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Boston buzzes over start-ups at freebie-heavy WebInno

Nothing gets people excited about technology start-ups like freebies, and there were plenty for the taking at Tuesday night’s Web Innovators Group event in Cambridge, Mass. Though having learned lessons from start-ups that have crashed and burned in recent years from perhaps an excess of generosity without a good way to pay for it, this event that packed in hundreds of entrepreneurs and their followers wasn’t without a good dose of common sense about dollars and cents as well.

The 31st WebInno event, which is the brainchild of NextView Ventures’ David Beisel, kicked off with 100 free beers courtesy of one sponsor and extended into a nearby after-party featuring an open bar and DJs.

In between, Beisel encouraged attendees to give their time to an outfit called BUILD that helps youths to learn business smarts, one start-up CEO tempted attendees with a chance to win New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts tickets (which depending upon how soon Peyton Manning returns, may or may not be extremely valuable), another offered  25GB of free cloud storage “for life” and another pledged to give a finder’s fee of two tickets to the next Boston sports championship event (unclear what would happen if it takes, oh, 86 years for it to happen to the whole group of teams).

CHEAPSKATE ALERT: $1 will get you in on latest social network start-up

Matthew Bellows, CEO of Yesware  (“Email for salespeople”) and he of the sports championship ticket offer, also tried to woo WebInno attendees with a free 1-year subscription to his company's offering.

But the start-ups showing off their stuff during brief presentations at WebInno also were pressed by Beisel and the audience on how they plan to make money.

Seth Lieberman, CEO of Pangea Media, demoed his company’s SnapApp platform designed to help marketers and publishers use social media and their websites to spread the word about their brands and content via quizzes, polls and contests (I mean “sophisticated and powerful Web apps that can run anywhere without help from tech resources”) – and then acquire customers as a result. He touted Martha Stewart, Cisco and others as customers, and when asked about how the company makes money, he said it charges $49 to $500 for its self-service offerings and provides enterprise licenses for those who get hooked on it.

WEBINNO ARCHIVES: Tracking Twitter, hanging with Michael Jackson and eluding Google's radar

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Roy Rodenstein of SocMetrics, which won the Audience Choice Award at the end of the night in a smartphone-based voting contest, described his outfit’s plan to help companies promote themselves by hooking up with people perhaps even more influential than yours truly on social media channels such as Google+ and Twitter (an example, Amazon.com CTO Werner Vogels) .  

The offering is based on a big database and proprietary algorithms that index publicly available information, and boasts a slick interface that lets you slice and dice a taxonomy of influencers in categories ranging from Lifestyle to “Sports,” such as drinking (I did read that correctly, didn't I?). Rodenstein, who knows a little bit about making money based on the sale of his previous start-up Going.com to AOL in 2009, says SocMetrics will make its killing by offering subscriptions to its service, now in private beta. SocMetrics is already helping out a couple dozen agencies, he says.

Give and take with Bob on Twitter and Google+ 

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.


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