A suture kit became a permanent fixture in the Altman household around the time Sam’s mom, a doctor, came home to find her son surrounded by the parts of what was once the family TV.
”She was pretty good-natured about that,” he says. ”I was one of those losers who hung out in the basement building things. I’d be ripping out circuit boards, and in the process I would cut or shock myself. She stitched me up on the kitchen table more than once.”
Years later, those battle scars are paying dividends. At the ripe old age of 23—and on sanctioned leave from Stanford University—Sam Altman and Nick Sivo, his best friend from freshman computer class, also 23, are the creators of Loopt, software for cellphones that figures out where users are and displays photos of their friends moving around on a map.
Verizon Communications and Sprint Nextel are already clients. Loopt charges users $3 to $4 a month for the service and is considering selling local ads. It is also integrating the service with Facebook and other social networking sites.
Needless to say, software that tracks people 24 hours a day draws its share of controversy, even though the service applies only to networks of friends who also buy it, is closed to children under 14, and reminds new users that they are being tracked.
”The tracking gets a knee-jerk reaction,” says Altman. ”A year into the company, we had to hire a chief privacy officer.” Loopt has added privacy features, such as letting users temporarily block the tracking of their movements or even enter fake locations.