“Someone who understands technology can educate marketers on how to best leverage that technology.”
—Pawan Deshpande, founder and CEO of HiveFire, Inc.
Since he was in the fourth grade, Pawan Deshpande has been fascinated with computing, programming and online content. (He used to amuse himself programming with QBASIC). “One of my favorite xkcd comics that really speaks to me,” Pawan notes, “is entitled 11th grade (http://xkcd.com/519/) which implies that one weekend messing with Perl is more valuable to your career than 400 hours of homework and 900 hours of classes.” In high school he says academics were interesting, but his out of school programming on his own time became the real motivator. The prospect of studying computer science full-time at MIT—rather than as an alternative to homework after school—always excited him. At MIT, Pawan Deshpande completed his SB in computer science in 2006 and the MEng (Course 6P) in 2007.
Pawan says there are three types of EECS experiences that have left a lasting impression on him: classes, internships, and the M.Eng. program. “Among many classes that I enjoyed, four of my most memorable ones during my undergraduate were 6.004, 6.170, 6.033, and 6.050J. Computation Structures (6.004) enabled me to appreciate how MOSFET’s can be built up to a functioning computer. Software Engineering lab (6.170) introduced me to the discipline and rigor of software engineering in teams rather than simply programming as a individual contributor. Computer Systems Engineering (6.033) revealed to me the complexities of engineering a ‘system’ which differs greatly from theory of computer science. Lastly, Information and Entropy (6.050J) shaped how I think of the world -- as everything being information -- which has had an indirect impact on my graduate work in natural language processing and even the work at my company today.”
As an undergraduate, Pawan participated in four internships -- at Kubi Software, IMLogic, Microsoft, and Google. He especially enjoyed his time at IMLogic (through the IAP Externship Program), where he and a fellow MIT student built a product to monitor and block peer-to-peer file sharing traffic from scratch in a period of three weeks. Their product was subsequently used by over 2,000 companies. At Microsoft (through UPOP) and Google, Pawan was able to experience the engineering culture at larger companies with very talented engineering teams. At Google, he was exposed to natural language processing while working on machine transliteration—an experience that influenced him to deepen his research in this area when he entered the MEng progam.
The pinnacle of Pawan’s studies came as he worked under Prof. Regina Barzilay in the MEng program, which he describes as “perhaps the most enjoyable, influential and intense experience at MIT.” Unlike problem sets, or short-lived internships, for the first time, Pawan was able to deeply immerse himself in a single research problem for months at a time in collaboration with his labmates. His work culminated in the MEng thesis, “Decoding Algorithms for Complex Natural Language Tasks”, which won the 2007 Dimitris N. Chorafas Foundation Prize and 2007 Charles and Jennifer Johnson Award for Outstanding Master of Engineering Thesis in Computer Science. Directly after finishing his MEng in 2007, Pawan decided to start his own company, HiveFire, with his freshman year roommate Kevin Chevalier (also an EECS graduate, 6-3 ‘06, MEng ‘07). Their product, Curata, allows marketers to quickly find, organize and share content on specific issues or topics in order to establish thought leadership, own industry conversations, and drive qualified web traffic. Much of the inspiration for this product was based on Pawan’s MEng work—and the desire to make similar technology easily accessible to a non-technical user base (ie., marketers). The name Curata was derived from curation, which is for what their product is used. “In true EECS style,” Pawan notes, “the name HiveFire was pseudo-randomly generated by a python script.”
When asked what are the less obvious things he learned from his EECS experience, Pawan says: “There are two courses in particular that have been useful, and, impacted my post-MIT life at a start-up in ways I did not expect at the time. User Interface Design (6.831) demonstrated the value of usability in software, which is often overlooked by engineers as just shrink-wrap. Also, I remember ridiculing 6.UAT with friends because it was not a technical class, but it has been immensely valuable looking back given that there are more days that I now spend in a word processor, making slides or speaking at a conference than I do in code.
Outside of coursework, my MEng experience under Prof. Regina Barzilay has impacted me in many ways that I did not expect. Analytically thinking through a deeply technical problem, distilling down a complex set of concepts into a paper, and presenting and justifying my research in conferences have all continued to influence my problem solving sensibilities for technical and business issues alike.”
Although Pawan acknowledges the benefits of his father’s guidance—Desh Deshpande is co-founder of Sycamore Networks, creator and enabler of MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation and an influential technology entrepreneur and visionary—Pawan also credits several MIT experiences. He got work in a startup during IAP through the Alumni Association Externship program. And, he gained a better understanding of the economics of entrepreneurship through “The Business of Software” (15.358). “Even more significant, was the chance to interact with students and recent alumni with entrepreneurial ambitions on a daily basis,” he notes. “At some point, I realized that if they can start a company, then I probably can too.”
Although he did not create the term ‘content curation,’ Pawan has been on the cutting edge of online marketing practices, particularly business to business (b2b), as he builds Curata and HiveFire. He notes, “Based on my work
from my MEng in the field of Natural Language Processing, I have always been interested in content and what can be done with it. Online content is particularly of interest because there continues to be more and more content online every day with no end in sight.”
“When I started HiveFire, I was not aware of the term ‘content curation’ but it perfectly describes what our product Curata does. Content curation is the process
where someone finds, organizes and shares content on a specific topic or issue online. Curata helps curators by automating parts of this process. The beauty of applying algorithms and artificial intelligence to help a content curator is that the algorithms do not have to be right all the time. Instead, the algorithms can make a best guess and a curator can take it from there.
“Traditionally the role of marketing has been to better position a company or their product or service to potential customers. Marketing has been traditionally tasked with selling themselves. These days effective marketers proactively engage through content. Marketers now produce ‘engaging’ and interesting content such as blogs, videos, podcasts, eBooks, interactive games that attracts potential customers to their brands rather than force-feeding them with advertising. The challenge though is that many marketers are not well suited to play the role of a full-time content publisher.
Content curation enables such marketers to easily produce timely, relevant and engaging content on a specific topic by curating third party content.” Pawan explains that Curata, launched in 2010, is the only product currently offered by HiveFire, but notes that the process of finding, organizing and sharing content is not exclusive to marketers. He suggests, for example, the case of library and information services professionals also requiring similar technology. “To that end,” Pawan says, “I envision HiveFire building our current area of expertise to address similar challenges faced in other markets.”