Three Entrepreneurs From Harvard Aim To Reinvent Online Advertising With New App

The acclaimed “Summer@Highland” startup accelerator program has a history of propelling some of the best young entrepreneurial minds into the tech industry with full force. If you've never heard of it, let's consider a few of the success stories.

2009 Alumnus Jeff Arnold used his summer at Highland working on his startup, Ksplice, before it was acquired by computer tech giant Oracle in 2011. 2008 alumna Victoria Ransom spent her summer at Highland working on her enterprise, Wildfire, before Google bought it in 2012.

Now, in 2013, three Ivy League students, Nithin Tumma, James Ruben and Neel Patel, are looking to become the latest success story to come out of the program after they released their product Side, a new app that just hit iOS app stores last month and aims to recommend potential purchases to you in ways that are tailored to who you are instead of what you look at online.

"At Side, we understand that a close friend’s opinion is a far more powerful and important indicator of your true preferences and character than your browsing history," Ruben told Elite Daily via email. "Essentially, we built Side to be a mobile recommendation engine based on your friend's opinions of you to help you discover products, services, and experiences that match your personality."

The three Ivy Leaguers’ opportunity to succeed with this product is one that has been afforded to them by the inefficiency of traditional advertisements, whether it’s online or on your mobile phone. Simply put, internet ads are generated in ways that don't exactly operate with pinpoint accuracy. A simple look at your Facebook sidebar would say as much. As Ruben explains, if you search for sunglasses online for just a few minutes, it won't be long until you see an advertisement for shades when you're not even interested anymore.

Tumma, Ruben and Patel are well aware of these shortcomings and have not only worked hard to develop their own algorithm to recommend the most relevant ways to spend your money, but also have managed to combine that aspect of their app with an engaging social experience.

“On Side, you answer quick 2-choice questions about yourself and your closest Facebook friends, then Side will generate highly personalized insights and recommendations for you. You can even view and respond to what your friends have been saying about you as well as ask a question out to your friends.”

The app also has two modes, sprint and group-- one that places the focus on answering questions about yourself and the other that allows you to answer questions about your selected friends-- which the three sophomores explain in a blog aptly titled "My Computer Is Not My Friend."

And while the entrepreneurs' idea may be driven by the fact that their PCs aren't the best of companions, and therefore cannot really be expected to show you what things you'd really like, whatever success they have in the future ultimately links back to the unique relationship they've shared with each other on their way to launching Side under their common affection for genius ideas.

Nithin Tumma and Neel Patel first met each other in high school at the Intel Science Talent Search, where Tumma won a $100,000 grand prize for his research on cancer while Patel "settled" for sixth for his work on human-computer interaction, interestingly enough. When Tumma was paired with James Ruben his freshman year, the three co-founders' paths met and seem to have done so for good.

Since then, the three have worked on two original projects before placing their focus on Side and entering the program at Highland as the youngest team at the startup accelerator. Now, after months of preparation, as well as an infusion of the $18,000 that comes with acceptance into the program, Tumma, Ruben and Patel look set to push forward with an enterprise that they hope will totally revolutionize the lucrative phenomenon of online advertising.

"The algorithm only gets better as more answers pour in because it learns from the choices people make," Ruben told us. "We hope to eventually build out our algorithm into an API/e-commerce platform so that anyone trying to sell something online can use our algorithm on their website to recommend the right products, experiences, and services to a user. The consumer will benefit as well because they will finally be given recommendations that truly match who they are and what they would want."