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The Boston Globe

Arts

G Force

Crunching feedback into data

Chetan Chawla

WHO

Joe Delfino

WHAT

Delfino, 20, an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and co-developer of the start-up software company Texifter, works to improve, expand, and promote his business — and still has time for homework.

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Q. Tell me a little bit about what your company does.

A. Basically what we’re trying to do is offer companies a program to help their HR department. The software is designed to take thousands and thousands of open-ended feedback that they might receive - either through tweets, or surveys, or some other social medium - and turn that into data. For example, an airline company might get 100,000 tweets about their food. A lot of them are junk, but some of them are really valuable. What Texifter does is isolate the tweets into specific categories like what people tweeted while on the airplane, in the terminal, or when they landed, specifically about the food. We’re trying to get companies to use social media to its fullest potential.

Q. How did you get involved with this?

‘So far, we’ve worked with Google, QVC in the UK, and JetBlue, and a bunch of smaller, local companies. . . . We’ve really been able to get our name out there.’

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A. One of my friends had a professor at UMass who was working on this coding project. He asked me if I wanted to help out. My friend and I were really into the project, and we spent the entire summer just learning the software and figuring out how it could be used and what needed to be changed. If someone had told me two years ago that this is what I was going to be doing, I would’ve laughed in their face.

Q. What’s your role at Texifter?

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A. It’s a really small team of eight people including myself, so everyone wears about three hats. One of the biggest things is pitching the software to investors and other companies. I schedule a lot of meetings with potential clients and try to sell the software to them. But I also work directly with the software, and improving its functions, and building on our current business model.

Q. Are you a computer science major?

A. No [laughing]. I’m a Middle Eastern studies major, and I’m a class away from double-majoring in history.

Q. So this is just something you taught yourself?

A. Yeah, pretty much. I spent eight hours a day in front of my computer last summer, but it’s been worth it. We’ve come a long way since then.

Q. Who have some of your clientele been?

A. So far, we’ve worked with Google, QVC in the UK, and JetBlue, and a bunch of smaller, local companies. It’s been great; we’ve really been able to get our name out there. JetBlue actually contacted us, which was really exciting.

Q. Do you find it hard to sell something that’s sort of . . . dry?

A. It can be, yeah. I mean analytical space isn’t exactly exciting. But the most important thing is to present to companies that there is value in extensively looking at feedback, and that there are things these companies can do to better improve themselves.

Q. How is it, working with people who are 20 and 30 years older than you?

A. It can be a little daunting. I’m by far the youngest person in my company, but I’ve learned so much. They have years and years more experience than I do, but I think as a company we’ve proved ourselves so far. We’ve got a long ways to go, but we’ve also made great progress since we started.

Q. So this sounds sort of like a full-time job. How do you balance this, and school?

A. Oh, it is. I guess I have pretty good time-management skills, but it gets pretty difficult to focus in class, especially when I’m waiting to hear about a client or a deal. Every class I take, I just hope that the professor has a lenient cellphone policy. There’s also a lot of traveling involved, which can get pretty tricky. I was in Amsterdam for a while, and New York, and I might be headed to Chicago and San Diego in April, so I’m never really in one place for too long, but I manage to get my work done.

Q. Do you ever feel like you’re missing out on the ‘typical’ college experience?

A. No, actually. My friends know I work a lot, but I don’t think they actually know what I do. But I’ve made some amazing contacts through this, and I’ve done a ton of traveling throughout the country, and to Europe, that I might not have gotten to do otherwise. And I get to interact with people that are just brilliant and so passionate about what they’re doing. I wouldn’t do this if it weren’t fun.

Q. How do your parents feel about you doing this and school?

A. They’re really supportive and very proud. I don’t think they worry too much about it. Their biggest complaint is that I’m never home.

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