Local Startups Take on Big Data: More Like Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro Than Mount Washington But These High Tech Startups Are Committed to Triumph

Uncategorized Posted Oct 30, 2012 by Jennifer Torode

On Wednesday, October 24, 2012, I attended the Xconomy event, “The Future of Big Data” that was held at the Fidelity Center for Applied Technology in Boston.  The turnout was incredible—more than 300 people were in attendance!  Big Data is clearly stirring up loads of questions and challenges in the technology community.  Even the brightest and most innovative entrepreneurs and investor communities are finding themselves climbing a very steep mountain.  However, they see the prize at the top and they are determined to reach the peak and conquer the prize—building the next generation of products and services that encapsulates the vast influx of data.

The event was moderated by Xconomy’s National IT Editor Greg Huang, and his following article summed up the event perfectly, “Buzzword Bashing & Database Narcs: The Future of Big Data in Boston.” In a nutshell, his article reviews the top 10 highlights with a pinch of humor, a dash of daunting insights and a tablespoon of optimism regarding what the future holds for all of us.

The keynote speaker David Friend, CEO at Carbonite started off by admitting to doing a Wikipedia search on “Big Data” and walked the audience through why he founded Carbonite, an online data and file backup software vendor.  A few years back, his daughter lost a university term paper and could not retrieve it.  That is when he decided to launch his company.  The one thing that Friend mentioned many times throughout his keynote was how Big Data impacts privacy.  He noted, “Systems know more about you than you probably wan them to…the Web never forgets, you personal or corporate data can be lost, mishandled or breached.”  In Fact, he underscored this point by mentioning that both his daughters were so concerned about privacy and the Web that they’ve taken down their Facebook profiles.  This may sound like an extreme measure but in my former job, I worked with security experts around the globe and most proudly said that they would never bank on-line due to privacy and theft.
The session following the keynote was a panel made up of young Boston entrepreneurs and investors. The panel, “How to Use Big Data” was moderated by Managing Director Richard Dale of Big Data Boston Ventures and the roster of panelists consisted of some of Boston’s sharpest talents including:

Fred Lalonde, CEO, Hopper—Lalonde is spearheading his company’s endeavor to transform the way that we plan a trip by using big data and sophisticated algorithms.

Jennifer Lum, President, Adelphic Mobile— Lum is helping to enable efficient buying and selling of targeted mobile media at scale through her company’s platform.

Zeid Barakat, Chief Strategy Officer, Flyberry Capital— a firm using “big data” techniques to draw insights from the massive streams of information, and applying them to finance.

Jay Meattle, CEO, Shareaholic— a company that aims to transform the way we read, discover and share content on the web.

Although I found all the panelists and their solutions and services incredibly interesting, I found myself intrigued by Lalonde’s company and its value proposition.

Lalonde and his team realize that there is far too much information on the web, and a potential traveler could spend countless hours researching and gathering. Hopper is looking to transform the process—making it easier and offering us more ideas and options by using big data and sophisticated algorithms.

He explained the current process—one that we can all relate to. He said we all go to those travel sites that ask us to enter the preferred departure and arrival dates and select airports. He said plugging in that data is not really helpful when looking to plan a trip. It just doesn’t make sense.  His point is that you don’t just walk into a travel agency, sit down and say here’s my departure/arrival date and the airports. I smiled because he’s totally right! I like Hopper’s value proposition because 1.) I am his target market, 2.) I’m looking to plan a trip and 3.) Information overload makes my head spin and paralyzes even the most decisive— Hopper can only add value to any traveler’s adventure!

As a former vice president at Expedia, Lalonde knows the terrain well and admits that the climb up the Big Data mountain has been more like conquering Mount Kilimanjaro than Mount Washington but he and his team are committed and they will triumph. They plan to launch their service by year’s end.  I’ll be watching!