30 Startup People To Watch This Year

Soraya DarabiSoraya Darabi, co-founder of Foodspotting

In 2012, a few talented tech people began working on big new projects.Take, for example, Bret Taylor. He left his position as Facebook’s CTO to found a startup. He hasn’t revealed what he’s working on yet, but we’re sure it’s something good.

Then there are people like Chris Dixon and David Tisch, who either took new startup investing jobs or left them. They’re both positioned to have big 2013’s too.

We pulled together the 30 tech people we’re most excited to follow this year. They’re either rising tech stars about to make big breaks in the startup scene, or they’re current tech stars taking on new, challenging roles.

Bret Taylor and Kevin Gibbs — Quip

What they've done: Bret Taylor is the former CTO of Facebook, having joined the social network after Facebook acquired his company FriendFeed in 2009. Taylor has also worked at Google as a group product manager, where he helped create Google Maps and its API.

Kevin Gibbs, also a former Googler, founded the Google App Engine and managed the project from its inception up until July 2012.

What they're working on now: Quip. It's not yet clear what Quip will actually do, since the startup is still in stealth mode.

Why you should care: If Bret Taylor and Kevin Gibbs are working on something, there's no doubt you want to stick around to see what it is.

Brandi Temple and Emily Hickey — Lolly Wolly Doodle

What they've done: Brandi Temple is a stay-at-home mum-turned entrepreneur. But her COO, Emily Hickey, has quite the entrepreneurial background. Hickey was the 14th employee at Hot Jobs and eventually went on to launch Photoshelter with a few of her co-workers from Hot Jobs. Most recently, Hickey served as Chief Marketing Officer at Hashable.

What they're working on now: Lolly Wolly Doodle, an apparel store for kids that lives on Facebook.

Why you should care: Temple was about to sell off her startup because it became so successful, it was too much for her to handle alone. She was a stay-at-home mum and a great seamstress, and it was hard for her to fill all the orders that were coming in.

Investors found her and helped her hire stars like Emily Hickey, and now Lolly Wolly Doodle is growing quickly. Almost all of its business comes from its Facebook page, where it shows new clothes and lets fans buy them directly from the social network. By the end of 2013, we bet a lot more people will know about Temple and her company.

Noah Brier and James Gross — Percolate

What they've done: Noah Brier was formerly the executive director of strategy at The Barbarian Group, a digital marketing agency, and James Gross worked as a sales executive for Federated Media.

What they're working on now: Percolate, a platform that helps marketers figure out what kind of content to produce that fits their brand's message.

Why you should care: Percolate finished 2012 strong. Brier and Gross were able to run their company on its own revenue and turn a small profit without much outside capital. They were able to recruit 30 Fortune 500 clients, including American Express, GE and Diagio. Many of them were on-boarded in the past six months, and they're paying up to $10,000 per month to use Percolate.

Late last year, Percolate raised $9 million, which will fuel the fire in 2013. It will be interesting to see what Percolate does with all that cash, since it was pretty successful without it.

Alex Hawkinson — SmartThings

What he's done: Alex Hawkinson has 15 years of experience with cloud-based tech companies. He most recently served as CPO of online marketing solutions company ReachLocal.

What he's working on now: SmartThings, a company that makes everyday things more intelligent by connecting them to the Internet and letting owners monitor, control, and install apps into them through their smart phones.

Why you should care: Investors are going bananas for SmartThings, and the company promises the world something truly innovative. It wants to make ordinary objects smarter by connecting them to the Internet and enabling owners to be alerted to any changes to them on mobile devices and go even further by installing apps in the cloud that change how these ordinary objects work.

Imagine getting a push notification if your front door is left open, the power shuts off, or a painting falls off your wall. Hawkinson is working to make that a reality.

Georg Petschnigg — FiftyThree (maker of Paper)

What he's done: Before co-founding FiftyThree, Georg Petschnigg worked at Microsoft for 11 years where he co-founded the Pioneer Studios design incubator. Petschnigg also led the development for a touchscreen computer that folded like a book called Courier.

What he's working on now: FiftyThree, the company behind Paper, an iPad app that lets artists created detailed sketches and painting-like drawings.

Why you should care: FiftyThree's hit app, Paper, was named the best new app by Apple, and investors think it's the future of Adobe for mobile devices.

Matt Galligan and Ben Huh — Circa

What they've done: Three-time entrepreneur Matt Galligan is the brains behind location infrastructure startup SimpleGeo, which Urban Airship acquired in 2011. Before founding SimpleGeo, Galligan co-founded social network management startup Socialthing, which AOL acquired just five months after launching.

Ben Huh is most famously known for starting the meme and humour network Cheezburger. He founded the Cheezburger network in 2007 and it is now one of the largest humour networks on the web with more than 16.5 million users.

What they're working on now: Circa, a mobile-first news site.

Why you should care: The way we consume news needs to be reimagined for mobile devices and their small screens. Articles need to be brief and visual to make them easy to skim on the go. Galligan and Huh are working hard to make that happen at Circa, and both have a lot of experience making startups successful.

Robert Reffkin and Ori Allon — Urban Compass

What they've done: Robert Reffkin previously worked at Goldman Sachs where he served as chief of staff to the president and COO. In 2010, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Reffkin to the Panel for Educational Policy.

Ori Allon is a three-time entrepreneur who sold his first company, Orion, to Google and his second, Julpan Inc., to Twitter. Allon joined Twitter in 2011 following the acquisition and worked there as an engineering director.

What they're working on now: Urban Compass, a startup that's still in stealth mode.

Why you should care: First, its co-founder Ori Allon has a great track record founding companies. He sold one startup to Google and another to Twitter.

Goldman Sachs, which doesn't typically invest in startups, led an $8 million seed round in the company, and the round came together in a matter of weeks. The pair haven't said much about what they're working on, but we'll be watching them closely to find out.

Meredith Perry — uBeam

What she's done: Meredith Perry is a first-time entrepreneur who recently graduated from University of Pennsylvania with a degree in astrobiology.

What she's working on now: uBeam, a charger that juices multiple devices at once without using any wires.

Why you should care: Perry is extremely motivated, and she's already overcome issues both internally and externally -- specifically, legal battles over patents -- to protect her company and bring uBeam to life. She has an all-star list of investors supporting her, including Yahoo's Marissa Mayer and Zappos' Tony Hsieh.

Finally, she's building a product we can't wait to get our hands on: a wireless charger that juices multiple devices at once, without ever touching them.

Paul Berry — Rebelmouse

What he's done: Paul Berry is the former CTO of The Huffington Post and co-founder of the newly-formed incubator Soho Tech Labs.

What he's working on now: Rebelmouse, a social media aggregator for people or companies; Soho Tech Labs, a startup incubator.

Why you should care: Berry helped craft Huffington Post's CMS from scratch and is a pro at building teams of international developers. He is a large part of HuffPo's $315 million success, and his new startup Rebelmouse is off to a great start. He's attracted more than $3 million for it from investors, and it is solving a problem that's emerging more and more in social media

People have a lot of profiles, from Twitter to Facebook, and their social media data is scattered across them all. Rebelmouse pulls all the personal data into one page. So instead of checking multiple social media sites to get to know a person or company, you can look at their Rebelmouse page and scan all of their social shares at once.

That said, we don't know how many people are actually using Rebelmouse. We're curious to see if consumers begin adopting the product in 2013.

Matt Sandler — Chromatik

What he's done: Matt Sandler is a professional saxophonist-turned-entrepreneur who has played at most major venues in Los Angeles. He's also worked with Capital Records, Virgin Records, and most recently, American Idol.

What he's working on now: Chromatik, an iPad app that makes learning music and reading sheet music a social experience.

Why it matters: Chromatik seems to have investors in a tizzy. While it doesn't have millions of users yet, the users it does have are highly engaged, spending an average of 20 minutes per session on the social sheet music iPad app, and opening the app four times per week.

While musicians may not be as big a market opportunity as Facebook or Twitter, learning and practicing music is a social experience, so we look forward to seeing if Chromatik can become the platform for all of those interactions.

Eric Migicovsky — Pebble

What he's done: Eric Migicovsky first started dabbling with the smartwatch concept four years ago when he developed the inPulse wristwatch accessory for the Blackberry that displayed things like text messages, email, and weather reports.

What he's working on now: Pebble, a watch that syncs with the apps on your smart phone.

Why you should care: Pebble, the most funded Kickstarter campaign of all time, needs to really execute in 2013. Its ability to do so will (or will not) sway people on the authenticity of the crowdfunding business. Pebble owes about 85,000 smart watches to people and it currently has no ship date. Keep a close eye on it in 2013 to see how it handles the pressure, and what happens when the long-overdue watches finally come out.

Julie Uhrman — OUYA

What she's done: Julie Uhrman is a long-time video game executive who previously worked at GameFly, IGN, and Vivendi Universal.

What she's working on now: OUYA, a video game console that brings mobile games to TVs.

Why you should care: OUYA is the second-most funded Kickstarter campaign ever but, unlike Pebble, it's begun shipping its products. Only developer consoles have been delivered though; Uhrman's team is still working on the consumer product. When that ships, we'll be curious to hear the reviews.

Brian Bedol — Bedrocket Media

What they've done: Brian Bedol has experience both as a startup founder and as a TV executive. In 1995, he launched Classic Sports Network and sold it to ESPN for $175 million. He later founded College Sports Television and eventually sold it to CBS for $325 million.

What they're working on now: Bedrocket Media, a next generation media and entertainment company.

Why you should care: TV and cable industries are ripe for disruption and Bedol is a seasoned TV executive who's going after the space. Bedol's two previous exits prove he knows how to build and sell big entertainment companies. It might still be too early for entrepreneurs like Bedol, but if Samsung, Apple and Intel fire new products, it could allow Bedol and Bedrocket to take off.

Soraya Darabi, co-founder of Foodspotting — now working on a secret startup

What she's done: Soraya Darabi is the co-founder of the popular culinary app, Foodspotting. She also advises several startups including the creative network for architects, Architizer, and travel startup, Trippy. Darabi started her career as the manager of digital partnerships and social media at The New York Times.

What she's working on now: A New York-based stealth startup

Why you should care: Darabi has something cooking which she'll be unveiling shortly. If it's as beautiful as the Foodspotting app she created, we'll be happy to stick around and see what it is.

Tristan Walker — EIR at Andreessen Horowitz

What he's done: Tristan Walker got his footing in the startup world as a student at Stanford Business School when he sent Foursquare co-founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai several emails asking for a job. Walker's persistence paid off and he eventually came on board to foursquare as director of business development.

What he's working on now: CODE2040 and an entrepreneur in residence at Andreessen Horowitz

Why you should care: Walker is an entrepreneur in residence, which basically means he's waiting for an exciting startup to come along so he can hop into an executive seat. Either that, or he'll start a company of his own, which Walker has hinted at already. We look forward to seeing which startup he chooses, since his last pick was pretty spot on.

Naveen Selvadurai — co-founder of Foursquare

What he's done: Naveen Selvadurai co-founded foursquare in 2009 but was pushed out from the company in March 2012.

What he's working on now: Adjunct professor at Cooper Union and mentor at Nike+ Accelerator

Why you should care: It's been about a year since Selvadurai left Foursquare and no one has heard much from him since. We're thinking it won't be long before he pops up in the tech scene with his next project.

Amanda Peyton — Grand St

What she's done: Amanda Peyton co-founded location-based site and app, MessageParty in 2010. The service, which let users leave messages about a specific place, is now in the deadpool and Peyton is on to her next venture.

What she's working on now: Grand St, a way to purchase cool new electronics that actually exist.

Why you should care: Kickstarter and IndieGoGo are for people with ideas, but Grand St is for people with pre-existing but little-known products. It's like crowdfunding without the risk, because the people who post products on Grand St have already executed their ideas, they just need a little marketing to help them budge. A company like Peyton's could help a lot of small businesses get ideas off the ground for individual products without having a bunch of inventory left over.

Ben Kaufman — Quirky

What he's done: Ben Kaufman is the genius behind Mophie, the hardware company that makes battery cases for mobile phones.

What he's working on now: Quirky, an invention shop that splits royalties with its community.

Why you should care: Kaufman is really young, but he's learned a lot since his first venture. At Mophie, Kaufman says he raised too much money and he did a few things he regrets -- like a photoshoot in sunglasses, waving cash around. Now he's using his entrepreneurial experience to help other people with ideas execute them.

Unlike Kickstarter, which gives people with ideas money to create them, Quirky executes the products for people and splits lifetime royalties with its community. It takes all the costs and risks upon itself in exchange for a large cut of successful products. If products like Pebble and OUYA don't come through, people may turn away form Kickstarter or IndieGoGo and seek a solution like Kaufman's instead.

Chris Dixon — Partner at Andreessen Horowitz

What he's done: Chris Dixon has a long history in the tech world. He previously co-founded Hunch, Founder Collective, and Site Advisor, and worked as an associate at Bessemer Venture Partners.

What he's working on now: Partner at Andreessen Horowitz

Why you should care: Dixon just accepted a new job at Andreessen Horowitz. He's been one of New York's most active angel investors, and we're interested to see what deals he'll lead at one of the top funds in the world.

David Tisch — Box Group

What he's done: David Tisch co-founded TechStars NYC but recently left his day-to-day role as managing director to pursue other opportunities.

What he's working on now: Founder of Box Group

Why you should care: When Tisch left TechStars, he didn't really say what he'd be doing next. So of course, we'll be watching him closely to see what he's up to. In the meantime, he's still been investing in a lot of startups through his personal fund, Box Group. But we're anxious to see how else he'll fill his time and/or grow his fund.

Nicole Glaros — TechStars

What she's done: Before coming on board as managing director of TechStars Boulder, Nicole Glaros founded three companies, including Property Management Shop, all of which are still up and running.

What she's working on now: Interim Managing Director at TechStars NYC, a startup accelerator.

Why you should care: Glaros is David Tisch's temporary replacement at TechStars NYC, and she'll have big shoes to fill. Tisch was the TechStars NYC brand, and he grew the program to more than a thousand applicants per class. We'll see if Glaros can keep the program prestigious while David Cohen continues to hunt for a new David Tisch.

Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg

What they've done: Nat Turner and Zach Weinberg are an entrepreneurial duo who have started several companies together. Most recently, the pair sold their company Invite Media to Google for $81 million.

What they're working on now: Flatiron Health, a stealth startup that's working on a big problem: cancer.

Why it matters: Turner and Weinberg already had one successful exit together, and now they have the financial stability to build a company that truly matters to them. Their new startup, Flatiron Health, is tackling cancer, and will be announcing some big news in the next few weeks.

Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan — Drawbridge

What she's done: Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan previously worked as a lead information scientist at AdMob and then at Google, after the search giant acquired AdMob in 2010.

What she's working on now: Drawbridge, a stealth advertising company that helps brands follow users across devices.

Why you should care: People switch between multiple devices, from PCs to mobile phones to tablets. Ads don't do a very good job of following people across devices. That's what Sivaramakrishnan wants to do, and if she can pull it off, she could have a very big and successful company on her hands.

Chris Anderson — DIY Drones/3D Robotics

What he's done: Chris Anderson is the former editor-in-chief of Wired. Before joining Wired, he wrote for The Economist for seven years.

What he's working on now: 3D Robotics/ DIY Drones

Why you should care: Chris Anderson has single-handedly spearheaded the do-it-yourself drone movement in the US. Now that he has amassed a community of more than 33,000 active members and recently secured a $5 million investment from True Ventures and O'Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, he's ready to take 3D Robotics to the next level.

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