track And Manage Company Assets (In The Cloud)

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 08:59 PM PDT

AssetManagementLogo3

Office inventory management systems: Not exactly the world’s sexiest software to be sure. Yet, without inventory and asset management systems, many enterprises would likely work at a similar pace to the DMV. Currently, SMBs have no shortage of tools to choose from when selecting a software system for tracking office assets and inventory; however, most of these options involve working tirelessly with Excel or using some kind of desktop product, like TurboSystems, Data Village, or FoxFales, to name a few. If a company has more than a few dozen employees, though, Excel and desktop solutions can be a pain in the ass.

Syed Ali, a former Sun Microsystems employee (before the company was acquired by Oracle) and his team of IT and software geeks, said that they had grown tired of having to deal with repeated occurrences of outdated and incorrect office inventory in today’s tracking solutions. Syed said that he and his team have collectively worked with many different companies that, for example, do in fact keep lists of office assets, but specific information related to who has what (like tracking records of check outs) is often completely missing or worse outdated — not to mention the fact that misplaced assets are often assigned the wrong employee who may not even work at the company anymore.

The problems, as one can imagine, are numerous. To help resolve these issues, Syed and his team are today launching EZOfficeInventory, a SaaS-based solution that approaches asset management untraditionally through a delegation model, in which the responsibility of inventory tracking is shared by employees, reducing the workload on the administrators.

The solution enables pooled office assets to be tracked with ease through a checkout and checkin mechanism for employees as well as an activity newsfeed for administrators, allowing them to review and take charge only when needed. Employees can also identify available assets that they need to get their jobs done and can get access to manuals and drivers instantaneously.

Since EZOfficeInventory resides in the cloud, the solution employs QRCodes as asset tags so that, with an asset’s unique URL embedded in the QRCode, employees can quickly reference asset details and identify the rightful owner in the event something gets lost. And employees can do this with a quick scan from an iPhone or Android device installed with a QRCode reader and web access.

The solution also works to minimize the effort involved in audits, as administrators can request pictures of the asset or other custom workflows from employees with a few clicks. EZOffice also lets administrators view reports on usage, track checkouts and checkins, the total cost of ownership, and even service history on their company’s assets.

Companies can also change the security settings in their solution so that it is compatible with existing workflows and add further privacy features when necessary.

Some readers may find the following newsfeed image to be reminiscent of Basecamp (the well known product released by 37Signals, the same company that is home to David Heinemeier Hansson, the guy who created Ruby on Rails). EZOfficeInventory is also implemented in Ruby on Rails, as Syed says that he is “an avid fan” of the web development framework.

EZOfficeInventory offers a free two-month trial of its cloud app, with packages for more than two users beginning at $29 per month.

The asset management system is still in the very early stages (and the startup is bootstrapped at this point) at this point, and there’s work to be done on the website’s design and UI (and on the name as well), but the software itself is attacking an important pain point for many small and medium sized businesses.

While putting the responsibility of asset management into the hands of employees (along with, of course, a system of checks and balances) may well prove to enhance efficiency and trust among those employees, it is risky. But Syed says that this is “part of the fun of merging enterprise with web development” and the very process of using web tech to target enterprise level problems. It’s a shot at the status quo, and the CEO believes it’s a shot worth taking in spite of the risk.

For more on EZOfficeInventory, click here.




OMG/JK: With Google+, It’s All A Big Game

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 06:36 PM PDT

Even though it’s the end of summer and tech news has started to slow to a crawl, there was actually quite a bit to talk about on OMG/JK this week. In this episode, Jason and I focus on three key things: Amazon’s Kindle web reader, Facebook Messenger, and games on Google+.

Is Amazon screwing with Apple? Is Facebook screwing with SMS? Is Google screwing with Facebook? Those are the main points of discussion. We also sort of veer off into a discussion about whether or not Google+ is all one big game in the more metaphorical sense.

And as a bonus, you’ll get to see our awkward transitions between stories.

Here are some of the key stories we talk about this week:

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2005 Zuckerberg Didn’t Want To Take Over The World

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 04:44 PM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-08-13 at 4.55.35 PM

The Huffington Post has come across this fascinating five-minute interview of Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook’s Palo Alto office in June 2005. The clip is apparently part of a longer 40-minute-interview from a documentary about millennials shot by Ray Hafner and Derek Franzese.  That interview has never been shown in full, and if I were Hafner and Franzese I’d be figuring out a way to do that stat, especially post-The Social Network.

Zuckerberg’s initial vision, “an online directory for colleges” seems remarkably short-sighted in light of the fact that Facebook users comprise now 11% of the world’s population and 35% of the world’s online population. In retrospect Zuckerberg may have wanted to put the fratty red beer cup down (Fun fact: He had just turned 21, also that’s co-founder Dustin Moskovitz doing a keg stand).

But at the time the site, which Zuckerberg modestly described as an online directory for colleges, had only penetrated 800 schools.The fact that Zuckerberg seems impressed by seeing people using TheFacebook at college parties and by reports of people logging in internationally leads one to wonder just how strategic the social network’s meteoric rise was.

His goal at the time was to expand to all 2,000 US colleges, and when asked what was next the Facebook founder said, ”There doesn’t necessarily have to be more. A lot of people are focused on taking over the world or doing the biggest thing and getting the most users … There’s a level of service that we can provide when we’re a college network that we wouldn’t be able to provide if we went to other types of things.”

This is a far far cry from Facebook’s current motto, “Making the world open and connected.” But sure, hindsight is 20/20. I mean how else do you explain Zuckerberg, and Reed Hastings, making this CNN “10 People Who Don’t Matter List” in 2006. Hilarious copy, below.

In entrepreneurship, timing is everything. So we’ll give Zuckerberg credit for launching his online social directory for college students just as the social-networking craze was getting underway. He also built it right, quickly making Facebook one of the most popular social-networking sites on the Net. But there’s also something to be said for knowing when to take the money and run. Last spring, Facebook reportedly turned down a $750 million buyout offer, holding out instead for as much as $2 billion. Bad move. After selling itself to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox for $580 million last year, MySpace is now the Web’s second most popular website. Facebook is growing too – but given that MySpace has quickly grown into the industry’s 80-million-user gorilla, it’s hard to imagine who would pay billions for an also-ran.

Five years, eternity in Internet time.



Company:
FACEBOOK
Launch Date:
1/2/2004
Funding:
$2.34B

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 500 million users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It...

Learn more


Glorious Images Of Apple’s New Spaceship Headquarters

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 12:28 PM PDT

Screen Shot 2011-08-13 at 12.10.47 PM

As we noted in June, Apple is building what is sure to be the coolest office building ever in Cuptertino, CA. The building is so important to the company that no less than Steve Jobs went to a Cupertino City Council meeting a couple months ago to seal the deal. They were eating out of his hand. All the rest is really a formality at this point. “There is no chance that we’re saying no,” Cupertino Mayor Gilbert Wong said after the meeting.

Today, Cupertino released more detailed plans about the project on the city’s website. Known as “Apple Campus 2″ to the city, the project will be built on a 175 acre area near the 280 highway. The total building will be approximately 2.8 million square feet, will feature a 1,000 seat auditorium (perfect for all but Apple’s biggest events), a fitness center, 300,000 square feet of research facilities, a power plant, and underground parking. But all of that sounds boring, what you really need to see is what it looks like: a giant, flying saucer-like loop. Luckily Cupertino included Apple’s proposal documents which include many new renderings of the project.

Cupertino says they still have to review the environmental impact of the project and have a few more public hearings before it’s actually approved. But yeah, again, there’s no way this isn’t getting done. Apple’s plan is to break ground next year and have the new headquarters done in 2015. It will house over 12,000 employees in one massive building.

Below find some new renderings and the full proposal embedded below that by way of 9to5 Mac.



Company:
APPLE
Launch Date:
1/4/1976
IPO:
1980, NASDAQ:AAPL

Started by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, Apple has expanded from computers to consumer electronics over the last 30 years, officially changing their name from Apple Computer,...

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Nerf’s New Vortex Blasters Shoot Discs! And They’re Awesome!

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 12:00 PM PDT

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I was growing up, one of my all-time favorite toys was my Nerf dart blaster. Every summer, the other neighborhood kids and I would take off on our bikes, blasters strapped to our backs, and have a full-on foam war. It's been a solid decade since I've raised my not-so-dangerous weapon, but the other night something magical happened. I got to go to Nerf's unveiling of its Vortex line of blasters, and realized that these things aren't just for kids.

There are four new models in the Vortex line, and while they look pretty similar to older Nerf blasters, these sexy beasts have something totally new up their magazine sleeve: discs. Yep, little green discs fly out of these bad boys, and if you saw it happen, you totally wouldn't believe that it doesn't hurt to get hit.

Vortex Nitron:

This is the bad mamma-jamma of the Vortex family. It's the first fully automatic, clip-fed disc blaster in the Vortex line. It's removable clip can hold up to 20 discs at a time, and comes with an extra clip that attaches to the back of the gun for quick reloading. The Nitron shoots up to 50 feet, and is capable of rapid-fire shooting, although that really equals out to about a disc per second. Still impressive, but don't get the idea that this is some sort of Nerf machine gun. It requires six C batteries which are not included, and will retail for $39.99.

Vortex Praxis:

The Praxis is designed for long-range shooting, and should come in handy for anyone training to be a sniper. It comes with a removable shoulder stock, just in case your arms are a bit too short. Unlike the Nitron, the Praxis requires a good pump before each shot, and comes with a clip that carries up to ten discs at a time. The Praxis will go for $24.99.

Vortex Vigilon:

The Vigilon is Nerf's mid-sized blaster, and is just right for smaller kids. It holds up to five discs at a time, and comes with a rapid-reload built-in disc clip. When you press a little button on the sides the drop-down clip is released and with the discs, it's really easy to just grab five at a time and shove them in there. Pop it back into place and you're ready to go. The Vigilon will cost $15.99.

Vortex Proton:

Meet Nerf's baby blaster: the Proton. This little devil shoots one disc at a time and comes with three discs. It's super easy to reload, and is light enough for a little kid to run around with it all day without feeling weighed down. The Proton will go for the relatively low price of $9.99.

All four of the new Vortex models will be available in retail stores throughout the nation on September, 10, as well as HasbroToyShop.com. Check out our hands-on gallery just past the break.




Americans Elect Shoots The Moon (And Misses)

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 11:01 AM PDT

team-america

I want to talk about American politics. No, wait, don’t go! Don’t worry; it’s OK; I’m Canadian. Your nation’s psychotic death spiral of irrational blood vendettas, vampire-squid kleptocrats, and cargo-cult magical thinking means nothing to me. (Other than its undeniable entertainment value.) Yes, I mean both of your political parties. It’s so bizarre that you only have two that matter. We have five. How do you southerners get by with so few?

I’ve long argued that America needs a third party—any third party. For a while I thought the Tea Party might be it, but instead they did something much cannier. Don’t get me wrong, I think their policies are delusional, but I do grudgingly admire the way they hold the Republicans in thrall by exploiting the GOP’s vulnerable primaries system. It’s the political equivalent of gaining root access by hacking an unpatched bootloader.

Now a well-funded startup intends to birth a third party via the mighty power of the Internet. No, really. Americans Elect is on its way to accreditation and ballot placement in every American state. At the same time, it’s aggregating “delegates” who sign up at its web site into multiple like-minded groups who will suggest or support presidential candidates. A first round of voting will reduce the candidates to a primary group of six candidates, all of whom have to choose a running mate outside of their own party; then, in April of next year, an online convention will determine which of those six will be Americans Elect’s presidential candidate.

It’s a nifty idea, and a lot of people, eg the NYT’s Thomas Friedman, are pretty enthusiastic about it. But alas, my feelings about AE are much like my opinion of Friedman: mixed but mostly negative. It’s getting a fair amount of flak for its secrecy about who exactly is funding it, the considerable veto powers reserved by its board, and the lack of diversity among its first cohort of delegates. But my main complaint is that I just can’t see it working. Shooting for the White House out of the gate is too much too soon. America needs a third party, yes; but that third party needs to govern a state or two before it aims for the presidency.

You can tell that this startup was born in the Beltway rather than the Valley. The latter would create a minimum viable product, a city- or maybe state-level political movement, and iterate from there, learning from its mistakes. Instead Americans Elect is staking an estimated $30 million on a single elaborate throw of the dice. It’s too bad, because we’re just entering the era when you could create and sustain a whole new political movement online; but Americans Elect’s overambitious failure will probably tarnish that approach for years to come.

Update: A bizarre (ie nonzero) number of people are suggesting in comments that America’s first-past-the-post system makes a viable third party impossible. Let me just remind y’all who may be unfamiliar with how the rest of the world works that both Canada and the UK also have first-past-the-post voting; that Canada has had three or more parties for all of living memory, and its historical ‘third party’ recently surpassed the one that governed the nation for most of the 20th century; and, similarly, the UK’s historical ‘third party’ is currently part of the UK government.




Dropbox Chooses Investor Group, Valuation Set at $5+ Billion

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 10:53 AM PDT

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We’ve been tracking the twists and turns of the Dropbox mega funding round feeding frenzy for over a month now. In July Sarah Lacy wrote that they’d be raising $200 million to $300 million at a $5 billion or higher valuation. A week ago MG Siegler wrote that the auction process was over and Dropbox was considering bids as high as $10 billion.

The company has now chosen which investors will lead and participate in the round, we’ve heard from one of our sources. The final valuation will be less than $6 billion, and we’ve heard that the original estimates of a $200 million – $300 million round are still accurate. We do not yet know who’s leading the round or otherwise participating, but that information will probably become available soon.

In the end Dropbox didn’t choose the investor with the highest valuation bid, we’ve heard. Look for the round to close and be announced in the coming weeks.



Company:
DROPBOX
Launch Date:
6/2007
Funding:
$7.2M

Dropbox was founded in 2007 by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi. Frustrated by working from multiple computers, Drew was inspired to create a service that would let people bring...

Learn more


Gillmor Gang 8.13.11 (TCTV)

Posted: 13 Aug 2011 10:00 AM PDT

Gillmore Gang test pattern

The Gillmor Gang — John Borthwick, Robert Scoble, Kevin Marks, and Steve Gillmor — waxed and waned about the latest in social media buildout. Most notable was Twitter’s new Activities and @mention views, which rolled up not only your @mentions but follow and favoriting signals in a realtime notification stream. Activity view did the same thing for those you follow, with an aggregate stream of their attention.

Yes, it’s the Attention and Gestures meme finally coming home to roost, and with it a fascinating series of political pebbles being skipped across the realtime stream. @borthwick remains juried out on the PlusPlex, while @scobleizer and @kevinmarks debate not if, but when, + will resolve its lack of search, filtering, and realnamification. @jtaschek is heard but not seen as he returns for a brief cameo before Comcast pulls the plug, but at least he’s back in the clubhouse.



Person:
STEVE GILLMOR

Steve Gillmor is a technology commentator, editor, and producer in the enterprise technology space. He is Head of Technical Media Strategy at salesforce.com and a TechCrunch contributing editor. Gillmor previously...

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Robert Scoble is an American blogger, technical evangelist, and author. He is best known for his popular blog, Scobleizer, which came to prominence during his tenure as a technical...

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Person:
KEVIN MARKS
Website:

Kevin Marks is a software engineer. Kevin served as an evangelist for OpenSocial and as a software engineer at Google. In June 2009 he announced his resignation....

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Person:
JOHN BORTHWICK
Companies
Daylife, betaworks

John Borthwick is CEO of betaworks. betaworks is new form of internet media company. Prior to betaworks John was Senior Vice President of Alliances...

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Person:
JOHN TASCHEK
Companies

John Taschek is vice president of strategy at salesforce.com. He is responsible for corporate product strategy, corporate intelligence and market influence. Taschek came to company in 2003, bringing over...

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