How To Regain Your Social Networking Virginity

Simplifying your life on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other social networks.


In 1990, I worked evenings and weekends doing programming for Cayman Systems in Cambridge, MA, both to earn extra money to pay off my college loans and to keep my brain from atrophying in my day job. One day, as the company was struggling with costs, profitability, and competition, I heard one of the founders say, “Well, this company is just an experiment.” Which is both a healthy attitude (for startup types) and unsettling news (for employees).

Life, as it turns out, is an experiment. We live, we learn, we change, we grow. So I view social networking as just one chapter in the ongoing experiment that is the book of life.

And just as I take more chances in life than most, I take more chances with social networking. Habit #2 of the “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (book by Stephen R. Covey) is “begin with the end in mind.” With social networking, my end game (as modified by this article) is to have a network of people I know and trust, and to grow that network organically. My goal is not to have the most followers. Just like a gardener’s goal shouldn’t be to plant the most weeds, hoping for the occasional fruit.

But I certainly didn’t start out as an organic gardener.

I’m an early adopter of most new technologies. If I’m doing a thing that nobody else is doing, then I believe the world is wrong, and I keep doing the thing. Then comes mass adoption of the thing. And I don’t like feeling like one of the sheep in the herd. So if I find myself doing a thing that everybody else is doing, then I believe the world is wrong, and I stop doing the thing. Or I do it differently. Or I find a new thing. But not always. It’s complicated.

Here’s a timeline of when I’ve adopted various technologies, sprinkled with personal milestones for reference:

1984-06 – graduated from high school
1984-08 – got on the Internet (MIT Project Athena)
1988-05 – graduated from MIT
1988-07 – swam in the Arctic Ocean
1989-07 – soloed a jet in the USAF
1992-08 – wrote first book
1993-10 – registered first domain name (
1995-05 – graduated from law school
1995-08 – registered first dot-com domain name (
1997-03 – launched law firm website
2000-05 – had my first exit (Verio acquisition)
2003-02 – started blogging
2003-10 – joined LinkedIn
2005-01 – co-founded
2006-04 – joined Facebook
2008-10 – joined Twitter
2009-10 – separated
2010-10 – divorced
2011-07 – joined Google+
2012-10 – engaged
2013-10 – married
2014-04 – regained social networking virginity

Every three years or so, something new, cool, and seemingly revolutionary happens. I don’t know what will happen next, but I’m pretty sure it’s not nothing, and I’m pretty sure I’ll give it a whirl.

Today, when the general consensus is that the more social networking the better, I’m announcing that I’ve taken a different path: less is more. I have scaled back my social networking, including deleting much of the content I’ve created on social networks. Here’s what I did, network by network, and why.

Purging Twitter

Twitter is a social network that is based on short 140-character updates. You can follow anyone, anyone can follow you. You can block anyone, anyone can block you. Anyone can sign up: individuals, brands, anonymous users. In 2008, Twitter and Twitter tools were everywhere. When functionality did not exist in Twitter, users (and occasionally Twitter itself) would create it. Twitter was so popular it was on the verge of becoming a protocol (like SMTP for email).

I joined Twitter in 2008. My first Tweet didn’t suck:

The URL ( resolves to a Google search URL (

Shortly after joining Twitter, I did everything that one can do on Twitter. I Tweeted, I re-Tweeted, I replied, I favorited, I created lists, I followed, I followed back. In short, I was fast-forward social networking. All Twitter all the time. In a very short time, I was listed among the “elite” Twitter users on all the sites that claimed to measure such status:


But then a couple of things happened.

First, Twitter started looking for ways to make money. And started closing off its once very open ecosystem. Twitter started focusing on what was best for Twitter, and that is not always best for Twitter users. It’s APIs became more restrictive, Twitter acquired popular third-party services, and tried to get more people to go to the Twitter website.

Second, I took a hard loook at my followers. And I realized that they were full of robots, spammers, scammers, and the like. In short, I realized that my kids would not be proud of those following me on Twitter. I was embarrassed by my followers. And if you are what you eat, then I think you are also the company you keep, including those who follow you. In short, I was a Twitter whore.

The unfollowing and blocking. In the summer of 2009, after peaking (bottoming out?) at 27,035 followers (or so), I decided to unfollow everybody to see what happened. Twitter does not make it easy to unfollow everyone. Twitter doesn’t want its network to have fewer connections, Twitter wants more connections. But I was determined, and two months later, I was following zero users. About 43% of my followers unfollowed me. Many of these followers were using third-party services to auto-unfollow. Just like SEO experts try to game the system by tweaking variables on web pages to get higher rankings in Google, Twitter experts try to game the system by having the “right” ratio of following/followers, the “right” number of Tweets/day, or whatever stat is believed to be important.

But many of my followers didn’t care, because they were not real followers. Many of my remaining followers (about 14,000 of them) were still robots, spammers, scammers, and the like. Unfollowing them didn’t make them go away. So I began the even slower task of blocking the bad ones. Twitter really doesn’t want you to block users and limits you to blocking 100 users every 24 hours. You can’t even find which users you’ve blocked and when! The larger your network, the better for Twitter.

On 2013-01-13, I had 14,341 followers, and I started blocking the spammy ones at the rate of about 300/week. On 2014-02-19, 401 days later, I had 605 followers. I had blocked at least 13,736 users. In other words, I determined that 95% of my Twitter followers were spam.

Spam, like art, is in the eye of the beholder. I consider an account spam if it acts spammy. There are many ways to act spammy:

  1. having a bio with spammy words
  2. having no bio
  3. having no photo
  4. Tweeting spammy Tweets
  5. sending spammy direct messages
  6. favoriting Tweets in a spammy sort of way
  7. re-Tweeting spam
  8. creating lists like a spammer
  9. spam spam spamity spam

Anything that a real user can do on the Internet, a spammer can do. And Twitter brought its spam problem upon itself. Because it is so easy to create a Twitter account, real users can signup and start Tweeting quickly. But so can fake users.

So I purged everything I could on Twitter of spam: followers, following, lists, direct messages, favorites.

Deleting old Tweets. Twitter lets you download an archive of your Tweets (under Settings -> Account). This is the only practical way to view/search all of your past Tweets. Twitter doesn’t want you to delete your Tweets. The larger your network, the better for Twitter. So when you get your archive, you can view your old Tweets, but you have to make a real effort to view them online, where you can delete them. As far as I can tell, there is no limit to the number of Tweets you can delete in a 24-hour period.

I reviewed all of my old Tweets and deleted those that had no long-term value. Many referred to services that no longer exist, had URLs that no longer work, or that I’d forgotten about, such as (FriendFeed), (Seesmic Ping), (a URL-shortener service that was much more popular before Twitter launched its own), and (a photo sharing service that was much more popular before Twitter launched its own).

Here is a snapshot of my Twitter usage from 2008-2013.


My most loquacious month was March 2009, with 952 Tweets. Yowza.

It’s not a surprise to me that my Twitter use peaked from 2009-2010, the same time I was going through separation and divorce. I was pretty lonely during that time, and Twitter was a good companion. I’m also embarrassed at lots of my older Tweets. I was always opinionated, often grumpy, sometimes mean. I sincerely apologize to those I hurt or offended. So I deleted 95% of my 12,500 Tweets. On 2014-03-20, a month after I’d finished blocking my spammy followers, I finished deleting old useless Tweets.

In summary, on Twitter, 95% of my network was spammy, and 95% of my Tweets were not worth saving.

Purging LinkedIn

When LinkedIn was launched in 2003, I don’t think anyone referred to it as a social network. It was really an online business networking service, where professionals could post their resumes and (re)connect with colleagues and classmates. If Twitter is the hare of social networking, then LinkedIn is the tortoise. Bet on the tortoise.

I joined LinkedIn in 2003, and it is my only social network that has steadily grown each quarter.

LinkedIn allows users to post status updates online, but unlike the other social networks, LinkedIn does not save updates for more than a few weeks. I only recently learned this, and, as a result, I’ve stopped posting updates to LinkedIn. You can also customize what updates you see on LinkedIn (Home -> All Updates -> Customize). I turned off everything and now see only 4 (default) top updates of breaking news stories. It’s like an information diet.

There is, of course, spam on LinkedIn, but not very much. Some users, especially those with 500+ connections and those who tag their profile with “LION” (which stands for “LinkedIn Open Networking”), will send you spammy messages, but you can easily mark such messages as spam. And if you’re connected to a spammy user, you can remove LInkedIn connections as well. LinkedIn makes it difficult to disconnect, and I’m not sure where this URL exists on their site (I’m a bookmarker), so here it is:

Removing LinkedIn Connections

I rarely give spammers a second chance (unless their account has been hacked). Once a spammer, always a spammer.

Purging Google+

Launched in 2011, Google+ is Google’s third or fourth (depending on how you’re counting) foray into social networking. It’s pretty darn good. Because it’s the newest of my social networks, it was also the easiest to purge. I didn’t have to delete many updates. And I pretty much only connect with folks I’ve met in person.

One nice feature about Google+ is that it is easy to identify whether (and, if so, how) a new follower is connected to you. From the Google+ “Added you” page (Home -> People -> Added You), you can click through to each new follower’s profile and see if you know people in common. The more popular Google+ gets, the more spammy followers you’ll get.

I opted to remove most biological info about me from Google+, since those who have my email address will be able to find me, and since I’ve been at my current job for well over a decade. I’m not sure how helpful it would be to reconnect with someone I worked with 20 years ago. Besides, I feel that my social networking resume belongs primarily on my website, secondarily on LinkedIn. I really don’t want or need to maintain more than a couple versions of my bio and work history online.

Purging Facebook

When Facebook launched in 2004, it was a closed network that was available only to certain Ivy League schools. Since MIT was among one of the early “in” schools, I was able to join Facebook earlier than most in the spring of 2006. Later that year, Facebook opened up to the world.

Facebook, like Twitter, was difficult to purge. Twitter lacks a good way to view and edit all of your content. Facebook has timeline review, which is just barely functional, especially if you’ve been posting for a few years. Nevertheless, if you are patient, you can go to the Facebook activity log (Home -> Profile -> Activity Log) to delete, hide, or highlight content in all sorts of categories (your posts, posts you’re tagged in, posts by others, posts you’ve hidden, photos, likes, comments, about, friends, notes, music, news, video, games, books, products, following, groups, events, questions, search history, and apps).

I noticed that a few events that were created before Facebook’s latest events interface did not show up under the “events” section but did (if you were patient) show up under your timeline. I found events (with photos and videos) that I had long since forgotten about and deleted most of them. Similarly, I have a couple of “phantom” likes: pages that I liked that later merged with other pages, and I cannot unlike the page because the original URL no longer exists. As such, my like count is not zero; I’m assuming Facebook will eventually fix this bug.

In any event, I deleted most of my content, unliked everything, and deleted most of my biological info (as I did on Google+).

Purging Websites, Email, Newsletters

I removed the numerous (and colorful) social networking icons from my email signature and replaced them with this:

Patents, Trademarks, Boston

The above simplification was based on a LifeHacker article about minimal email signatures.

And if you have ever called my cell and gotten voice mail, then you know it sounds a lot like the above looks: “My name is Erik Heels, and this is my voice mail.” That’s all you need to know.

Each month, I review email from 10+ years ago. I star and save the good stuff, I delete the rest.

On my website and blog, I removed the social networking plugins that added those “share to Facebook” (and the like) links to each of my posts.

I removed all SEO plugins from my WordPress blogs. I think SEO is largely deceptive. If you write one title that is visible on Google, and another title appears on the website, how is that better? Besides, my business is B2B, not B2C, with my website/blog being used to validate a referral, not generate a lead. Most SEO consultants will tell you that I’m wrong, but consider the source. SEO works best for SEO consultants. You want good SEO? Write good content, good SEO will follow.

I also had to remove the newsletter signup pages from my blog and website because my newsletter signup forms were being spammed! Besides, I don’t publish my newsletter very frequently. And I don’t really want to use one service to promote another. It’s quite annoying to follow someone on Twitter and then get an auto-DM saying, “Follow me on Facebook too!”

I want to use my website to drive website traffic.

I want to use my newsletter to drive newsletter subscriptions.

I want to use each of my social networks to grow each of my social networks.

I want to garden organically.

Going Forward: What To Write About

I write primarily about law, technology, baseball, and music. Going forward, I am limiting my posts to those that cover at least two of these categories – or one in depth. More signal, less noise. My recent blog post about Shane Victorino’s intro music is a good example, as it is about both baseball and music.

One thing I noticed about my old Tweets: many were about Twitter.

Many early Facebook posts were about Facebook.

Early Google+ posts were about Google.

And that’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, they like it!

But I can tell you this definitively: Apple, Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter don’t need the press. If you can avoid writing about them, then your content will be better. And, yes, I’m aware of the irony. This may very well be my last post on this topic. I feel I owed an explanation to those who may have been wondering where I’ve been, and an apology to those I hurt (sorry).

My Following/Blocking Rules and Content Rules For All Social Networks

As far as who I follow, who I don’t follow, and who I block, it’s pretty simple:

  • I follow people I know and trust. You know who you are.
  • I don’t follow brands (not even my own). I want to connect with the people behind the brands.
  • I don’t let brands follow me, unless they are directly connected to me (like my own companies).
  • I block anyone who acts spammy.

In terms of what content I post where:

  • I use LinkedIn for my resume.
  • I use YouTube for videos that contain original music and videos that do not contain music.
  • I use Facebook for videos that contain music (except original music). Facebook does copyright fair use way better than Google/YouTube does.
  • I use Facebook for photos, so I can easily share pics with those who are not on Facebook. At least until Facebook eliminates this feature.


At some point in our lives, we start valuing our space more than the things that take up that space. That’s partially why my parents initially downsized from a house into a condo. But just like there is no house that is ideal for all, there are no universal social networking rules. There is no right, there is no wrong. You don’t have to over-think it (as I admittedly may have done), but you should definitely think about it.

A parting exercise. Go to your Twitter followers page. Scroll down to the middle. Take a screen shot. Do you like what you see? You’re looking in the mirror. What would the king of pop do?

You can’t plant a garden and reserve a spot for weeds, the weeds always win.

Erik J. Heels is a patent and trademark lawyer for Boston startups, Red Sox fan, MIT engineer, and musician. He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll at

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The Who, What, Where, When, Why, And How Of Patents

Patent law in plain English. But not in that order.

Venice Canal

Why File Patents?

Patent laws exist. Just like tax laws exist. Smart companies take advantage of patent laws. Just like smart individuals take advantage of tax laws by itemizing their deductions on their tax returns rather than filing the short form 1040EZ and paying more taxes than they have to.

That said, patent laws do not have to exist in an ethical vacuum.

All modern patent laws derive from the epically awesome 1474 Venetian Patent Statute, which states, in part:

WE HAVE among us men of great genius, apt to invent and discover ingenious devices; and in view of the grandeur and virtue of our City, more such men come to us from divers parts. Now if provision were made for the works and devices discovered by such persons, so that others who may see them could not build them and take the inventor’s honor away, more men would then apply their genius, would discover, and would build devices of great utility and benefit to our Commonwealth.

The goals of the original patent statute of Venice were noble and worthy: to entice men (and women) of great genius to come to Venice to enrich the lives of its citizens. Fast forward to 1789, when the US Constitution was written and the so-called “patent clause” (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8) was enacted without controversy and WITHOUT DISCUSSION:

The Congress shall have Power To … promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Patent laws (such as these) based on the right ideas and ideals should, rightly, be noncontroversial. Where we get into trouble, as a society, is when the letter of the law departs from the spirit of the law. Such is the case with modern day patent trolls, who would have done nothing to enrich Venice and should have no place in 21st century US patent law.

So it is easy, I argue, for a patent lawyer to be ethical and idealistic: simply represent those clients who follow the spirit of the law. Some doubt that it is possible to identify such clients. To those doubters I say: (1) ask yourself why you went to law school in the first place and (2) ask your mother for her opinion.

With that historical preamble, I acknowledge that there are many valid reasons for getting a patent, including:

  • employee motivation/retention
  • defense (and quid-pro-quo licensing)
  • impressing clients (with shiny “patent pending” technology)
  • impressing inventors (actual and potential)
  • impressing your board of directors
  • scaring off competitors

Habit #2 of the “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (book by Stephen R. Covey) is “begin with the end in mind.” So before you dive into the patent waters, know what your business goals are.

Where To File Patents

A US patent gives the patent owner the right to exclude others from making, using, and selling the patented thing in the US. Other countries confer similar rights on patent owners. In general, you should patent your product where your customers are.

If you are a US-only entity, then consider a US-only patent strategy. An advantage of pursuing a US-only patent strategy is that you can file a nonpublication request (with the initial US patent filing) and avoid having the patent application published 18 months after filing, which is the default. This way, if the patent application does not mature into an issued patent, then you can abandon the patent application and keep the patent application a trade secret. In other words, the secret sauce will only be revealed if/when a patent issues.

For most US startups, filing patents outside of the US is a waste of money. It generally costs four times as much to get patent protection in all of Europe as it does in the US. That said, there are two times when filing non-US (i.e. “foreign”) patent applications makes sense:

  1. First, if you have significant non-US business. What’s significant? I think 20%.
  2. Second, if you have a likely acquirer (or investor) located outside of the US.

As an aside, I don’t like the term “foreign” as it depends on one’s perspective.

Who Is The Inventor? Who Files The Patent?

First, who is the inventor? Steve Jobs may not have engineered the innards of Apple’s original iPod, but the product whose patent (correctly) bears his name was, by all accounts, his idea. As do many other of Steve Job’s inventions. Because that’s who the inventor is: the one who CAME UP WITH (i.e. conceived) the idea. NOT the one who built it (i.e. reduced the idea to practice). That said, products have many features, and if a particular feature was your idea, then you are the inventor of the embodiment of the product that includes that feature. Inventorship, therefore, is determined on a claim-by-claim basis and must be carefully reviewed for accuracy before a patent issues.

Second, who is listed first? The first-named inventor is the one whose name goes on the patent. The others get to be in the “et al.” category, which is somewhat less rewarding. So you should list the names of the inventors carefully on the patent application. (Perhaps this should be the first issue.)

Finally, although inventors are individuals, most law firms represent companies, and most companies require their employee/inventors to assign their patent rights to the company as a consideration of employment.

What Can Be Patented? What Should Be Patented?

A related question is “whether” to file a patent application. So I’ll address that question first. If you have a product that cannot be reverse engineered by virtue of its having been launched (where “launch” is defined as sold, offered for sale, publicly used, or published), then you should consider keeping your product a trade secret rather than pursuing patents. Trade secrets last as long as they remain secret. Patents last only 20 years from when you file them.

But if you do have a product/service that can be reverse engineered, then patents may be a good fit.

The legal requirements for getting a patent focus on legalese and are numerous and confusing. (In short, your product must be new, useful, nonobvious, and sufficiently disclosed.)

The plain English requirements for getting a patent, on the other hand, are two and product-based:

  1. If you have a “product” (which I’ll define more in a moment), that you believe to be better/faster/stronger than the competition, using features/benefits that YOU define (think marketing/sales sell sheet), then you have satisfied the first requirement (which is, essentially, the novelty requirement of patent law). Most startups can easily do this. It’s why you quit your day job and joined a startup.
  2. If your product has one feature/benefit that is unique to you (think “secret sauce”), then you have satisfied the second requirement (which is, essentially, the nonobviousness requirement in patent law). Not all startups can do this. Just because you have a winning product in the marketplace doesn’t mean you can win at the Patent Office. This issue occupies 95% of the time of patent practitioners (i.e. patent attorneys and patent agents). Recent US Supreme Court case law has made it extremely easy for the USPTO to reject patent applications as being “obvious” (in law) even though they are not “obvious” (in fact).

To keep things simple, I define “product” to include both “product” and “service.” And your “product” is anything you do sell, anything you could sell, anything you do license, anything you could license, anything you use internally, and any improvement to any product (think point release for software); whether or not you charge money for the product. Google Search is free for users, it is a product. The Twitter API is a product. Version 2.0 of your software is a product. So is version 2.1 And so on.

So if your startup is struggling to craft its patent strategy, know this: your product strategy IS your patent strategy. Before (and more on “when” below) you are getting ready to launch any product, you should consider filing a patent. Put a box around it, think how you’d position it in the marketplace, then you’re ready to patent it. Believe it or not, marketing/sales materials are as helpful (if not more helpful) than technical documents for writing patents. So the two most important people on your patent team are you CTO and CMO, not necessarily in that order.

When To File Patents

The ideal time to file a patent application is the day you can describe how to make and use your invention, and the ideal time to start the patent application process is two months before the day you can describe how to make and use your invention. A practical way to think about timing is to start the patent process two months before your scheduled product launch.

In 2013, under the guise of “patent reform,” US patent law changed from a first-to-invent system (i.e. the best patent system in the world) to a first-inventor-to-file system (i.e. like the European patent system). Under the old system, US patent applicants had a one year “grace period” between launch and when they could file for US patent applications. Under the new system, this grace period has been gutted, and, due to sloppy drafting, ambiguities in the new law have caused pragmatic patent practitioners to conclude that the US is the functional equivalent of an “absolute novelty” state (like Europe). In other words, you should treat the old grace period as if it no longer exists.

Under the old law, if you launched a product, then you could not get a patent in Europe, but you could, within one year of launch, still file in the US.

Under the new law, the only safe way to protect both US and no-US patent rights is to file patents BEFORE launching the product.

In addition, if you have filed a US provisional patent application, and you want to keep the benefit of the provisional’s filing date, then you have to file US (and non-US) patent applications within one year of the provisional’s filing date. (But most non-US patents are a waste of money, as discussed above.)

How To File Patents

You should budget one month for a patent search and a second month for writing and filing the patent application.

Why do a patent search? Because the whole trick to writing patents is navigating around the minefield of prior art. As the patent applicant, YOU get to define the product, YOU get to choose which features/benefits to emphasize. So you should do a patent search for the same reason the bear went over the mountain: to see what you can see. You will not be able to see everything, since a patent search cannot find everything (such as provisional patent applications). But it’s wiser to do a patent search than it is to try to navigate a minefield of prior art blindfolded.

Large companies (and the patent bar review firms that cater to their lawyers) will tell you not to do a patent search because (1) anything you discover needs to be disclosed to the USPTO and (2) if you find a patent and a later found to have infringed that patent, then you may be on the hook for triple damages.

These things are both true. But if you do the math (e.g. an expected value calculation or two), then you’ll discover that they are largely irrelevant for startups.

For small startups, the economics are quite different. First, you are hanging your hat on one or two core pieces of intellectual property, so it behooves you to figure out what the patent landscape looks likes. Second, you are not (yet) deep-pocketed, so you are not (yet) a target for patent litigation.

Do a patent search. Don’t skimp on it. It will inform you about whether, and, if so, how to file a patent application. Here are some possible recommendations for how to proceed after a patent search:

  1. Proceed with neither the product nor the patent, because someone else has the patent and the product.
  2. Proceed with the product but not the patent, because the technology is covered by an expired patent.
  3. Proceed slowly with the patent, because the technology area is crowded. It will take years and tens of thousands of dollars to get a patent. In this case, starting with a provisional patent application might make sense, to give you one extra year of “patent pending” status.
  4. Proceed quickly with the patent, because this is breakthrough technology. This is rare but exciting.

If you decide to proceed with a provisional patent application, then don’t skimp on that either. It is the foundation upon which your future IP house will be built. Filing a napkin provisional is like building your house on sand. Garbage in, garbage out (to mix my metaphors).

After completing the patent search phase, Clocktower (my firm) recommends, in about 40% of the cases, not to proceed with a patent application. We feel it is better to spend a small amount of money on a patent search rather than skip a search and waste much more money on a patent application that never should have been filed in the first place.

There are good and bad patent lawyers at big and small law firms. Clocktower likes to think that ours are good patent lawyers at a small law firm. The Clocktower method is simple: you teach us enough about the technology to write the patent, we teach you enough about the law to make the right business decision at the right time. At Clocktower, we give you the advice that we’d want to hear if it were our company.

That said, we’re not the right patent law firm for everyone. But we’re a good choice for many.

But not for patent trolls.

Erik J. Heels is a trademark and patent lawyer, Boston Red Sox fan, MIT engineer, and musician. He blogs about technology, law, baseball, and rock ‘n’ roll at This article was conceived on 2013-12-18 and reduced to practice on 2014-03-12 to coincide with a presentation by Erik at the Koa Labs Start-Up Club in Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA.

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