Friday, April 7, 2006
Interview with Alex Bard, Goowy
My interview this morning is with Alex Bard, CEO of Goowy (www.goowy.com), a San Diego-based company in the Web 2.0 space. Goowy provides an online, virtual desktop and contact and calendar management applications. I spoke with Alex about the company, the application, and the firm's funding.
Ben Kuo: Tell me a little bit about Goowy--what does your software do, and what is the idea behind the company?
Alex Bard: Goowy basically provides a web based virtual desktop. The point of that desktop is to simplify your digital lifestyle. What we mean specifically by that, is it's a consumer application that helps our members firstly manage their personal communications. Inside personal communications we have a really advanced web mail system that has lot of the functionality typically reserved for desktop applications, such as right click, drag and drop, keyboard shortcuts, auto-refresh, things of that nature. There's a web mail component, advanced calendaring aspect of the application, there's contact management, and we recently just released integrated instant messaging. You can log into Goowy and have access to top IM providers, plus Goowy to Goowy IM without having anything installed on your PC. That's specific to personal communications. The next piece we tackle for members is sharing of digital content. You can actually upload your files to Goowy, where we give 1 gigabyte of storage for free. You can upload your files, you can listen to your music files anywhere you are, and you can share them. You can share pictures, you can share documents, with all your friends and family. The last piece of the application helps you aggregate data from all over the web. We have what we call minis, short for mini-applications, that allow you to view various RSS feeds, to have weather, subscribe to flickr photos, have del.icio.us bookmarks, subscribe to stock quotes, all the things you see a lot of personal start pages doing today—we have that embedded inside your application. At the end of the day, it's a web-based virtual desktop, you can access it from anywhere, using any browser, any operating system, and manage all of or your digital content through it.
BK: How did you come up with the idea?
AB: It's interesting. we really started the company specific to personal interaction management, primarily around email contact and calendaring. We started the company around mid 2004. The reason we focused on that was we believed there was a significant experience gap between a desktop email application like Outlook and what was provided on the web, such as Yahoo or Hotmail. Gmail hadn't even been released. We felt that the experience of those web mail apps was very prehistoric- Click-wait-refresh—and did not have lots of those features of a desktop application, which is why we decided to build Goowy. The product has really evolved since then, based on user feedback, and what we see going on in the industry. It's become a much more comprehensive virtual desktop, where you can have all these various components. One of the things we're doing next is opening up APIs so that people can develop or integrate their applications into Goowy, like a word processing application like a Writely, or an Excel spreadsheet type application where we almost in essence become a web-based operating system. And that's kind of the vision of where we're going. Prior to Goowy--the reason we feel we can execute this, is we've had two other startups. We were part of the founding team of a company in 1996 called eShares Technologies, which was out of New York. Basically what eShares did is we started building chat and bulletin board software for some of the world's largest portals at the time. So for example, Lycos, Geocities, AT&T Worldnet, AOL—they were all customers of ours, where they licensed the technology and deployed it to their large community. We've been in the space of building these highly scalable, communications applications for the last 10 years. After eShares, we moved to San Diego. Three founders moved from eShares together, and joined with 3 other founders, and founded a company called eAssist Globals Solutions. What eAssist Global Solutions did is we took various communications channels, whether it be email, whether it be IM, whether it be chat, or whether it be telephony, and integrated that through multimedia and delivered it to an agent sitting in a call center, so that they could interact with that customer and track all those interactions. And so again, we stayed in the space of building these highly distributed, client rich communications applications over the Internet. After that, around 2004, that company was sold and we took some time off and came up with the idea for Goowy.
BK: Did you target the Web2 space when you started on the idea, or did you just happen to start around the same time this whole idea of desktop applications on the web became popular?
AB: It's interesting that you ask that. If you think back to the time around 2004 when we started the company, there was no Web 2.0 space or even a naming convention for the space. In fact, AJAX did not even exist—not the technology, which did--but the phrase AJAX. So I feel that when we started the company early on before the whole movement began, and thinking “you know what, we see the movement of desktop applications to the web” because now you have higher proliferation of broadband, and you have technologies that enable you to build a more media-rich client on the web and not on the desktop. So we were pretty early on in that movement.
BK: So we were talking earlier and you said you received some investment from Mark Cuban?
AB: We privately funded the company for the first year of its existence, and at the end of last year we talked to went out to get Series A financing to scale the infrastrucutre and continue to develop the product, and really create a big impact with it. We had several term sheets which we were fortunate to get, and at the end of the day we partnered with Mark Cuban. As you know Mark is the original founder of Broadcast.com, which sold to Yahoo for three or so billion at the time. He came down, and we felt a really direct connection with his passion, his energy, and charisma, and so we both decided to partner together, and he invested in our Series A, and we've been growing since.
BK: Interesting. Were there other people in that Series A?
AB: It was just Cuban, he took the whole round.
BK: How are you finding adoption, you've had your tool out there now for awhile now –are people using it, what's the reception?
AB: Absolutely. its been great. The product has evolved over its timeframe. We released it about a year ago—and a year ago, it wasn't the state you see it in today. Over that year we've gotten some great support from our members. We haven't done any traditional advertising or marketing of the product, it's all been viral and word of mouth. And today, we have over 100,000 active users on the product. I think that as we start to implement the new features we've mentioned—we've just rolled out integrated messaging and file storage—features are more viral in nature themselves—we're really going to see that pick up. We're really excited about the adoption so far.
BK: What's your business plan –do you sell subscriptions, are you advertising based—how does that work?
AB: When we started the company and up until now, we consciously decided to not to focus on revenue. We're going to start going to the revenue part of the business model in the next 30-60 days. The way that revenue will be generated is, number one, we have an advertising revenue model. So if you use Goowy today, you'll see that there are ads today, when you send email you'll see an interstitial ad. Not very obtrusive ads, but we generate revenue from them. That's one part of the model. The second part of the model, which we'll roll out probably in 45-60 days from today, is a subscription based service. You'll be able to pay an additional fee for additional file storage, to opt out of the advertising, to have multiple POP accounts, and to have additional email storage, and some other features which are not currently available inside of the client. That would be the second tier of the business model. The third tier is through these minis—these applications which I mentioned before, which users use to access different applications across the Internet, in many kinds we have a transactional relationship with that company. For example, we have a Google Search mini—if you use a Google Search mini, and click on a link, we get a piece of that transaction. We have an iTunes mini, so we display the top ten dynamic iTunes songs of the day depending on what genre you select, and if somebody clicks through our mini and goes to iTunes, we get a piece of that revenue—and the same can be said of Amazon, eBay, etc. Although a small part of the revenue today, as we grow our users I can see that becoming a much more significant part of the revenue.
Further out, we've got a great opportunity to do private labeling/licensing of the application, or revenue share, where we go to a big portal – and we've already some large companies talking to us about this—they say they've already got a big community of multi-millions of people where they'd like to private label or co-label this with us, or we can do a direct licensing arrangement.
BK: Are you guys out looking for money right now, what are your plans for fundraising at the company?.
AB: I think we'll look to fund raise in the second half of the year., we've got enough money now, and what we're using it for is infrastructure, hiring additional resources, and really build the product and start marketing a little bit, as we think the product is more complete over the next 30-60 days. It's not that we're in the position that we need money, but we'll start looking in that direction toward the second half of the year.
BK: Thanks for the interview!