Boston entrepreneur recalls celeb-studded teenage years

As a teen, David Cancel met LL Cool J and Q-Tip at the Queens gym where he worked out.
As a teen, David Cancel met LL Cool J and Q-Tip at the Queens gym where he worked out.(Chris Morris for The Boston Globe)

Like a lot of teenage boys, David Cancel (right) was seized with a desire to transform his skinny young frame into something more manly. But this was the late 80s in Queens, which meant a clean, well-lit fitness center wasn’t in the cards.

Instead, Cancel and his buddies headed to a decidedly unglamorous gym called Ferrigno’s, named for famed bodybuilder and “Incredible Hulk” TV series actor Lou Ferrigno.

“It was a hole in the wall. No air conditioning, about 100 degrees in there every day. And it was mostly professional bodybuilders,” Cancel, now a tech entrepreneur in Boston, recalled.

Nevertheless — this being New York — the owners simply took the teens’ money and didn’t ask questions.


Cancel and his friends often wound up working out alongside another unlikely group of local gym rats: Queens hip-hop artists LL Cool J and Q-Tip, leader of the classic group A Tribe Called Quest.

Q-Tip was locally known, but wouldn’t become seriously famous for a few more years. Cool J, however, was one of the biggest rappers in the world at the time.

“We kind of faked and pretended that we didn’t know who he was,” Cancel laughs. “You can imagine being a 16-year-old kid, doing a terrible job of that.”

Today, Cancel is a successful entrepreneur. Most recently, he left HubSpot to found a new company, Drift, that builds live-chat software for businesses.

Did all that pretending supply any business lessons?

“I think being around people who were able to create something out of nothing — who broke whatever boundaries they had around them — kind of opens up your world as a young kid to say, hey, I can do something,” he said. — CURT WOODWARD

David Ortiz throws weight behind new baseball app

The backers of a new mobile baseball game are getting an assist from a guy who knows a thing or two about hitting a home run: retiring Sox slugger David Ortiz.


The chief executive of FanZcall says Ortiz has agreed to be a shareholder in the Waltham-based startup, which has already raised about $1.6 million from local investors, and will be its most prominent ambassador.

“He’s the absolute perfect guy for us,” says Anton Khinchuk, FanZcall’s founder. “He has an equity stake because he wanted to be part of this.”

FanZcall allows players to guess how an at-bat will play out in real time during a Major League Baseball game, with the correct guesses of more unlikely outcomes, such as home runs, scoring more points.

Khinchuk came up with the idea last year, when he took his three sons to Fenway Park and noticed that they spent an inordinate amount of time on their phones instead of watching the game. He plans to create versions for other sports. He left his IT job at Keurig Green Mountain earlier this year and then pursued this venture full time.

The game is free, although Khinchuk is hoping to make money by selling ads. One option will allow advertisers to offer prizes for the accumulation of points. But the goal, Khinchuk says, is not to create another sports gambling app. “We don’t want to taint it with gambling,” he says. “We’re really doing it for the joy of the game.” — JON CHESTO

That time Paul English met Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer’s move to sell off Yahoo! to Verizon this week for $4.8 billion has led some local tech executives to look back.


Paul English, the co-founder of the travel app Lola, reminisced in a post he wrote on LinkedIn Wednesday about the time he met Mayer. A decade ago, he was two years into the launch of, which he co-founded, and Mayer was heading up search and user experience at Google.

The duo met at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Mayer offered up her suggestions for Kayak’s expansion into hotels. (Until then, the travel search engine focused on flights.) Her idea: Go upscale, and target the high-end traveler. English disagreed. “I thought her requests were only for ultra-elite travelers, and not mass-market,” he wrote.

An argument ensued, which Mayer nipped in the bud by announcing “never mind, we (Google) will build it ourselves,” English recalled. But they didn’t. In 2010, the company that is now Alphabet bought another the locally based flight search entity, ITA Travel, for $700 million.

Meanwhile, Kayak’s hotel search, designed by English, became the company’s largest revenue driver.

But Mayer was likely onto something, English said in an interview. Lola, which has had 20,000 downloads since its launch in May, is now targeting that elite traveler.

“I’m actually a big fan of hers,” he added. “I should send her a note.”

Plymouth Rock’s football play

Plymouth Rock Assurance is going after die-hard Tom Brady and Malcolm Butler fans.

The Boston-based auto insurance company just inked a deal with the New England Patriots to offer a car insurance policy aimed at football fans. Customers who participate, will not only get car insurance, but also behind-the-scenes stadium tours and invitations to game viewing parties, access to game tickets. The program will cost an additional $15 annually.


“We think there’s real value for the consumer on both the insurance and football side of things,” said Brad Baker, a Plymouth Rock spokesman.

Plymouth Rock insures 300,000 drivers in New England and is looking to grow with this tie-in to the Patriots.

Plymouth Rock officials also expect to do more advertising during Patriots games. There’s no word yet on whether current or past players will participate in any advertising efforts.

Plymouth Rock declined to comment on how much it is spending.

For the Patriots, the deal offers fans new ways to engage with the team, said Murray Kohl, vice president of corporate sponsorship sales for the team. As more fans opt to stay home and watch games on their high definition television sets, the Patriots have been trying to enhance the experience of attending games at Gillette Stadium.

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