“Influencers Who Inspire” – Interview with Rebecca Strong of BostInno

We are excited to resume our “Influencers Who Inspire” interview series, where we highlight industry influencers and leaders in business. Today, we talk with Rebecca Strong of BostInno.  She shares her thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Boston and what she loves about her role at BostInno.

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Strong is currently a staff writer at BostInno, where she’s been covering local tech and startup news since November 2014. Previously, she was a writer and video blog producer for the content marketing agency, Brafton. Since graduating from Emerson College in 2010, she has contributed to a variety of local and national publications, including The Huffington Post, U.S. News University Directory and Elite Daily.

Please tell us a little bit about your beat at BostInno.

I’m in charge of covering anything relating to tech and start ups in and around Boston. That could mean anything from a funding announcement, merger, or acquisition to a profile on an entrepreneur, a first look at an upcoming local app or information about a brand new accelerator, incubator or coworking space. And sometimes I’ll dive into the aspects of startup culture—from style to office beer taps.

With Boston being populated with so many tech startups, how do you personally keep up with all the latest developments and introductions to the market?

It’s next to impossible to stay on top of everything and I’m fortunate in that people are constantly reaching out to me about their newly established startups or other announcements. But personally, I’m always scouring AngelList for interesting early stage companies, keeping an eye on industry folks on Twitter, and continually checking college/university news (MIT, Northeastern, etc). Going to networking events, panels, etc. is also a great way to get a scoop on a startup I might not otherwise have known about.

What do you love about your role at BostInno?

Knowing that I’m shaping the way people understand and view emerging companies so early on in their development. It’s extremely rewarding, too, to see the impact that positive press can have on startups. I’ve gotten emails from founders saying that after my article was published about their company, they were contacted by an interested investor. Or, from accelerators saying that a local expert offered to be a mentor for their program after they read my piece. There’s so much going on in Boston tech that it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. But I like to think that my shining a spotlight on some of these startups that are still getting their footing, and building up some hype around them, can actually make a difference—even a small one—in their being able to generate traction.

What types of companies do you like to cover and why?

It sounds obvious, but my favorites are the ones solving a problem that, to my knowledge, hasn’t yet been addressed. The startup world is saturated, and there are so many people making very similar apps based on basically the same idea. When I come across a company that’s going after an unresolved issue, or innovating in a space that still operates in an archaic way, that’s what excites me. Because in my mind, they’re the startups that have the most potential to turn heads, and to be responsible for significant change.

What has been your most interesting interview thus far?

That’s a tie. Arianna Huffington, and T.J. Miller from the HBO series “Silicon Valley.” Very, very different interviews but both fascinating individuals.

Do PR people help or hinder your storytelling?

I wouldn’t say PR people have ever hindered my storytelling. But not all are as helpful as they could be. The ones I really appreciate are those who get BostInno, who make a point to get me information as quickly as possible—often in advance of any embargo time—and who offer to connect me with the people who matter in any particular story.

If you had to guess, what percent of stories come from ideas a PR person sent to you?

I’d say about 17-18 percent. There are many cases in which a PR person will pitch me something, and I may not take that exact idea, but I’ll pull some other tidbit that I find interesting about the CEO, or the company, and run with that. And in those cases, that PR person still played a crucial role in making the story happen because they originally facilitated it.

What’s one thing you think PR executives could do better?

Know the journalists they’re pitching to. And no, I don’t just mean know that they write on tech, or sports, or food. I get so many irrelevant pitches - if the PR person emailing me had actually taken a glimpse at my coverage, they would know the angles aren’t relevant either to my beat or to BostInno as a whole. It’s equally important to know the publication’s audience when you’re pitching a journalist. BostInno has an edgy tone. Our readers are largely 20-somethings and 30-somethings. So if you’re trying to get me psyched about a tech company based on a super dry concept that’s difficult to comprehend, that’s going to be tough. And if you’re still sure it’s something worth covering, then make sure you do it in a way that very clearly helps me understand why it would pique our readers’ interest.

What do you love about the city of Boston?

The sense of community here. We band together like a small town would, yet we have all the awesome resources and businesses and other perks of living in a major city. The camaraderie here is particularly advantageous for startups. There’s this overall feeling that everyone supports everyone else. I don’t think you get a lot of that in other cities, where it’s more of an “every man for himself” mentality. It’s not just in the tech and startup world, either. The restaurant industry here holds so many events and meetups—everyone knows everyone else and you get the feeling that everyone gets genuinely excited for one another’s successes.

What are you passionate about outside of your journalism career?

Singing. Fitness. And, if I’m being honest, eating.

What is one goal you’d like to accomplish before the end of 2015?

In relation to my job, I’ve been asked several times to be on the judging panel at a startup pitch event and it hasn’t worked out with my schedule, so that’s something I’d like to do.

Outside of my job, my new goal is to get a basil plant, grow it, and make a mean batch of homemade pesto.

Our Favorite Things…for the Multi-Tasker

If you work in PR, chances are good that you’re a master multi-tasker. But even the best juggler needs a helping hand from time to time. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of our favorite apps, gadgets and websites to help you streamline your act and even add to it without dropping a single ball.


  • Mynd – it’s a calendar app, but breaks a very busy day down visually into very simple to consume blocks. So you know what’s next, who you’re meeting with and what tasks you have to get done. It can also sync with Waze so if you are traveling to a meeting it will tell you ahead of time if there is heavy traffic and you need to leave early.


  • I’m going “old school” with this one and recommending the original Amazon Kindle (at a very palatable $70). If you’re anything like me and amass a ridiculous amount of books on your “to-read” list, but never have enough time to get to them, the Kindle is your answer. Whether you’re in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, mid-commute or simply find yourself with a few minutes to spare, you can download all your books to one compact device & carry them with you to start chipping away at the pile. Get through your must-reads before they collect any more dust on those bookshelves!


  • Check app – I have it on my iPad and I can check my bank accounts balances for payments and deposits and I can also check on how my mutual funds and stocks are doing…all in one place with one touch.


  • iPad – or any good tablet that supports the same capabilities. I can access my email, view documents, update and monitor my social profiles, read books via Kindle or Nook apps, browse the web, manage my banking needs, shop, entertain my kids in line at the grocery store watching Paw Patrol (again), and countless other tasks and activities all in one place. It’s brilliant.


  • I covet Yipit this time of year – it’s an aggregator for all the social selling apps, but in one place, so when online shopping, instead of scouring Groupon, LivingSocial, etc. for deals, Yipit sends me a daily list of all deals in one spot (they tweet them, too). Extremely helpful – I think it’s the best kept secret!


We know these are very few of the many time saving and time enriching tools out there. So, please share your favorites in the comments. The more we share, the more we all benefit. And this is the giving season after all.



“Effective Executive” Series with Eric Newman, VP Products & Marketing, Digby

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We are pleased to share another insightful “Effective Executive” interview with Eric Newman, Vice President of Products & Marketing for Digby.  In this role, Eric Newman helps brands leverage the power of Localpoint, a cross channel marketing platform. During his 18-year career, Eric has ridden the cutting edge of a number of online revolutions at a successful startups, including Demand Media’s Pluck, Powered, IBM’s DataBeam, Ask Jeeve’s Direct Hit and Motive Corporation’s Question Technologies. He holds a M.B.A. from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University and a B.A. in Information Systems and Marketing from the University of Cincinnati.

Eric shared his thoughts on location-based marketing behavior and which loyalty programs top his list.  He also shared his insights with us on why Austin has become such a growing city for tech companies, especially start ups.

What’s the challenge in attaining a location-based marketing strategy?

Using time and place as a real-time trigger for marketing, engagement and customer service in brick and mortar locations adds a whole new dimension to an organization’s marketing and operational thinking – and therein lies the challenge.  It starts with figuring out how you want to react to a consumer’s entry into a store, or presence in a target neighborhood – notifying associates of the consumer’s entry or sending a visit-encouraging message to the consumer as examples.  From there, the retailers we work with are using that real-world event as a key juncture for mapping the consumer’s cross-channel history – understanding that they shopped on the ecommerce site last night and are likely entering the store to put their hands on the product before making the purchase.  That kind of omni-channel use is where location really shines as the link between the on and offline worlds, but it is also the most challenging for an organization to adopt when typically those worlds were organizationally separated in the past.

What have you seen over the last year in terms of measured success of a good location-based marketing strategy?

We have witnessed some amazing results.  While we cannot speak to specific customers’ performance metrics, we can talk about campaigns where 60+% of consumers in neighborhoods near a store opened a location-based announcement with push notification set up by the marketer and then in turn, visited the nearby store to redeem the offer.  We’ve seen social check-in campaigns through the retailer’s app generate astounding redemption rates as consumers walked into the store, received an offer and then shared the offer with their friends.

What are some of the best loyalty programs you’ve seen for customers?

As a marketer I really appreciate the Kohl’s cash program.  Giving consumers discounts they can apply against any product in a virtual cash format makes it easy to earn and easy to spend those points, but all within Kohl’s stores.

As a consumer, I like loyalty programs that offer something a little different as a loyalty reward.  Using earned loyalty points at a grocery like Randall’s to get a steep discount on gas at their fueling station is significant enough to actually spur conversation about it at the family dinner table.  Any time you can get someone teaching their children about a loyalty program, that’s longevity.

What’s your dream customer – i.e., who could use some improvement with Digby?

Location context as a trigger to more relevantly market and engage the consumer is not limited to one vertical or most appropriate for just one customer.  We see interest in Digby from brands in many sectors – from hospitality to dining and even sports franchises – anyone who has a physical place of business and would like to better engage their customers.  Interestingly, we learn new use cases for our technology with every potential customer we meet.  One of my favorite unexpected use cases was a convenience store chain that builds 50-100 stores a year.  That’s millions of dollars of real-estate investment where building on the wrong spot can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars of missed revenue.  In this case, the retailer wanted to identify locations where they were considering store development, and use the knowledge of how many of their app-holding, loyal customers drive by these various locations as a set of decision input into their real estate evaluation.

What’s the connection with mobile apps to successful in-store service?

There are so many use cases around customer service where awareness that the customer is at the store is so important.  For example, a fast food restaurant wants to allow consumers to order their burgers online for pickup in the restaurant.  Doesn’t sound all that complicated until you realize that a fast food sandwich has about a two minute shelf life under the heat lamps.  Get caught at a red light on the way to the store for pickup, and they have to start the order all over again.  Instead, the restaurant wants to use our Localpoint platform to know when the remote ordering customer has entered the parking lot and place the order into the queue at that moment – ensuring a burger ready to go with minimal waste.

Any predictions for 2014 in terms of marketing behavior, from a B to B or B to C standpoint?

Location is becoming white hot right now as organizations see the relevancy and depth it can add to their customer relationships, and the ROI it can drive in terms of incremental store visits, conversion and cart size growth.  Generally speaking, this technology applies best to the B to C experience, given the nature of shopping behavior where consumers visit malls, stores and other retail locations.

Weigh in on Austin and its growth in the tech world – how would you say Austin has changed over the year climate-wise for tech companies?

Austin is an incredible place for technology and has been for many years.  A startup community increases in velocity as it builds momentum with entrepreneurs at all organizational levels building startups and then facilitating the sale and integration of the startup into larger technology companies.  This creates a powerful secondary effect of drawing larger companies into Austin and then setting up the entrepreneur to make a run at their next big idea.  Austin has been doing this successfully for 20 years and has mature, fertile field of technology companies and startups spanning from the B to C space, like MapMyFitness who recently announced acquisition by UnderArmour, to B to B and even hardware solutions.  The whole city has adopted tech as a mainstay of the economy and culture and the tech companies fit right into the “Keep Austin Weird” message we are known for.

Have you gone to SXSW? What’s your experience or viewpoint on it as a value for organizations or evangelists?

SXSW is an amazing mix of digital technology, media, movies and music.  However, its meteoric growth has moved well beyond its roots as an interactive conference to an expansive showcase.  The biggest challenge is navigating the breadth of things you can do during the show, ranging from actually learning something in session, to hobnobbing with the digital elite, to immersing yourself in the non-stop party swirling around the event.  You need a SXSW plan of action before stepping foot into the show and sign up for the sessions you need as early as possible to ensure attendance.

Top marketing outlets you read?

Being all mobile, all the time, I spend most of my reading budget on sites like Mobile Commerce Daily and the Location Based Marketing Association.  I augment that with industry specific sites like Stores Magazine and Advertising Age.  As a technology product guy, I cannot live without Business Insider or our Forrester relationship, as industry analysts give a deep, cross-vendor view of the world that is hard to find from more traditional industry media publications.

“Influencers Who Inspire” Our Latest Interview with Dan Rowinski, Mobile Editor at ReadWrite

dan_rowinski_headshot (3)This week we are happy to share our latest interview with Dan Rowinski, Mobile Editor at ReadWrite. We follow Dan’s work religiously and are excited to share his thoughts on working with PR people, what he loves about Boston and what he loves about his current role.

How did you transition from covering sports to covering technology? What do you miss about it?

My transition from sports to tech had a lot to do with the advanced study of baseball statistics. In baseball nerd circles, these are called sabermetrics. You ever heard of Moneyball (first a book, then a movie starring Brad Pitt)? For a long time I studied these advanced statistics to the point that I knew them by heart. It awakened a very statistically-driven analyst in me and taught me that I could basically learn anything and break it down into simple, understandable terms for my readers.

After I left TBD.com in D.C., I was on the lookout for a steady gig in either tech, sports or investigative reporting. I like tech and have always had kind of a casual interest in how things are made and then put to use. So, I landed at Government Computer News writing about smartphones. The clincher for me in getting that job was telling one of the editors at GCN about how I had taught myself sabermetrics and how that learning process informed my world view. Hurray for baseball.

What I miss most about sports is being at the arena or ballpark and the competitive but close-knit relationship with other beat reporters. They all may work for different outlets, but it is kind of a club. What don’t I miss about it? The fact that most professional athletes are trained to say absolutely nothing of substance. Lots of, “I trust my teammates and god” (in that order), type of quotes.

As a native of the Boston area, what do you love most about our city?

You ever been the Green Dragon Tavern? It was supposed to be the headquarters of the American Revolution and guys like Sam Adams and Paul Revere met there to discuss the resistance against the British. The actual Green Dragon was torn down in 1854 and the current pub (tucked behind Bell In Hand by all those bars on Union Street) is a few blocks from where the original building was. But, it is still a part of history, of both Boston and the United States. Boston is full of those little types of places. Hell, Harvard is quite a bit older than the U.S.

I love history. I have a degree in it (next to my English degree and Master’s in Journalism). I love living in a city where major history is so casually interspersed with the everyday and modern.

Also, the Red Sox. ;)

As a journalist, what is your biggest pet peeve about PR professionals?

Multiple emails. If I don’t answer the first time, the pitch may have gotten lost but not bloody likely. I am well on top of my email. If a PR person sends two, three, four or more follow ups, I will actually ban them to my spam folder. This is probably the worst possible outcome for a PR person trying to get my attention because it will mean that all subsequent communication from them will go to my spam. There is a good chance I wasn’t interested in the pitch the first time. I don’t have time to respond to everything, so my silence is generally my answer.

That being said, I archive just about every single email I get. It is a fairly large archive at this point. If I am looking for something on a particular topic, I search my email for products, points of reference and people to talk to. It’s a resource, just like Twitter is a resource or Google+ (yes, I use Google+).

Also, don’t ever, ever, ever cold call me if we have not communicated before. I might give you 30 seconds, if you are lucky.

Also, don’t send things to me in the mail (actual, physical mail) if I have not asked for them and am expecting them. The PR person from Mophie once sent me a lunch box before CES with one of their battery packs and some energy bars. Clever, I have to say, but really annoyed the hell out of me.

What has been the most fascinating interview you have conducted over the years?

It was actually a series of interviews in a 24-hour span. When I was still covering government tech and doing freelance sports, I talked to former NASA CIO Linda Cureton and former CTO Chris Kemp. The next day I covered both a Washington Capitals game and then a Wizards NBA game that night (one of those rare days when both teams play on the same day at the same arena and the bull gang has to change over from the ice to the parquet). So, within that day I interviewed both Cureton and Kemp as well as Capitals star Alex Ovechkin and San Antonio Spurs power forward Tim Duncan. That was pretty cool.

Of those interviews, Kemp was the most fascinating. This was when tablets were still pretty new and Kemp (who now is the CEO of a cloud company called Nebula) gave me one of my favorite lines ever; “tablets are the gateway to the cloud.” That has stuck with me as I have studied the confluence of the cloud and mobile revolutions.

What do you love about your job?

Learning. I feel like I have gotten another whole degree since becoming a tech reporter. I study everything mobile, all day just about everyday. Been doing it for years now. I’ve gotten to the point where I might be able to cobble together a book or two on subjects like mobile payments and the proliferation of the app. I like to get pretty wonky with my articles sometimes, so I will find and study source code or take a look at new integrated developer environments. Basically, my job allows me to absorb information and that makes me really happy.

Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

I am a pretty big cycler. I have a very nice Jamis racer road bike. Love to get out into the roads in Metro West and do 50 or 60 miles around Lexington and Concord.

After I stopped being a sports reporter, I have always rediscovered the pleasure of being a sports fan. I love baseball. When you are a sports reporter, it becomes a job. Even if your job is to wake up and go watch hockey for a living, there are days (everybody has them) where you just say, “I don’t want to go to work today.” You lose that exuberance that made you a fan in the first place. It took a couple of years for me to get over that but I have found that I can once again watch the Red Sox game and enjoy it without having to worry about filing a story as soon as the game ends.

What is next for you for the remainder of 2013?

Work, work, work. Absorb more knowledge. Get ready for the mobile product blitz that is the holiday shopping season. Looking forward to seeing exactly how Apple has cobbled together the new aspects of iOS 7 with the iPhone 5S. Also want to see whether the concept of the “smartwatch” becomes a popular product item. My editor-in-chief Owen Thomas is not a fan of the smartwatch, but I think it could be really cool. I want to be like Dick Tracy, damnit, and I don’t want to have to tether my smartphone to a watch to be able to do so. A couple scheduled trips to New York and San Francisco (those are the only places I seem to go these days) and then home for Christmas. Trying to take it easy on the travel because my spring travel schedule is brutal (Las Vegas, Barcelona and Austin, Texas).

Other than that, just keep on keeping on.

“Effective Executive” Series with Ric Calvillo of Nanigans

ricThis week’s “Effective Executive” interview is with Ric Calvillo, co-founder and CEO of Nanigans. Nanigans is pioneering the next evolution in media buying with its predictive lifetime value platform for performance marketing.

Ric Calvillo is Nanigans’ co-founder and CEO. Ric has over 20 years of startup experience, having founded and led three technology companies. Prior to co-founding Nanigans, Ric was Founder & CEO of Incipient, Inc., a venture-backed data storage infrastructure software company.

We asked Ric about his current role and the early days in his career as well as what is next for Nanigans for the remainder of 2013.

Can you explain your technology in simple terms for our audience?

Nanigans is the transformative SaaS platform for performance marketers, focusing on customer predictive lifetime value at scale. Most of our clients right now are in the e-commerce, travel and gaming verticals and use Nanigans across social and mobile.


What is the most exciting part of your role as CEO and Founder at Nanigans?

The most exciting part would be watching the growth of our customers, employees and the overall business. I started Nanigans in 2010 with the simple idea that performance marketing was inherently broken, and just a few short years later we’re up over 200 customers, 100+ employees and have offices around the world. Feeding off of the energy and successes of Nanigans employees is also contagious, and that vibrant culture is seemingly always on display walking around any of our offices.


Back in the early days of your career, what did you envision Nanigans to be? Have you met or exceeded your expectations?

I always wanted marketers to buy media based more on data than anything else. We know that consumers want to see a certain amount of offerings from advertisers and engage, especially online. For us, it was helping our customers find those purchase-minded consumers at scale and develop long-term relationships with their best target audiences.


In such a fast-paced tech industry, how do you keep up with the constant changes and developments?

We have an always-on engineering team. There’s no “easy solution” or “10 step method” to keeping up with the ever-changing tech industry. We focus on partnerships, planning and execution to ensure we’re always meeting goals. Our team meets every day to confirm nuances or updated plans, and we all sit together in an open floor plan to ensure open communication can happen in-person not just via email or phone.


You recently celebrated a huge milestone (1 Billion conversations enabled), how did you celebrate internally and how does this milestone motivate you and your Company to achieve future goals?

It’s always nice to highlight “big wins” for the company, so we celebrated the same way we always do, which means to take a step back for a moment and understand the impact and then move on. This industry changes on a dime, and we’ve seen great companies fail in the past few years so we don’t like to spend too much time on “accomplishments” but rather focus on how we can continue to provide value for our customers and innovate within the industry.


What is next for Nanigans for the remainder of 2013?

We’re focusing on how to best scale the business. In terms of verticals, we like ecommerce, travel, gaming and a few others while also looking at where to expand geographically. We currently have offices in Boston/NYC/SF/UK, which leaves a lot of opportunity on the table so finding the right combination for growth while continuing to maintain our level of quality and success for our customers is the main priority right now.