Where Are They Now? Clem Huyghebaert Abuzz with Startup Goodness

Note: This is the second in a “Where Are They Now” series profiling the continued awesomeness of our 2010 hackNY Summer Fellows.

Clément Huyghebaert worked with BuzzFeed during his fellowship and was hired on full-time even before his internship was over. Here, he tells us more about what kinds of projects he’s working on and startup life in general.

How did you get your gig?

There wasn’t really a transition from internship to job, but a slow and constant evolution.

When I got here I didn’t know a lot about web development. I did a bunch of PHP stuff before, but it was still pretty small scale. What was cool was that the first project I did here had a lot to do with what I’d been working on on college. They wanted me to work on our grabber, so that whenever one of articles on a partner network was getting a lot of traffic and going viral, it would be put on the front page of BuzzFeed. The grabber is in charge of grabbing an image from that page, along with a small description and title.

I had to use a lot of NLP techniques to determine which is the best description in the article itself. Try to find techniques to determine which is the best picture in the page. It’s hard. You can’t really look at the picture or know where it’s positioned on the page. I had to match it with the title of the article and a bunch of other techniques to come up with better answers.

That got me to know learn about the BuzzFeed environment, which is totally home-brewed and not built on top of any platform.

Over the course of the summer, I learned BuzzFeed was happy with the work I was doing, and probably two weeks before the end of the internship, told me they’d like to hire me. I was really happy with what I was doing, too. There was no real transition, and that’s what was cool about it. At the end of the summer I went back to Belgium for two weeks, and then I was ready to start. Only my status changed. And I got a new computer.

We were a lot smaller when I started last May. We were right below 20 people, and  now we’ve crossed the 30 people mark. The tech team is probably twice as big.

What are you up to these days?

Since Ky [ed. note: Ky Harlin is a Columbia applied math major, ’08]  joined the company as our data scientist, I’ve been focused on making sense of all the data that we have. He’s the brain behind it and I implement the ideas he comes up with. One of them was a the viral search we just launched a month ago.

Before, you could only search BuzzFeed.com’s content, so what I included on top of that is all the articles that are in our partners’ network, including MTV, TMZ, Huffington Post, etc.

Where Ky comes in is we found a new way to rank results, based on time and relevancy. BuzzFeed tracks the number of viral views, and something we call Viral Lift.

The way it works is every partner on our network has tracking code on their site, and we get impressions information, categorize it either as viral view, or seed view. An example of seed view is if you’re on AOL news and you click a link to an article, you sort of got there on our own, so that’s a seed view. Viral view is when you click that link on Twitter, Facebook, in an email or via search. We make a distinction between the two views. For each article, we can tell the ratio between seed and viral views. That’s what we call the viral lift. Something people share a lot would have pretty big viral lift.

We use this type of data to tweak our ranking algorithm for our search engine for example.

The project I’ve been working on last month was the BuzzFeed’s hot topic list. It’s hard to do because everyone knows what’s hot right now by looking at the number of clicks. What we’re trying to do is to be predictive about it.  We want to come up with a list of ‘breaking’ topics that have the potential to become tomorrow’s top stories. We’re using a lot of the metrics, like looking at acceleration of the viral lift, using it to select articles among our partner networks. I run a clustering algorithm that groups articles together, and end up of with a list of articles for each trending topic. The ranking system is based on a magic number we compute along the way.

We’re currently working on a beta version of the new front page and this list will be in the middle of it. Before the list gets published though, we let the editors tweak and polish the results. Hopefully in the future, one of the projects I’ll be working on is trying to learn from the editorial changes themselves by keeping track of which topics get re-ranked and trying to understand why. Maybe I’ll apply some machine learning to it. It’s really cool.

What did you think of the hackNY Summer Fellowship Program?

From a startup point of view, if I had an interview with BuzzFeed for a job, I don’t think they would’ve hired me because I didn’t know Perl and had no web dev experience. hackNY game them and me an opportunity to meet and learn slowly, and then become a pretty good candidate for hire. It didn’t cost them a lot, and it was super enriching for me. It’s a really win/win situation to begin with for both parties.

As a hackNY Fellow, it was awesome to be in the city during the summer, because I usually just go home. It was a smooth introduction to the startup world, with a lot of explanation of how it works. A lot of people say that with startups you don’t know if the next day you’ll have work. The program answered a lot of these concerns with real answers from people in the startup world.

The range of all of the lectures we had was well thought out, and included speakers from the business side, the tech side, the social side with and the VC side. It gave us a brief introduction to all those sides, but a very complete one.

It definitely helps to know how the VC world works, or have someone talk about it. It’s not something that a university is going to teach you. It’s something that should be taught earlier rather than just fighting with it the first time you need funding. Now I feel like I’m more prepared if one day I want to start my own thing. At least I know what to ask and who to ask.

What do you do when you’re not at BuzzFeed?

I worked on a website for Columbia last semester, a sort of Craigslist for Columbia. It let students sell their furniture, textbooks, etc and works well at the beginning and end of the semester.

I do a lot of sports. I used to be a rower, but that’s hard to do downtown, so I play basketball which is super hard. Sports with balls are like a different world for me. I’m trying to stay in shape, it’s important. It’s a different rhythm than college life, too.

The schedule is pretty sweet here, 10 to 6 every day. I work more when I have to, but on normal or late days, I can wake up in the morning, go to the gym before work, and have the whole evening to myself.

hackNY Fellow Cemre Gungor and Team Win First Place in StartupBus Competition

Note: Cemre Güngör is a member of the class 2011 hackNY Fellows. hackNY continues to accept applications for this year’s program from both students and startups on a rolling basis. All applicants will be notified in late April.

In the early morning of Tuesday, March 8th, Cemre Güngör climbed onto a bus in lower Manhattan with about 30 other startup enthusiasts. Their mission was to form teams and build companies in the three-day road trip to the SXSWi conference in Austin, Texas via StartupBus, an organized competition for buspreneurs departing from six different cities.

Although the New York City bus stopped at hotels in Atlanta and Baton Rouge, Cemre slept only five hours during the entire trip, determined to keep working on TripMedi, an aggregator of reliable information about medical tourism. His team’s dedication paid off when were selected as a joint winner of the national competition.

Cemre applied to participate in January and received notification of his acceptance the next month. The bus contained a mix of designers like Cemre, developers and business/community mangers. As the bus passed through New Jersey, passengers had 60 seconds each to say hello and pitch their skills. Another round of pitches introduced ideas, after which teams began to form. Cemre liked the TripMedi idea and joined what became the seven-person team.

Cemre perfects TripMedi's design at 60mph

“We did all we could do on the bus,” Cemre said. “Most of the work to launch is making contact with hospitals around the world, and gathering data, about their practice and success rates. We couldn’t possibly have done all that on the bus, but we did all we could to launch the project.” The team did find accurate data for one hospital in India online, enough to show as an example of what TripMedi would do.

Cemre got some footage of the buspreneurs hard at work:

The New York bus arrived in Austin the evening of March 10th and team TripMedi continued building out their product. The team learned they had qualified for semi-finals, and later for finals, continuing to work while non-qualifying teams partook in conference panels and parties.

The TripMedi team works from BD Riley's bar in Austin

Cemre said he was glad he participated.

“Had I not taken part in StartupBus, I would’ve been able to see the talks but would’ve had no friends,” he said. “Because of the bus, I have a network of 150 really cool, talented people, though I had to work the whole time.”

The TripMedi team worked up until the last minute, preparing to present their slide deck, which Cemre designed.

Cemre prepares for StartupBus finals

The judging panel asked difficult questions of the team, making it clear that disrupting the health industry would require a great deal of persistence and determination. Two of the judges, Dave McClure and Stephen Anderson, complimented Cemre’s pitch deck. TripMedi shared the first place title with WalkIn from the Silicon Valley bus.

After finals, Cemre found he needed 10-12 hours of sleep per night. “While it was happening, I didn’t feel it that much because I was so excited about the work I was doing,” he said, “but now I’m sleepy all the time.”

This was Cemre’s first hackathon, and he said time management was his biggest challenge. He’d spent the first couple of days planning and exploring, getting most of the real design work done the last day of the bus ride. “Designers are sometimes perfectionists and want to make sure they have the right idea, visual style and layout, but there’s not really a whole lot of time,” he said.

Three of the seven founders will continue building TripMedi full-time. Cemre decided not to, since he wants to finish his degree at NYU-Poly, though he will contribute as an advisor.

Congrats to Cemre and TripMedi! The startup he will be matched with for this year’s hackNY Summer Fellowship Program is sure to benefit from his impressive skills.

Hacker-hosting for the spring 2011 hackathon

The student organizing committee for the spring 2011 hackNY student hackathon (April 9-10) is under way and one topic they’re already working on is housing out-of-town hackers. Moses Nakamura from Columbia’s ADI set up this handy pair of forms for students who might be coming from out of town and looking for a place to stay, and students in NYC willing to host them:

Go to http://bit.ly/hackNYs2011hacklist if you’re looking for a place to crash before, after, or during the event;
Go to http://bit.ly/hackNYs2011host if you’re willing to host an out-of-town hacker.

Thanks, Moses and all the student organizers!

Where Are They Now? Tal Safran is Officially a Hacking Star

Note: This is the first in a “Where Are They Now” series profiling the continued awesomeness of our 2010 hackNY Summer Fellows.

Tal Safran, HackStar

Tal Safran spent his hackNY Summer Fellowship working with Aviary. He has also participated in each of the hackNY Student Hackathons. These days, Tal continues to code, working for TechStars, hacking at the Foursquare API, and exploring post-graduation opportunities.


Hi, Tal. What are you up to these days?

I am working for TechStars. They’re a startup incubator with 11 companies. I’m here as a HackStar, basically an in-house developer. A lot of their teams only have one or two developers, so they can use as much help as they can get. I work with the different teams, rotating every week or every several weeks with different teams and on different projects for them.

Sometimes they’re building out a huge feature and need another person, sometimes, I grab designs and mark them up, and sometimes they just need an extra hand.

Each week, TechStars companies put in requests for me, and I pick one or two to work on for the week. That’s the job end of it. I also just get to be a part of the TechStars program. They have a lot of speakers and mentors come in, so it’s a very good learning experience. The programming work is also a great learning experience since I get to hop around different technologies. It’s like, “oh they’re using Node.js so I get to learn that now.”

Tal's secret hacking strategy: Going shoeless

How did you get involved?

TechStars is in Pivotal Labs’ offices, and in January they needed extra people to set the office up for cash. I had no gig at the time and came in. I saw David Tisch (NYC TechStars managing director) walking around, and he’d heard from Josh Knowles (Pivotal Labs managing director) I was looking for my next gig. I’d already met Dave through a hackNY hackathon. He knew me and trusted me, so he offered me the TechStars job that the same day. So that’s how I got the job, from building tables.

The first time I met Dave was at the Fall 2010 hackathon. After that we emailed a bit, he met up with me and (fellow hackNY alum) Max Stoller, and we developed a relationship. I think part of it was that hackNY is a good validation so Dave didn’t see us as a couple of schmucks, but rather “hey these guys did hackNY, they must be good.”

What else are you up to?

I’m also working on some side projects involving lots of Rails, and a lot of front end design. I participated in the Foursqure hackathon a couple weeks ago. Me, Max, Steve and Kate made a lists hack for Foursquare. It was made in not even a full day of work so it’s pretty barebones.

The idea is that when friends log in, they can make lists of places they’ve been, so if I made list of best pizza places I can mark off place I’ve been and see where I haven’t yet been. Another thing I can do is text the name of my list to it and it’ll add in the last place I checked in into that list. We got 60 to 70 people who created lists and got a few write-ups, including in About Foursqure.

Didn’t you do another Foursquare hack recently?

Max and I created Foursqwhere at the Fall hackathon and presented it there. It still kind of works, but parts are broken now. We didn’t win and were were really disappointed, but we made a few improvements to it anyway after the hackathon. About two weeks afterwards, we showed it at the New York Tech Meetup and got really good responses from people, including a Foursquare engineer who reached out to us and invited us to come to Foursquare headquarters. We never did, but it was cool.

With Foursqwhere, we wanted to understand what checkins told us about communities we’re a part of, like NYU. We started tracking checkins at 100 NYU buildings to sort of figure out where students are going the most and who was the NYU-wide mayor. So basically we created an NYU-specific Foursquare, including our own badges.

An RA at an NYU dorm informed us of a Foursquare night they were hosting with a Foursquare engineer. We were also featured in NYU Local and mentioned in TechCrunch during the hackathon. Also, Frank Rimalovski (NYU Venture Fund managing director) caught wind of the project and invited us to participate at a technology expo in November. Were were the only undergrads presenting there.

For both of these projects, we had random people emailing us who were interested, and we met some good people as a result.

Foursqwhere's tech expo sign

How’s school going?

I’m enjoying my first easy semester ever at NYU. I’m taking some classes for my music minor, including “History of Rock and Roll”, as well as a small algorithms seminar, and an entrepreneurship class called “Ready, FIRE! Aim”.

What’s next for you?

I graduate in May. I want to take the entrepreneurial route and start a company, but at the same time I need to pay my bills, so I am looking for work. Ideally I’ll work 4 days a week so I have extra days for my own projects. I’m guessing I’ll be working the next year, maybe less, maybe more. I’m also looking at applying to an incubator like TechStars or Y Combinator. Hopefully they’ve heard of hackNY.

Finding work hasn’t been too hard. I think hackNY helps, I honestly think that. I don’t have a resume, and I don’t plan on having one. Right now I have four separate discussions about gigs going with people, and all but one are thanks to hackNY.

I’m open to anything. The job I’ll take will be for web development, probably for a startup, or maybe a web development shop.

What are you doing away from the keyboard?

I do Bikam Yoga, usually three times a week. I’ve also been experimenting with recipes and playing guitar.
Other than that I’m hacking a lot, but that’s a good thing. I love it.

Anything you would you say to students considering the hackNY Summer Fellowship Program?

A lot of internships start and end that that’s it. But for anybody who’s been accepted or considering applying, I’d say do it without thinking twice. It’s more than just a summer job, it’s expanding your network and meeting people who will be there year round to help you and listen to you if you want to talk to them about tech stuff. It’s really cool. And there’s a lot of free food.

Thanks, Tal!

Press Release March 1, 2011: hackNY Announces Its Second Year, Doubled Class Size for Summer ‘hackNY Fellows’ Program In New York City

(this release also available in PDF via http://bit.ly/hackNY_030111 )

hackNY Announces Its Second Year, Doubled Class Size for Summer ‘hackNY Fellows’ Program In New York City

Additional funding enables university-led initiative to open a second round of student applications for program matching startups with top technology students


March 1, 2011, New York NY: hackNY.org announced a second round of student applications and a doubling of the the size of its summer program, made possible by the generous support of a community of investors and other supporters from across the country. Co-organized by professors from NYU and Columbia, the program, now in its second year, targets computationally-expert students and matches them with host startups in New York City for summer internships. hackNY seeks to create a vibrant community for these hackNY Fellows by providing a program of events and lectures by technologists, investors, and startup founders, as well as by providing summer housing. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis and students can apply via http://hackNY.org/a/students .

“Matching talented developers with leading entrepreneurs is a smart way to build New York City’s technology sector and encourage innovation, so it’s no surprise that New York City institutions are leading the way with programs like hackNY to do just that,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “hackNY’s expansion is just the latest example of the growing collaboration between entrepreneurs, universities and investors that is key to driving further growth in New York City’s thriving technology sector.”

“In 2010, we introduced a cohort of twelve talented students to some great startups in New York City and taught them the things they will not learn in traditional curricula about founding and joining a startup,” said NYU’s Professor Evan Korth. “We’ve already accepted a class larger than last year’s, with stellar students from twice as many schools — and twice as many countries — and are excited we’ll now be able to double our class from last year.” Professor Chris Wiggins of Columbia University added “We are grateful to a diverse community of supporters from both coasts for making it possible for us to double the size of our program, and of course to The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for their continued support of the program. We look forward to continuing to introduce students to challenging career options in startups as New York City’s community of startups continues to grow for years to come.”

In 2010, members of the class of hackNY Fellows worked with twelve startups (Aprizi; Aviary; bit.ly; Business Insider; Buzzd; BuzzFeed; Comixology; Designer Pages; Knewton; OkCupid; Parse.ly; and 10gen). Giff Constable of Aprizi describes hackNY as “an incredibly important part in growing the nascent entrepreneurial scene in New York,” and “giving a talented group of kids an in-the-trenches window into the reality of startups and innovation, which they can take back to their classmates.” The program has already proved valuable to students as well, such as Chris Triolo of Princeton, who says “hackNY has opened my eyes to the startup and tech community in New York.” “The hackNY fellows will fuel the next generation of startups,” added Max Stoller of NYU. Professors Korth and Wiggins aim to create a sustainable and long-lasting partnership between universities and early-stage technology companies in New York. “hackNY is building a really important bridge between the NYC startup and academic communities,” according to Chris Dixon, co-founder of hunch.com.

hackNY also announces today its new board of advisors, including technologists, entrepreneurs, and academics:
Chad Dickerson, CTO of etsy.com and originator of Yahoo’s “hack day”;
Hilary Mason, member of NYC Resistor and scientist at bit.ly;
Chris Poole, founder of canv.as and featured TED speaker;
Victoria Stodden, Science Commons fellow and assistant professor of statistics, Columbia; and
Nate Westheimer, entrepreneur and Executive Director of the NY Tech Meetup.

Supporters of hackNY include:
AOL Ventures; Andreessen Horowitz; DFJ Gotham; ff Asset Management; First Round Capital; Firstmark Capital; Google Ventures; Gunderson Dettmer; IA Ventures; Lerer Ventures; Lowenstein Sandler; Square 1 Bank; Techstars NYC; and Union Square Ventures; as well as Columbia Technology Ventures (Columbia University); ISOC-NY; Marks Paneth & Shron; NYCEDC; NYCIF; NYC Tech Connect; the NYU Department of Computer Science; and Wilson Sonsini.


* About hackNY.org:
The hackNY.org initiative aims to mentor and federate the next generation of technology innovators for New York City. Co-organized by faculty from NYU and Columbia, and with a board of advisors which includes educators, technologists, and entrepreneurs, hackNY organizes the summer Fellows program and student `hackathons’ during which students create software applications and potential new companies by building on technologies provided by New York City startups. The next student hackathon will be April 9-10, 2011, at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. For more information see http://hackNY.org .

* For more information contact:
Evan Korth, NYU:
[email protected] ,
(347) 989-3826 ,

Chris Wiggins, Columbia:
[email protected] ,
(347) 878 1236 ,

* Media:
Logo: http://bit.ly/hackNYlogo
Press page: http://hackny.org/a/press/
from hackNY spring & summer 2010: http://bit.ly/hackNYpix
from hackNY fall 2010: http://bit.ly/hackNYfall2010pix
Video of Spring 2010 hackathon: http://bit.ly/hackNYvid2010
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