Author Archive for forddn17

Chalmers Brown |

Chalmers Brown is a software engineer and entrepreneur who is currently working on his fifth startup, Due helps small businesses with invoices and payment processing so that they can receive the money that they earned.

Brown’s entrepreneurial story started at Rutgers University, where he began a business to help local students earn money selling their used textbooks. He found a very immediate need that he could meet and turned it into a business. As his education in software engineering advanced, he started developing software back ends for social media companies, healthcare providers, and other businesses. emerged from the experiences and relationships he made during his early entrepreneurial years, as he connected to freelancers and started to understand what they could use to make their processes easier. He spotted pain in an experience, and turned it into a business that delivers millions of invoices every year across the globe.

Although the business is very small and simple, the beauty of is the great need it meets for many people. While many people try to make starting a business complex and formulaic, Brown found a intersection of passion and pain and launched from there.

Silbermann and Sharp: Pinterest

Ben Silbermann and Evan Sharp, co-founders of Pinterest, both used their prior experiences in the technology and the internet to start a very successful business of their own. Silbermann was a Google employee until he left to design apps on his own. However, these failed to gain any traction, until eventually he designed a product inspired by his own love of collecting things.

Similarly, Sharp worked at Facebook as a product designer. He met Silbermann in New York, and then joined his team to make Pinterest a reality.

Pinterest is really about idea sharing. People enjoy telling others about their ideas, and Pinterest gives them a platform to not only do so but also to gauge how a community will respond to it. It is a great place to see other peoples ideas as well, and find inspiration for many different things.

This business idea is a great example of collision in a liquid network. In the realm of technology and the internet, two men with the experience and ideas necessary collided to make a business that could possibly eclipse Facebook and other social media giants.

Without one another, the idea would just be a pair of hunches, and nothing would have come from it. However, in a community where ideas can bounce around, change, and grow, true innovations can be born.


Quora is a question and answer website like none other. Although at it’s surface it might seem to just be another version of Yahoo Answers, it has created a community of users high in professionalism and expertise, so that those who use the site to find answers know that they can trust what they find there. The website has established a community of expertise maintained by both an automated moderation system and a team of workers who look into reports and help keep the site truthful. Quora is about knowledge sharing, and has to preserve an environment of truth to keep itself unique in the market. Celebrities, politicians, businessmen, and more answer questions on the site.

Quora’s journey, like many popular websites, starts with Facebook. Adam D’Angelo worked at Facebook as Chief Technology Officer from 2004 to 2008. In 2009, after leaving Facebook, he started Quora with another ex-Facebook employee, Charlie Cheever. The site has been growing rapidly and in 2016 a version of the website for Spanish-speaking users launched.

One concern people voice about Quora has to do with why it is different than a website like Yahoo Answers. According to D’Angelo, before launching Quora, he saw a gap in the internet for a reliable knowledge sharing website. The current answers websites just were not serving the function he had in mind. Quora is not about looking at funny or interesting questions when one is bored, but rather about sharing knowledge and helping people. To foster a community that is genuinely helpful, Quora started with D’Angelo’s friends. He invited professional, mature people to help the site gain content and it has stayed that way today. Also, the level of professionalism with which the site has been executed, from the design to the fact that you must have an account to participate, has encouraged seriousness and truthfulness. Quora started with a need on the internet and fostered a community that helped it fill that need.

Nanoly and Enplug – Culture in Business

Nanxi Liu grew up in a situation not typically considered conducive to innovation. After spending most of the first five years of her life without her parents in China, she could move to the United States and reunite with them. When it was time for her to go to college, she got into UC Berkeley and payed her way through doing odd jobs. After meeting a talented biochemist at a bar, she started Nanoly Bioscience, a company with a patented polymer for preserving vaccines without refrigeration.

Nanoly is built around the idea that many people cannot get vaccines because of environmental factors causing the proteins that make the vaccine work to become inactive. The polymer they developed is a sort of protective shell that functionally replaces a refrigerator. For this work, Nanoly earned many awards for social technological change, including Intel’s Top Social Innovation, Dell’s Global Social Innovation Challenge Award, and a Tech Award in 2014 for Young Innovators.

Social and technological change marry perfectly in this startup. While innovation is often thought of in the terms of apps or software, bringing about powerful social change is just as revolutionary. While the technology used is advanced and definitely a breakthrough, without a use that people care about, in this case a social use, it is simply another type of plastic. Because of this merging, Nanoly was able to make the world better.

Building upon this success, Liu more recently started Enplug, a technology/software business with a product that harnesses digital screens to allows users to link, control, manipulate, and post to any digital screen instantly. Plugging into any HD screen, the technology allows the user to display social media, presentations, news, or virtually anything. They also developed a software development kit, which allows experienced users to create their own apps to link to the technology.

The most innovative aspect of Enplug is the culture of the business. Over ten of the roughly 40 employees share a single house. This not only fosters a strong bond of cooperation in the employees, it also serves to bring innovation into everyday life and everyday life into the business world. Of course, it also saves money. This choice to treat a business almost as family is a demonstration of the innovative thinking that Liu brings to her businesses. Whether Nanoly or Enplug, Liu has a capacity for being intentional in the way a business is being run, instead of simply inventing a breakthrough product.

Starting Young – Blake Ross and Mozilla Firefox

Blake Ross cannot visualize things in his mind. If asked to imagine a beach, he instead thinks about the concepts that make up a beach. Ross was unaware that most people could visualize things until last year, and he is 30. Although afflicted by this rare inability, he still managed to create Mozilla Firefox, a breakthrough web browser that salvaged the less successful open source program Netscape.

Ross was born in Florida. At age 15, he moved to California to pursue an internship with Netscape, even though Internet Explorer at the time dominated the industry. After gaining experience, Ross decided to make a more streamlined browser, and the Mozilla Project was born. The first software in the suite and in many ways the flagship development, Firefox, was immensely popular, and became the first real competitor to Internet Explorer. Other popular software developed by Ross include Thunderbird, the mail program in the Mozilla suite, and Parakey, a separate program that he sold to Facebook for a large profit.

Along with the acquisition of Parakey came Ross himself, who worked for Facebook as Director of Product. He worked for them until 2013, and in August he was hired by Uber to help them develop their product. Evident in Ross’s work is an ambition to stay at the forefront of development and technology. He started at age 15, jumped into a field he was interested and good at, found a product that was underdeveloped, worked on that until it gained attention, then switched to another big name in another sphere. After tackling the challenge of social media under Facebook, he has now switched to innovating in transportation.

Ross innovates by finding what is currently redefining the way Americans live their lives. His biggest project, Firefox, was inspired by the struggles his mother had with the current web browsers. He also has the ambition to back up this relentless pursuit of advancement, as evidenced by the early age at which he started pursuing his career. Ross is smart enough to be part of the largest innovations of the twenty-first century, and motivated enough to work on three of them so far.

Scott’s Cheap Flights – Save Hundreds on International Travel

Scott Keyes loves travel. In 2016, he traveled to thirteen countries, and yet only had to pay for taxes. Taking advantage of credit card points and frequent flier miles, he accrued enough points to take the trip virtually free. He combined his skill with credit cards with his knack for finding cheap flights and made possible a flight many can only dream of.

His 2016 trip isn’t the only one he has taken, and it did not take long for his travel prowess to catch the attention of his friends and coworkers. As more and more of them requested that he keep them up to date with deals on flights, he slowly transitioned to a newsletter service and then to a full-fledged for-profit business. His website, Scott’s Cheap Flights, does not sell flights but rather sends daily emails with information on deals that cut down hundreds of dollars on international flights.

In a way, it seems like the business fell into Keyes’ lap. However, the success of such a business seems so easily accomplished only because there was both passion for travel savings and a need for people to take cheaper trips. This business flows from what Keyes was already doing, and doing well. His drive to find good deals and love of travel made him both suited for and willing to run his website. Also, the fact that the business started with people he knew means that demand for his service was high. If the individuals in one’s small personal sphere have interest in your business, then it is highly likely that there is interest in the national realm. Keyes found a niche where what he was good at and ready to do met what other people asked for or wanted.

What make Scott’s Cheap Flights so unique is that everything is done manually. Scott himself as well as a few other employees manually surf websites searching for great sales and errors that result in lower ticket prices. No algorithm exists that can find the deals as well as Keyes and his team does. Finding deals online is more of an art than a science, and has not been developing for very long, as the online market has not existed very long. Although increasingly more people are developing skills with credit cards and deals, Keyes was both talented and ready enough to make one of the initial moves on a fairly open market.

In this service, Keyes mixes his passion with a problem. According to his website, “Scott searches for flights all day every day because he has no life.” He could apply what he already did to an area that other people asked for, and now his business serves more than 530,000 people. Scott’s Cheap Flights displays innovation not in software or technology but rather using what one already knows how to do.