Late in 2005, a recruiter called me. He was representing Flock, a social browser. They were past just starting out. They had a few engineers, a president, and not much else, and were looking for a VP of Engineering. They were at the point where they needed adult supervision. Would I be interested?
Well, I thought to myself, a startup could be quite lucrative, which would be great for my expanding family. It would take all spare time, which would not. However, with a title like VP, maybe the stock options would be generous?
From the recruiter:
The Company’s goal is to attract motivated people who seek career opportunities with the industry leader, a growing company, whose products are superior to the competition and is dedicated to excellence. The Company takes great pride in its people, and realizes they are its greatest resource; the desire is to make the environment one of opportunity for personal and career growth. Like most start-ups, our work environment is fast-paced, collaborative, demanding, and highly productive. We all readily take on responsibilities outside our job descriptions and are all focused on getting a lot done. We value intelligence, flexibility, energy, perseverance, resourcefulness, commitment, willingness to learn, and ability to work at any level of detail and scope. Excellent oral and written communication skills are required, as well as good inter-personal skills. Accurate estimates of identified tasks, and the capacity to work under pressure are all a must.
Intangible Qualities they are looking for
They need an executive that is excellent with customers, respectful, cares about people, strong integrity & ethics, Someone that has a record of over-achievement success, & strong performer. They are looking for an executive that prides themselves on long term career opportunities and personal growth ability.
This company is very much a “people” person company and that is the key driver with everyone they hire. What they are looking for is a team builder, strategic thinker, bold, energetic, dynamic, change agent, someone that can partner with other executives, expand international markets, “eye of the tiger”, very sharp, articulate, brilliant, smart, &, charismatic, sense of humor, and self starter.
So, I decide to check it out. They sent me a white paper-like doc, and it starts with the following:
Flock is a new browser, built on top of firefox (sic). It is a functional browser with excellent features (including firefox features like tabbed browsing, etc.). What really makes is stand out are two additional features they’ve added to build social networking directly into the browsing experience: social bookmarking and a wysiwyg (sic) blog writing tool.
It then proceeds to describe the various features, referencing del.icio.us-type features. And it talks about its builtin blog editor. All somewhat interesting. So I agreed to stop by.
They were located in downtown Palo Alto in an old Victorian-era house, apparently owned by the venture capital firm backing them. The place as a house was sorely lacking; there was dry-rot, and it needed cleaning and painting. I walked in the front door, and was immediately assaulted by what I can only describe as Startup Funk. Took me back to StyleWare. It had elements of mildew, unclean bathrooms, unbathed young men, and stale Chinese food. The main room had 2 or 3 banquet tables covered with computers. The president’s office was a room off of the main room, and it was pretty nice.
We talked for half an hour about software management, scheduling, QA, demos, hiring, etc.; all of the stuff you would expect to talk about in a management interview. Then it was my turn to ask questions. So I asked the one that had been on my mind ever since the recruiter contacted me.
“How are you going to make money?”
“Well, we are working on our second round of funding.”
“No, what’s your revenue model?”
“The browser is free”
I paused, trying to be nice. I continued, “At some point, somebody who is not buying a stake in the company is going to have to pay you for something. It could be a cost to download, a cost for a subscription, or by selling ads somewhere. What’s your plan?”
“Oh, we aren’t worried about that right now. Our goal is to grow as fast as possible. At that point, it should be apparent how we generate revenue. Or we will be acquired.”
A couple of days later, I told them I wasn’t interested. This tech wasn’t interesting enough to work on without a business plan.
A few months later, I was in downtown Mountain View by the train station, and saw an office with their name on it, and movers moving stuff into it. At the time, I guessed that they had secured another round of funding.
However, they did not ever figure it out. They were acquired by Zynga in 2011, and the brower is no longer supported.
I never got to ask them how they were going to handle Firefox updates…