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“I wanted to make an Iron Man suit. That’s probably why I got into engineering. I figured I couldn’t actually get bitten by a spider and shoot webs out of my wrists, I felt that was an option off the table, but Iron Man seemed like a feasible task.

Last summer, I was looking for research, and my professor described this project to me, and of course I only hear the word - laser. I was like, that’s my project. I’m going to shoot lasers at things. I spent a fair amount of the summer taking apart coffee beans and firing lasers at them, in hopes to identify by the atomic and molecular makeup where in the world it was grown. NASA had agreed to fund it because it had the potential of being used on the Mars Rover to analyze rocks.”

Megan Conville

“I was an engineer by training. I like building things, and marketplaces are hard to get right. You have two sets of customers, and that makes it more than twice as challenging. Their incentives and what they want from the marketplace are not always aligned. The product is essentially the guardrails and rules of the marketplace. Figuring out one cohesive set that serves both sides well is really hard.

Most startups go after one vertical or service. When I joined Thumbtack, they were 20 people and they were already serving nine hundred and some service categories across the US. It wasn’t another SF thing. It wasn’t the textbook approach of get one market right and then scale, they figured out a way to let the demand guide the company where it needed to go. The engineering team is absolutely incredible. They realized early on that growth has to be product and data driven.

I would like to see Thumbtack be the destination for services the same way that Amazon today is the destination for products. I want Thumbtack to be that place where if you ever needed to hire a person to do something for you, you’d come to Thumbtack.”

Yue Zhao | Thumbtack

“We like to push the boundaries of what’s possible. We’ve always felt like apps should be better at working together and communicating with each other and it’s kind of a shortcoming of iOS that they don’t.

Maybe I want to take a picture, edit it and save it to my camera roll, and then I want to post it to Facebook. I drag and drop each function, hit run, and my new Workflow app is going to go through each action. Maybe I’m always sharing music with people, so I create a Workflow app where I choose some songs, preview them and then I send them in a text message. 

We went to a hackathon, built Workflow, won first place, then won Apple’s best iOS app award. Now we’re starting a company. We’ve never really done that before.”

Ari Weinstein, Conrad Kramer, Nick ​Frey and Veeral Patel  ​| Workflow​

“Recently I’ve asked over 200 people what their favorite part of college was and nearly every single one of them said it was the amazing people you are constantly surrounded by.  After graduation I found that I had all of these incredible friends who have left my life for no other reason than the fact that they aren’t physically close to me anymore.  I want to make you feel like you’re living in a house with all of your friends.

We found that what brings us close is not sharing the life changing events, but the day changing ones.  What brings us close is walking into our house and telling our roommate that that we had an awesome conversation with a girl in our class for the last two hours.  What brings us close is having our roommate notice the sadness on our face and in our silence and staying up till 2 am talking about it.  What brings us close is recounting an epic prank battle–which involves a life-size cardboard cutout of Zayn from One Direction– to our best friends.

Life is made up of these day-changing moments that enable us to experience the full range of human emotion.  We’re building a product that let’s you experience this life with the people you care about most in this world.  We’re building the eternal exciting freshman dorm experience for the rest of your life.”

Nikil’s company builds a product that brings back the college community though emotional connection and authentic conversations.

Nikil Viswanathan

“It’s funny because there are multiple beginnings. I’m trying to find which beginning to start with.

In about middle school, I led two parallel lives. When I was hanging out with my friends, we were talking about rap and hip hop all the time. Whenever an artist was dropping a new track, we were talking about it. I would buy music videos on iTunes. Nobody buys music videos. I did that. Then at home, I would program. My friends at school didn’t know this. I ran a video game website called Strategy Wiki. It’s still up. It’s getting something like 60K uniques per day. It’s really cool to see that artifact still up.

Going forward into college, I took a summer working at a startup in the valley. I loved it so much that I took a leave of absence for a year to work full time. I realized that going back to school would be very difficult. Knowing what I could get done in a year, how could I go back to school? I went back to school, did it for a month, hated it, dropped out.

The Rap Test came out. I think about 50K people played it in the first day. We got to 100K people on the second day. It was on a Thursday and a Friday, so most reporters are going home. We had six or seven publications write about us on Thursday and Friday. Another six or seven publications wrote about us over the weekend. It was just insane. We all couldn’t believe this was happening the way it was.”

Danny Friday | The Rap Test: How well do you know rap?

“Secret came out of another project to send anonymous one-on-one messages, so this idea of protecting who it was sending or receiving those messages was fundamental. We take a lot of measures so that the anonymity of the platform is really preserved.

It’s kind of been a game, people trying to out who various people are. For example, when we launched in Russia, some people bought 30 phones, registered a bunch of numbers and tried to triangulate user identities. It’s almost like they were creating a bot network, all to try to socially engineer and attack the product from different angles. We’ve built up intelligence and defenses against that.

Watching the way the product evolves, the way people use the product, it’s got a very distinct flavor to it that’s really fascinating. When you think about anonymity, you think about some of the negative behaviors, but to see the community turn against that and reinforce the positive has been really interesting.”

Matt Mihic | Secret.ly

“I was a data engineer that turned into a sales guy.  By applying the disciplined approach engineering teaches, I produced some of the top results on our team as the youngest rep. People always think sales is about closing, but it’s really about discovery.  My whole mission as a salesperson is discover how I can make your life better. 

The challenge in sales is making sure you stay in touch with your prospects to introduce the best product for them right when they need it.  I used to use Excel to record interactions, and email to manually stay in touch.  This worked well, but forced me to spend hours writing email and updating this Excel spreadsheet. 

Contastic automates this process by tracking all of your client interactions on email and then recommending content (news or marketing materials) that the client will love.  We match that with templates so that sales reps can send a unique, personally relevant email to each of their clients in seconds.“

Cy is the founder of GetContastic, an intelligent sales solution combining data science, machine learning and natural language processing, currently being used at companies like Tesla, Splunk, and Microsoft.

Cy Khormaee | Get Contastic