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The 5 Most Buzzed About Companies at SXSW

In an attempt to cut through the noise, we’ve sifted through the many media accounts of countless companies hoping to bring their product into the spotlight, to bring you the five most buzzed about startups at SXSW.


Of the many startups that were able to build buzz in Austin, Highlight was the clear winner.  The ambient social discovery app uses your GPS data and your Facebook network to find people near you with whom you share mutual friends or interests.   Unlike other location apps where users must check in to locations, Highlight is designed to run in the background and notify users when people they might like to meet are nearby.  It is currently available only on the iPhone.

Highlight is a two person team, CEO Paul Davison and engineer Ben Garrett, and is based in San Francisco.

“[SXSW has] been huge.  At the same time, it creates this artificial state of ubiquity, because everyone here is using it,” Davison told Digital Trends.

There was significant buzz surrounding a variety of ambient location-based social apps, but Highlight had the most buzz by a long shot.  NetBase analyzed SXSW social chatter for AdWeek and found that Highlight dominated the ambient app conversation with 72% of the social buzz.

Mashable’s social buzz analysis led to the same conclusion – Highlight was the top ranking app for all five days of SXSW Interactive.


Another San Francisco-based startup, Zaarly, also combines location with the social graph.  But rather than an introduction engine, Zaarly is a mobile marketplace where users can buy and sell services.  Co-founder and CEO Bo Fishback described the service as “a mobile, optimized, well-lit Craigslist.”  Zaarly attempts to take some of the doubt out of dealing with strangers by requiring users to create profiles and utilizing Facbook data (when users are willing) for added verification.

Of all the buzzed about apps, Zaarly has the most social proof outside Austin.  They launched in 2011 and raised a $15 million round last October.   Meg Whitman, CEO of HP and former CEO of eBay, recently joined the board.


Glancee, another social discovery mobile app, attempts to provide the same opportunities as Highlight – providing users with a way to meet new people who share mutual friends and interests.  It operates much the same way Highlight does as well.  It runs in the background and notifies users when someone it considers relevant is nearby.  Glancee is available for both iPhone and Android.

According to Mashable, Glancee garnered a significant percentage of social buzz, and according to NetBase’s analysis gained 13% of the social buzz around ambient social networking apps.

Co-founder and CEO Andrea Vaccari remains cautiously optimistic about Glancee’s success at SXSW, telling Computer World that social discovery apps like Glancee and Highlight have “the potential to become really big, because it’s sort of the natural extension [of social networking].”  However, the audience at SXSWi is comprised of early adopters who are more likely to be excited about using the next big thing.


Grandstand is a web-based gamification platform that allows brands, venues or anyone putting on an event to use Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare to create games and rewards.   Grandstand can also create visualizations of social conversations in real-time so brands can demonstrate social buzz around their product or event.

The goal is to encourage engagement through rewards tied to social sharing, and create an experience that marries online social activity with real life engagement.  Grandstand is a product of iStategy Labs.


Localmind, which launched last year at SXSW, is a location-based social question and answer service.  Users can find others who have checked in with FourSquare and ask them questions about the location, such as “How long is the line?” or “Is the DJ any good?”  It’s almost like Yelp in real time.

Like FourSquare, there is a reward system to encourage users to participate.

Localmind currently has four employees and is based in San Francisco.  The team raised $600,000 in the summer of last year, and is looking to raise another sometime later this year.

Honorable Mentions

Ambient social networking was the talk of this town this year, so it shouldn’t surprise you that yet more ambient location based networking apps made the honorable mention list: Sonar, Kismet and Banjo.

Sonar, Kismet and Banjo are slightly different than Highlight and Glancee, which passively track location in the background.  Sonar, Kismet and Banjo collect user location data from check-ins on Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  In order to appear in the apps, you must publicly post your location to one of these channels.

All are available for iPhone.  Sonar for Android is currently in invite-only beta, and Kismet’s iPhone app is currently in beta.



Case Study – Watters

Watters Logo | ReTargeter

Watters is the brainchild of designer Vatana Watters. For over 30 years, it has been the leader in offering luxurious designer bridal gowns, innovative bridesmaids dresses, classic special occasion dresses for mothers of the wedding, and adorable dresses for flower girls and junior bridesmaids around the world. Selling primarily at trunk shows and in third-party […]

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