Lanyrd, via Twitter, track event sessions and keep up with favorite speakers — at all stages in the conference lifecycle.
Some newlywed couples work to produce an offspring on their honeymoon. Most don’t labor towards birthing a startup. But that’s exactly what British entrepreneurs Natalie Downe and Simon Willison did on their post-nuptial adventure. After traveling in Europe and Africa, the couple caught ill in Casablanca and extended their stay and booked an apartment to recover.
The pair have a shared love for building projects in their spare time — which is why, with all that extra time in a bedroom, they managed to create and release an early build of Lanyrd. Within two hours of its launch, Downe and Willison saw the site generate more than 14,000 visits.
After finding immediate success with social media denizens, the couple applied to Y Combinator’s accelerator program. Lanyrd was accepted and has since relocated to Mountain View, California to complete it. The site remains a largely bootstrapped effort, though the couple did accept the $150,000 in convertible debt offered up by Start Fund.
Willison calls Lanyrd “the IMDb of conferences” — except that its content is crowdsourced. The site asks its users to do the heavy lifting for them by filling in the blanks on each conference: sessions, speakers and content. The incentive? The same as at any conference: self-aggrandizement. Organizers will go to any lengths to promote their events. Speakers want to flesh out their profiles by adding past, present and future engagements. And everyone wants to see useful conference content.
“Conferences are traditionally insufficient for transferring knowledge,” says Willinson. “Longer term, this is about capturing the value of what’s shared.”
Lanyrd’s tie-in with Twitter is ingenious — and almost spooky. Sign in with your Twitter handle, and you’ll automatically be greeted with a smorgasbord of contacts and upcoming conferences, drawn from your Twitter relationships. You may see that Lanyrd knows you spoke at a trade show last month, or that you’re on a panel this fall. The site already lists 6,000 crowdsourced conferences and 30,000 user profiles.
Downe and Willison opted to use Twitter’s social graph — rather than Facebook’s, say — because they believe the “follow” has more aspirational value than the “friend.” You likely already follow the people you’d like to know, the speakers you’d like to see talk. According to Lanyrd, you’ve already composed a list of the thought leaders you’d like to bump into at an upcoming conference. So Lanyard is well positioned to find the sessions of social relevance to you.
Since users are encouraged to add speakers and their Twitter names to sessions, the speaker need not be a Lanyrd user to have a Lanyrd presence. On signing up, you may notice your conference history has already been charted for you by your Twitter followers, organizers or fellow attendees.
Next up, Lanyrd has its sights set on South by Southwest, held in Austin next month. The startup launched its unofficial guide to the show Tuesday to help users find which sessions their Twitter friends are attending, and stay current on slides, videos and notes.
The SXSW tool marks Lanyrd’s first real test at a major conference. At worst, the event will provide a trove of data and real-world experiences that Downe and Willison can use to better determine how to serve users while they’re attending conferences.
Downe and Willison describe the chain of events following their June 2010 nuptials to their present day found status as an unexpected, whirlwind affair. Their story, and their startup, are still in their nascent stages. The couple will graduate from the Y Combinator program in March, and may be forced to return to the UK when their visas expire. But location may matter little to a startup that has successfully leveraged the power of an international hit like Twitter.
Image courtesy of SimonWillison.net