Connecting the dots

An Israeli MIT graduate and former Google employee with both business smarts and social vision has set up a new Internet site connecting consumers to services.   When Red Beacon won first prize in the TechCrunch start-up competition, Yaron Binur …

An Israeli MIT graduate and former Google employee with both business smarts and social vision has set up a new Internet site connecting consumers to services.

 

RedBeacon-Cupcake
When Red Beacon won first prize in the TechCrunch start-up competition, Yaron Binur ordered the audience cupcakes through the site.

For Israeli born entrepreneur Yaron Binur, frustration has proved to be an innovative force. When he and two Google colleagues got together to complain about the difficulties of finding local services in San Francisco, they didn’t just grumble, they brainstormed a solution.

In October this year, 18 months later, Red Beacon was launched – an Internet site that connects consumers seeking services, with local service providers.

“The idea for Red Beacon came through the frustration that we experienced looking for local services,” admits Binur, who worked for Google for three years, first as a product manager and then as head of the 40-man Google News team, where he met co-founders Ethan Anderson and Aaron Lee. “It was so painful – we had to be on the phone for so long, and quality was hard to find.”

Using Red Beacon, consumers don’t have to search a directory of service providers and make numerous phone calls to find out who is available at the desired time. Instead, they fill out a request form indicating the service they need, along with the date and time.

The service providers that are connected to Red Beacon see the requests and respond to them if they have availability at the dates, times and locations that match the requests.

From competitions to cupcakes

Like the popular consumer tool Yelp, Red Beacon exercises quality control by displaying user feedback, such as ratings and reviews. “When it comes to travel, everyone books everything online,” 31-year-old Binur tells ISRAEL21c, adding that he hopes that soon everyone will say the same about local services.

It’s a concept that is proving popular. In October, the Silicon-Valley based company won first prize in the prestigious TechCrunch50 start up competition sponsored by the techno blog.

The audience got a timely, and appetizing taste of just how useful this service could be, when Binur – on stage to collect the prize – ordered cupcakes using his service, and had helpers, also coordinated through the site – hand them out throughout the hall.

At present, the Red Beacon service is limited to services within the Bay Area of San Francisco, but Binur and his colleagues are thinking big. Within two years they plan to expand Red Beacon to serve the entire United States, with the international market to follow.

Winning the TechCrunch 50 competition was a significant boost for the startup. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback so far, a lot of users requesting jobs,” admits Binur. “We’re learning a ton and it’s really great.”

Before setting up Red Beacon, Binur, a native of Herzliya on Israel’s central coast, was already well known to many. During his time studying at MIT, Binur, his sister Anat, and his friend Assaf Harlap, came up with the idea of MEET, (Middle East Education through Technology), a coexistence organization that brings MIT students to Israel to teach computer science to mixed classes of Israelis and Palestinians.

Peace through technology

The idea came to him after he had spent two summers teaching computer science in Africa along with other MIT students. Through Binur’s initiative, the program expanded within Africa to include Kenya and Ethiopia.

“Two years into this program, much as I really love Africa, I felt like there were so many problems in Israel at this point that I wanted to have impact in Israel,” Binur tells ISRAEL21c. “It was 2002, and everyone in Israel was so depressed, saying there was no hope, having a tough time with the second intifada. I wanted to show that there are things that can be done.”

Looking at their own experiences in American universities, where Israelis and Palestinians regularly interact on a professional basis, the group concluded that even after political agreements are reached, the real key to Middle East peace would lie in the ability of the younger generation to work together professionally.

MEET is an intensive, highly selective summer program – dubbed a “mini-MBA” by Binur – that targets students from East and West Jerusalem and is taught by MIT students.

It began with 30 students, coordinated at the last minute and on a tiny budget, and was in the words of Binur “an unbelievable experience” for the students and teachers alike. Today, MEET has grown into a full-fledged three-year program that is helping to create a strong foundation for peace.

Sign up for the ISRAEL21c Newsletter