Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Going, Going Back, Back

(to Cali, Cali) I'm assuming 99.3% of you didn't get that reference. Anywho, point is I will be returning to Bay Area for the CommunityNext Conference next weekend, thanks to a number of people. The conference is at Stanford on February 10th. More details here.

I couldn't leave out some shout outs to people that are making this happen. Jing, Noah, and Cambrian House, thanks for setting this up (and letting me go), making the introductions and organizing the conference, and actually getting me there, respectively.

If you'd like to meet up, feel free to leave a comment and I'll see you at Stanford on the 10th.

And sorry the blog has been bare as of late. This place is keeping me more than busy. I have tons of drafts that are half done and I promise I will get around to finishing them asap. Stay tuned...

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The most recent example of corporate stupidity comes from our friends at Cingular and AT&T. As most of you probably know, it's now just AT&T.

I understand (at a very basic level) the company line on the move: They're trying to better integrate their various services to capitalize on core competencies and create synergies between divisions, and unifying the brand is a logical step in convincing customers AT&T offers a comprehensive communication solution.

But, seriously, are they for real? Not only are they nixing a brand that has built up quite a bit of brand equity and loyalty, but they also just made the opposite change shortly after the merger. AT&T Wireless figured to piggyback off Cingular's visibility and decided to centralize under the latter's name not too long ago. Now, they're taking one of the most recognizable name in the mobile business out of the market. In the short term, it's going to mean confused customers ("Where did Cingular go?") and unnecessary expenses (there must have been a dozen commercials during the NFC and AFC Championship games today).

But my beef with the move centers on the rationale behind it. Maybe its a generational thing, but I just don't think the AT&T's brand name is better than Cingular's. AT&T is old school, a lumbering giant that you wouldn't expect to be on the forefront of innovation, while Cingular is new and cool. And they've definitely put effort into making it seem that way (remember all those Cingular ads during the Super Bowl a few years ago?). The switch negates all that. To top it off, it looks completely ridiculous - what kind of company changes their name one way only to change it back a few years later?

Of course, it's a great way to reinforce the stereotype that you're clumsy, confused, and, well, a lumbering giant. Gotta love the irony. Good luck, AT&T.

(Oh, and an apology for dropping all the b-school lingo. I promise I understand it's all nonsense. Everyone knows there's no such thing as synergy. Outside of management class, that is.:)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

1 Suit, 2 Suit, Red Suit, Blue Suit

Mark Cuban wrote a great rant on suits today. Check it out, it's pretty funny and definitely highlights one of the odder traditions that has developed in our society.

Of course, most Whartonites here would balk at the article (as my roommates did when I passed it on to them). As they well should, since it tears into an institution they hold incredibly dear. :)

Then again, I wonder how much they'll love it when they drop hundreds (or thousands?) of dollars on suits this summer, only to drench them in sweat as they rush through 100 degree heat from the subway to the office.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Surprise! eBay buys Stubhub

I don't know if anyone saw this coming. For the second time this week, a company I'm fairly close with got bought. This time it was eBay purchasing Stubhub for around $310 million. Unlike most acquisitions of this size, there weren't many rumors floating around until shortly before the announcement (or at least not any that I heard).

So what to make of it? I have no idea. My gut tells me eBay waited too long to pull the trigger and ended up paying a lot more than they needed to. Even today, the price seems a little steep for a company rumored to be doing about $10 million a year in profit.

The synergy (I hate that word) between the two companies' products is apparent, and a solid integration strategy will be definitely be a value add. But it seems as if eBay employed the "chicken with its head cut off" approach: first ignore the competitor, then scramble to build a half-assed response (search for tickets on eBay and it gives you a special search column but doesn't offer anywhere near the functionality of Stubhub), and finally just acquire.

Ok. That was a little harsh. Overall it's a good deal (especially for Stubhub), and I wish them all the best. Their product offerings overlap nicely, and the deal makes a lot of sense. It's hard to believe I sat down with CEO Jeff Flehr and Head of Marketing Mike James less than a week ago. Ebay definitely got a great website and a dynamite team, which should hopefully make the purchase worthwhile in the end. Many congratulations to Jeff, Mike, and the rest.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Y! buys MyBlogLog

The rumors have been flying for a few weeks, and turns out they were all true. Yahoo has bought MyBlogLog for about $10-$12 million (exact dollar amount not confirmed). I've written about MBL here and here, so I won't bore you with another profile. Basically, great company, and the purchase is especially meaningful for me because their CEO is Scott Rafer, my fearless leader from over the summer. So congrats to him and the entire MBL team, and good luck working for Yahoo.

Update: I figured I should link to GigaOm's article on the acquisition. Gotta love the web - news that it was official traveled so fast that I called Scott to congratulate him while he was still at dinner with Om.

Seeqpod Rises

Seeqpod, a music search and recommendation engine, recently came out of stealth mode and is currently in public beta. The brainchild of CEO Kasian Franks, Seeqpod uses neural networks to approach search and recommendations in an entirely unprecedented way.

So what's the word? Seeqpod is awesome. Seriously, go try it out. Click on music and search for your favorite song. Basically, you can stream music, but, in the process of searching, Seeqpod points you at other songs that you'll probably like, based on your search queries.

Sound like Pandora or Well, it's not. Though it does only music now, the concept behind the company is far more encompassing.

Kasian and his team started with a classic problem - how to get computers to think like humans do. It sounds like AI, but Seeqpod quickly narrowed the scope of their efforts. They sought to create an auto associative approach to search - basically an algorithm that could take two pieces of knowledge and link the two or come up with something new in a fashion similar to what humans do.

Throughout the process, modeling functions of the brain guided their work. So, because we think in terms of ideas and symbols (and not words and grammar), they oriented their project around objects and their relationship to each other. One of my favorite Kasian quotes about the Seeqpod itself is that it "knows that humans associate the color blue with the sky more than anything else," something that other search engines today don't take into account.

Thus, the fruit of their labor is a fundamentally new solution that can be applied to traditional problems - matching content with ads, enabling recommendations, etc. Music search and recommendations is truly only the tip of the iceberg of Seeqpod's aspirations.

Of course, a company's fortunes also depend on the quality of its team. And CEO Kasian Franks is the real deal. Though its accuracy can be questioned, Franks has a solid vision of the future of search and knows how Seeqpod can play into that future. When I asked him the G-question, he pointed out that though Google rules search now, the future will bring changes, and "Google will be only a small piece of tomorrow's search." Bold words, yes, but history tells us he's probably right - 5 or 10 years from now, Google probably won't be the only player in search, and the industry may have adapted to allow multiple companies to coexist.

More than that, though, Kasian embodies the spirit of Silicon Valley. For example, he picked music to roll out the company's beta services because music is "a binding force" and brings people together "like no other glue in the world." Hearing him discuss the project, his passion is apparent, and he believes in his product completely. In the words of a certain someone whom we will be remembering next Monday, he has a dream (for Seeqpod), and he's not afraid to chase it.

Overall, though, the firm's success is doubtful - like all start ups, they face unfavorable odds and will need astute planning, careful risk taking, and a whole lot of luck. When you mention "neural networks search" to Valley veterans, you usually get rolled eyes and bored looks. But Seeqpod just might have what it takes - a solid product and ambitious and talented team - to succed. The rest, as always, is left to chance.

Friday, January 05, 2007

East vs. West, Again

The Merc came out with a great article about business students visiting the Valley today. It featured undergrads and MBAs from the Sloan School at MIT, but also mentioned how Harvard kids, Whartonites, etc. visited during break as well. Entitled, "Suited for a Tech Tour," the piece humorously describes the clash of cultures as the b-school students show up wearing suits.

I'll leave you with one of the many gems in the article: "'[Silicon Valley] is sort of the Athens of our time,' [said] first-year MBA student Justin Kulla."