Sustainable Living: When Nerds Meet Nature

Love has moved online, and not just for personal relationships. The matchmaking potential for business romances (aka partnerships) is a burgeoning area in which savoy innovators, with a social conscience, are building new platforms.
Nerds for Nature are the superhero-cupids of this new frontier, an eclectic mix of techies, hackers, activists and environmentalists in the San Fransisco Bay area. They noticed that, while the non-profit industry stood the most to gain by harnessing the low-cost and high-impact power of new technologies, they were the most reticent and unsure how to do so.
Victoria Bogdan, a NFN member, recently told The Grist, “We thought, if we could bring together the tech-capable with the environmental professionals, and facilitate an exchange of ideas – just begin that dialogue – that would be something new”. So Nerds for Nature got to work, launching officially one short year ago at the Code for Oakland civic hackathon. And the sparks are flying.
So far, Nerds for Nature is facilitating matches through their widely successful Speed dating events.  They also run a BioBlitz meet-up in McLauren Park where nature Nerds, scientists, and amateur naturalists embark on a scavenger hunt of sorts to identify as many species as possible using the iNaturalist app to record their findings.  This is the new equivalent of dinner and a movie for industry dating.
We will be following closely to see what genius brainchildren Nerds for Nature can take responsibility for in the future!

Startup World: Is There Room For Hollywood On Kickstarter?

Posted on May 13, 2013 | Start-up

Kickstarter, a digital crowd funding platform, has become synonymous with the service it provides and is thus well on its way towards becoming a “household” brand of the digital, startup age.

ExchangeMyPhone has been a fan from the start and kept a close eye on the products Kickstarter has made real, from the ingenious to the hilarious. But currently, the most interesting thing about Kickstarter is the forum itself and the soul-searching the brand must do it if is to make the leap into true ubiquity.

The problem is this: Kickstarter is, at its very essence, about the underdog. They give leverage, money and life to brilliant ideas that come from the Davids of the world, not the Goliaths.

The platform came under the spotlight last week when the creator of the indie hit Garden State, Zach Braff, was critised for launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the follow-up (of sorts) to his 2004 film success, tentatively titled Wish I Was Here. The reaction centers on the seemingly paradoxical portrait painted by Braff’s campaign, painting Hollywood and the grass-roots world as happy bedfellows. Critics see this as a direct perversion of crowd funding’s ideals and believe that the projects of the independently wealthy have no place on the platform.

Since its launch on April 24, Braff’s campaign has raised more than US$2.5-million from nearly 37,000 backers. The campaign is set to finish on May 24.

Braff was quick to reject any notion that he will benefit financially from the project: “Making a tiny personal art film is not where people go to make a lot of money. This is a passion project. This is not about trying to scam anybody,” he said. “If I wanted to make a lot of money, I would return to a television show.” He also defended his Kickstarter campaign by pointing out that his presence there has proliferated Kickstarter among a previously unreached public.

Kickstarter execs agree. In a statement they defended both Braff and Rob Thomas (who has also come under fire for raising funds on Kickstarter for his hopeful Veronica Mars Movie Project), saying “The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far.”

These are the sort of growing pains that Kickstarter will have to endure as the platform matures. Does crowd-sourcing need some sort of regulation? Will fame corrupt the forum? Do the ideas of average Joe’s need some bolstering against those of celebrities? Or does the rising tide, in fact, lift all boats?

While the underdog remains firmly entrenched in Kickstarter’s identity perhaps even more fundamental is the notion of choice; the right to vote with your dollar for those projects in which you believe the most. In that case, perhaps the real answer to the firestorm is let the chips (or cash) fall where they may; let the crowd decide if Hollywood has a place in the Kickstarterverse.

Startup world – The Quirkiest Kickstarters of the Year

Posted on January 14, 2013 | Amazing tech, Fundraising, makers, Start-up

In many ways Kickstarter is a digital world of the unexpected, where startup dreams are realized (well, at least funded) and the underdog is given a shot at making it big. Since the it’s launch in April 2009 the site has facilitated more than 30,000 creative, grassroots projects and over $350 million dollars has been pledged by more than 2.5 million people. But as the funding platform matures it is becoming more and more evident that the runaway success stories are anything but predictable. Here is a look back at some of the most head-scratching, logic defying and awesomely strange Kickstarter darlings of the past year.

The Ostrich Pillow: Home of the power nap.

Ostrich Pillow

Wait, what? The Ostrich Pillow’s unique design instantly creates a micro environment in which to easily take a relaxing, restful power nap in public. According to the pillow’s founders “Its soothing soft interior shelters and isolates your head and hands (mind and body) for a short break, without needing to leave your desk, chair, bench or wherever you may be.”

Amount raised: $200,000 from 1,846 backers in 30 days.

Where are they now? The pillow is currently being sold by Studio Banana Things for $99, though the extra shut-eye you stand to gain from comfortable public napping could be priceless.

Ostrich Pillow packaging

The 5 O’clock Shadow: When a coat collar isn’t enough.

Wait, what? This functional beard face mask began as a ski accessory but quickly became a winter necessity for all activities. All 5 O’clock Shadow beards are hand knitted in Salt Lake City with a cotton-polyester backing for comfort and two elastic straps for stability.

Beard face-mask startup

Amount raised: $3, 911 (Which we think is pretty good for knitted facial hair)

Where are they now? Apparently anywhere people have cold faces! And, it’s not just for men, as you can see on the in the product’s photo gallery many women are now embracing the comforts of bearded living.

The Griz Coat: It’s not a costume. It’s a lifestyle.

Wait, what? The Griz Coat called is the calf-length, faux-fur, toothy, clawed, brainchild of a pair of 30-year-old twin brothers. Karl Reichstetter, a graduate of the Dartmouth Tuck School of Business, who first conceived of the idea, decided to move forward with it because of what he saw as “a hole in the bear-coat market.”

Griz Coat

Amount raised: $14,000

Where are they now? Griz Coats are alive and roaring.  A single coat costs around $200 and there are a variety of styles to choose from. Apparently many people agree with the coat’s Kickstarter page that claims that “… the Griz Coat is highly appropriate for: Halloween, Bay to Breakers, Monday morning meetings, most weddings, Tuesday morning meetings, high school reunions, and first dates.”

TGT: Big Isn’t Always Better

TGT micro wallet

Wait, What? Perhaps not as silly as the other items on our list, the TGT micro wallet, made from fine Italian leather, aims to eliminate the discomfort experienced when carrying bulky wallets in pant pockets.

Amount Raised: $317,424

Where are they now? More than 7,000 people crowdfunded TGT and thousands more have purchased the product since. So, what’s the secret to mega success of this tiny wallet? We can’t be sure but we would venture a guess it has something to do with the noble goal to “respect the silhouette of the butt.”

TGT micro wallet design

It seems that men’s accessories, odd as they may be, dominated crowd-funding last year. What trends will top the list for 2013? We’d love to hear your wild predictions!

Startup Office Envy: The West Coast Edition

Simply being located on the West Coast of the United States is enough to incite envy among East Coasters as we bundle up for another fall and winter.  However, these awesome tech startup offices don”t stop there and, fair warning, they will probably have you updating your LinkedIn profile and checking out flight fares to San Fran and LAX.  Here are ExchangeMyPhone‘s top picks for the most enviable tech office spaces the Pacific coast has to offer, where innovation thrives inside and out.

west coast map

AirBnB
If you haven’t already heard, AirBnB is the online matchmaker for travelers and residents that lets people rent out their homes or extra rooms to their peers for short-term stays. Seeing as this is the start-up that ‘started up’ a revolution in travel accommodation it only makes sense that their own digs would reflect their passion for that “home away from home” feel.  And AirBnB does not disappoint.  Hands down the coolest thing about their San Francisco office is, rather than take office inspiration from outside sources, they took it from their own listings! So when AirBnB staffers go to work they go to offices modeled after one Berlin artist’s pad, a Soho loft, a Hong Kong bachelor pad and our personal favorite: a rural mushroom cabin in Aptos, California.  And, ever a stickler for the details, the AirBnB designers even worked with the apartment owners to make sure the smallest touches were true to the original listings.  So, should we have this meeting in the Parisian garotte or the Swiss chalet?

AirBnB west coast office

Zynga
This San Francisco office is sort of like stepping inside a disco ball, but seeing as the company is one of the largest providers of social game services, it is only fitting. You enter the work space through a neon glowing tunnel and the lobby is complete with sequined decorations and a vintage Winnebago they fondly call the Zyngabago. In the basement they even have a game room where Mafia Wars is king. But the best part? Employees are actually encouraged to bring their pooches to work with them and the entire office is totally K9 friendly.

Zynga startup office

StumbleUpon
You may have squandered innumerable hours in the black-hole of procrastination that is StumbleUpon but there is no wasting time, or efficiency, in their office.  In their San Francisco home, the center piece is definitely innovation. Even the conference rooms are named after great inventors: for instance, the  Pasteur room is fully equipped with beautiful and fully-functional vintage microscopes.

StumbleUpon startup office

But StumbleUpon isn’t just a pretty face, they also take into great consideration the well-being of their employees.  Check out these perks: catered breakfast and lunch daily, $100 of Uber credit for transport at month, visits with the massage therapist who stops by twice a month, and a chance to win a new iPad for Hack Week, an annual event in which employees work together on “out of the box” ideas for StumbleUpon and one idea is chosen to be implemented.

Urban Airship
Urban Airship (provider of easy, affordable way for mobile publishers and developers to deliver real-time push notifications and in-app purchase content to their app users on multiple platforms), is all about transparency when it comes to their brand identity and their office space.  They began, like many start-up boot-strappers in a shared, incubator-like, office and loved the open feel.  So, even a lot of success and their own stuffing office later, they don’t have any private offices and it’s one of the reasons they moved into the wide-open space of their current office last year.

Urban Airship startup office

Added perks? Friday happy hour (from their in-house keg), a celebratory, engraved bell for the sales team to ring after big deals are made, and finally, no vacation policy! This is a technique that the founders credit Netflix for; you take the time that you need when you need to take it, and you put it on the shared calendar for the entire company to see. People know when you’re going to be gone and can plan accordingly around gaps and releases. As for now, no one has abused the policy.  And why would you? With a homey office, scavenger hunts around Portland and flexible vacays its not a place you’d want to avoid.

Pinterest
Pinterest is synonymous with beauty.  It is basically all about a feast for the eyes but, oddly enough, their Palo Alto pad is a bit of a contradiction.  Tucked away on a suburban block in an unmarked building, these guys have no time for frills and fancy break rooms: namely because they can’t take breaks.  With a staff of only 25 people, Pinterest has exploded in the past year and now drives more online traffic than Google+, Youtube and LinkedIn combined! Understandably, that leaves no time for decor. But ExchangeMyPhone predicts that this will be an office to keep your eye on, with the sort to gigantic success they are seeing we don’t think they won’t have a fold-out snack table for too much longer.

Pinterest startup office

Tech innovation: The creative, creepy, crazy-cool world of 3D printing

Posted on October 08, 2012 | eco-economy, green business, innovation, makers, Start-up

By now, most of us have heard of what some people are calling the next big tech innovation, akin to the personal computer: rapid prototyping, aka 3D printing. When explaining the usefulness of this new advancement in plastics, one often hears about the “parts” scenario.  For instance, if you lose a screw for your glasses, a head for your screwdriver or your kid throws our their retainer out with their lunch, rather than going through the hassle of getting a replacement you can simply print one from a 3D printing template.

But practicality is only one of the advantages that 3D printing has to offer. As the medium proliferates, the ideas of what can be printed become more innovate, wacky and sometimes ridiculous. Here is ExchangeMyPhone’s round-up of the top 5 wildest 3D printing creations:

Bones & Organs
Though Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein might be the first thing that comes to mind when you picture someone printing a pancreas, the intersection of 3D printing and the medial world is anything but Haloween-ish; it is vastly improving the quality and longevity of lives. German scientists are already implementing the new technology into their pedagogy and have had great success printing artificial blood vessels and synthetic capillaries. The technique has also been implemented in the U.S. to create “bionic arms” for children with paralysis that are easily extended as the child grows.  Scientists liken it to a Lego approach: adjustable and easy to assemble so that the parents can even make the adjustments from home. Bone grafts have also been successfully printed and put to use. Looking forward, scientists are getting closer to perfecting the printable replacement organ.

Mummy Cloning
No, it is not the next movie franchise out to replace Twilight, its simply one of many ‘out-there’ application of 3D printing. Why is this necessary you ask? Well if you remember back to your Ancient Civ class, and King Tut’s mummy, you’ll recall how unique and well preserved it was: a tremendous resource for archeologists and just an awesome thing to gawk at. But, because King Tut is getting seriously old now, he can’t travel very much and stays mostly in Egypt. Now, thanks to 3D Printing however, there are two identical Tut mummies and the clone version is currently on display in New York. This was created using a Belgian 3D printer, and then freshened up by a makeup artist for increased authenticity. Our verdict: creepy AND cool.

¡Dios Mio, 3D Burritos!
Burrit0bot is 3D printing’s first Tex-Mex creation and it is getting hype as hot as its flavor. The brainchild, and consequent thesis project, of NYU Interactive Telecommunications grad, Marko Manriquez, Burrit0bot is still in revisions and doesn’t actually produce a burrito from scratch (you must supply the tortilla). It does, however, allow you to personalize your burrito preferences such as the critical guacamole salsa ratio from a mobile app.

And just in case you’re thinking that the Burrit0bot idea doesn’t have the same meat as the medical application of 3D printing, Manriquez begs to differ. “Burritob0t invites critical questions about the food we regularly consume, particularly in regards to fast food (labor practices, environmental consequences, nutritional value),” the Burritob0t website explains. “Mexican fast food is emblematic of the assembly line: it is mass-produced in an era of modern consumables, appropriating a false authenticity. Burritob0t, in turn, aims to encourage dialogue about how and where our food is grown, methods of production, environmental impact, cultural appropriation, and, perhaps most importantly: what our food means to us.”

Chocolate for Dessert
Brits might be known more for their tea habit than their sweet tooth but the biggest advancements in chocolate technology are coming out of England. The first chocolate printer was developed by Dr. Liang Hao at the University of Exeter who is now also the founder of Choc Edge, the company that distributes the printers, after the prototype sparked so much commercial interest. “We’ve improved and simplified the machine, so now it is really easy to use,” said Dr Hao, “You just need to melt some chocolate, fill a syringe that is stored in the printer, and get creative printing your chocolate.” So essentially, the technique remains unchanged the ink is merely replaced by yummy chocolate. We have a feeling Willy Wonka would approve!

There’s No Place like…Wiki
If you already depend on Wikipedia for most of your information, maybe its time you just give in, or better yet, move into the Wiki house. Design firm 00:/ has just unveiled their WikiHouse, 3D- printable house at the Milan Furniture Fair. The house gets its name from its open-source platform so anyone with a 3D printer can download and share the home’s templates.

What else makes this the coolest house on the block?
- Its a no-bolt construction
- Emphasizes locally-sourced materials
- Easy DIY construction
- NO POWER TOOLS NEEDED. Instead, the house is pieced together like a puzzle or an IKEA bed
The WikiHouse operates under the creative commons license which facilitates the sharing of new solutions among users and promotes a global dialogue between developers and the public.

Startup News: The Enviable Office Tour, NY Tech Addition

Posted on August 15, 2012 | innovation, Start-up, tech offices

The tech startup has not always had the most glamorous stereotype: it has often provoked an image of two dudes in their parents’ garage. Are their businesses brilliant? Yes. Beautiful? Heck no. But nowadays that couldn’t be further from the truth. Tech startups are snatching up prime SoHo real estate and designing unconventional, modern, fun-loving office environments that move as fast as they do. And yes, they are making us all very jealous.

Blip.Tv
Blip employees are experts about two things: monetizing, incubating and popularizing original video content and bringing the party to the office. Unlike Youtube, the material on Blip is hand-picked by their editors, who developed the idea after loving the first web-series they saw and resolving to create a place where independent and newbie producers could showcase their work. Plus, Blip always shares the pie: they have a 50/50 policy with creators when it comes to advertising revenue.

Blip.Tv

So what kind of office environment does it take to keep a place like this churning out great stuff? Apparently, Nerf-sniping their coworkers and a lot of beer pong. During their tour of the SoHo office, Business Insider found that every Blip employee is armed with a Nerf gun, and not afraid to use it. They also have a pimped-out kitchen complete with a beer tap, which they also aren’t, apparently, afraid to use: they even beat College Humor in a beer pong championship hosted by Gawker. Jealous yet? Did we mention that they can write on their conference-room walls? All this, plus they spend their days watching T.V.!

Gawker
No, these are not photos of New York’s trendiest new bar (though it could be, located at the intersection of three of the city’s hippest neighborhoods: Nolita, SoHo and the Bowery, a.k.a. hip junction.)

Gawker

It’s actually the Gawker office, the blog-based “source of Manhattan media news and gossip”, and it is complete with wooden-paneled ceilings, leather upholstery, and yes, mood lighting. But unlike the city’s trendy bars, this office is clique-free and has an anti-hierarchical design; even the highest-up executives and the founder work in the “common ground” of the office’s open seating plan. And, just so they don’t get on each other’s nerves too much, there are phone booths inside the office.

Thrillist
The Thrillist office in NYC takes the prize for the best chotchkies, no contest. In one look around their office the kid in you will be distracted by any number of awesome knickknacks: the vintage twister set, the fully-loaded blackjack table, a giant carpet with Executive Director, David Blend’s face on it (a gift for being “employee of the decade”), a pool table, and Jägermeister tap. Hmm, we’re sensing a pattern here…

But Thrillist employees aren’t letting any of these awesome doodads get in the way of building their dude-empire: Thrillist is a daily newsletter to bros and hipsters alike, men off all makes, tipping them off on things like good eats in their neighborhoods, new music and a news feed of stuff that, according to their website, “doesn’t suck, you already have your job for that.”

Thrillist

Birch Box
Don’t worry, we’ve got the ladies covered too. Birch Box provides more than 100,000 customers monthly with personal, luxury, home-delivered beauty boxes. The founders met at Harvard Business School and aimed to provide a service that “helps consumers cut through the clutter of the retail world to find products that really work for them.” Needless to say, it’s taken off in a major way, and they now also offer a men’s line.

Their office, like their products, leaves you feeling glowing and fresh: it is so beautiful and colorful it looks like “I Feel Pretty” is probably playing on repeat 24/7. But the Birch Box folks aren’t just pretty faces; the office supports their employees’ minds and bodies too with a small sharing library and a 2-min work-out break every hour, gotta love that.

Birch Box

Fab.com
When a company’s mission is to help people improve their lives through design, they gotta have the décor to back it up. Luckily at New York’s virtual marketplace for design lovers with deals galore, Fab has it in spades.

Fab.com

Stamped
Have you ever argued with a friend about who first discovered the best pizza joint, that movie no one can stop quoting, or found that hilarious cover song? Well now when you find it you can stamp it, with the Stamped app, and prove it when others try to steal your glory! You can also share all your favorite stuff with your buddies and see what they are into too, so I guess there’s a more egalitarian angle too.

At ExchangeMyPhone we have a huge appreciation for all things analogue embodied perfectly by this newly-minted start-up’s home. Even the name Stamped and the logo were inspired by a specially commissioned rubber stamp from Casey Rubber Stamps. Throughout the office you can find an antique “emergency phone”, a vintage radio and NYC map and of course an enviable collection of retro rubber stamps. Are we forgetting anything? Yes, you guessed it, there’s beer here too, a whole fridge dedicated to it in fact!

Stamped

*Photos and footwork courtesy of businessinsider.com and their wonderful office tours

Meet the $10 million watch

Posted on May 09, 2012 | innovation, mobile, Start-up, Tech tips

Have you heard of Kickstarter? For those who haven’t, Kickstarter is a crowd-funding platform that lets startups raise money from everyday people. The startup sets a goal, you donate however much you want and then, once they have reached their goal, they start making it a commercial reality.

Now let me introduce the Pebble smart-watch.

In the words of the company’s founder, 25 year old Eric Migicovsky, “Pebble is the first watch built for the 21st century”. Essentially Pebble connects to iPhone and Android smartphones using Bluetooth, alerting you with a silent vibration to incoming calls, emails and messages. It’s infinitely customizable, with beautiful downloadable watch-faces and useful watch-specific apps for cycling, running, golfing, music playback, caller ID, e-mail and more.

Look intriguing?

The project will be taking funding pledges until May 18 at which point, the watches will go into production. Once they’re ready, they’ll retail for more than $150, according to the project page, but if you pledge $115 or $125 toward the project, you’ll get your own watch. The watches are estimated to begin delivery in September and will be available in black, white or red, with a fourth color to be chosen by the project’s supporters.

Are you sold? Would you support this project?

Pebble set its goal on Kickstarter at a humble $100,000. Not only did Pebble reach their goal (in record time), but they are the largest ever Kickstarter campaign. To date they have raised almost $10 million and still have 9 days left to go.

What do you think about the hottest hardware on the market?

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Parking Fairy Inc.

Posted on February 05, 2012 | Start-up, sustainable living

ParkatmyHouse is playing matchmaker for those with vacant driveways and those hunting for a space, putting an end to parking-induced panic attacks and making the world a more harmonious place.  Its sort of one of those ‘why didn’t I think of that’ innovations, turning inefficient, empty driveways into affordable parking for drivers and a no-brainer money maker for real estate owners.  ParkatmyHouse is an online booking agency, much like AirBnB, that has been hugely successful in Britain where 25,000 property owners have already made a collective 5 million dollars.

Anthony Eskinzi, founder of ParkatmyHouse, thought of the idea while battling it out on the streets of San Fran trying to get to a Giants game as a college student “As any sports fan knows, trying to find a spot near a stadium on game day is usually a futile exercise! So, when he saw an empty driveway a stone’s throw away from the stadium, he realized that there was a great opportunity for both homeowners and drivers if only they could find a way of making contact. The idea for ParkatmyHouse was born!”

It is free to post your spot on the site and a small percentage is deducted for any rental fees made though online reservations.  Those who list are welcome to determine their own hourly rate though the site provides suggestions via Parkopedia.  Not only does this system save the driver money (we all know what a rip-off parking lots can be) but there are also the environmental factors like pollution from circling the block and what you’d save on gas.  At ExchangeMyPhone we get so excited to hear of the amazing ways others are turning something useless into something useful, and we are proud to consider ourselves part of this community!

SO, got some paved-space?  Not to worry, ParkAtMyHouse is set to launch in the US this year.