Joe Kraus, a co-founder of Excite (image credit), recently sold his latest company, JotSpot, to Google. I’ve known Joe for quite some time, and thought a quick email interview might be in order given his long history in search and Internet media. (Joe introduced JotSpot at the Web2.0 conference two years ago.)
Did Google buy JotSpot, or your team? If the former, what is the plan for the company? If the latter, what’s the plan for the team?
Simply put, I think Google bought both the technology and the team. In *most* acquisitions, you are acquiring both and ascribing value to both.
Google has invested substantially in collaboration (Groups, Docs&Spreadsheets, Google Apps for your Domain) and JotSpot is a part of that trend. In my opinion the first wave of productivity apps (seen in the 80s) was about making an individual more productive. Word, Excel, Powerpoint were all about making me, as a worker at my desk, able to create more work per unit of time. But, I think we’ve eeked out the last bit of individual productivity gain at this stage. I mean, does the new ribbon on MS Word make me more productive as an individual? Probably not. It’s a great interface, but it’s unlikely that there is a massive gain in personal productivity.
This next wave that we’re in is about productivity gains achieved NOT by making the individual more productive, but by making groups more productive. The massive penetration of email means that we’re in touch with one another like never before and dependent on teams like never before. That means that there is a huge opportunity for productivity gains through more effective collaboration. That’s what Google is trying to do in their efforts and that’s the theme in which the JotSpot acquisition fits.
I can’t talk specifically about product plans, but I hope that the above gives you a general sense of direction.
It does, thanks.
Now, personally, isn’t it kind of a mixed emotion joining Google? I recall a conversation earlier – 2004 or so – in which you expressed some reservations at the giddy growth and presumptive optimism of the place. I think like many of us you felt perhaps Google was due a needed, well, life lesson, one that you learned at Excite, and I learned at The Standard. What say you now to such sentiments?
Well, I have to say that I think “the rumors are true”. Google has collected the smartest group of people I’ve ever encountered under one roof.
In terms of emotion, you know, it’s an understandable question, but honestly, there’s no mixed emotion — I’m honestly just excited to be here. I think that comes from two things — more than the former founder of Excite, I was most recently fully occupied as the CEO of JotSpot. I had 28 employees that were working very hard, who had given up other very good opportunities and and for whom I wanted a great outcome. There’s no better outcome than to be at Google (it’s a wonderful nerd paradise — a place that nerds like me can thrive in) and there is great satisfaction in that. Second, I left excite 6 years ago, and at a personal level, my life has gotten a lot more rich and fullfilled from a variety of sources — marriage, kid, non-profit work (as well as my for-profit work). So, it’s not that I don’t love my work and feel very passionately about it — it’s just that I’m not defined by it the way I was when I was in my 20s.
What can you do at Google that you can’t do outside of Google? And a follow up, what can’t you do at Google that you “gave up” to be there?
What can I do at Google that I can’t do outside of this place? I think there is a lot here, but the short answer is the pretty obvious one. Google operates at a scale that startups don’t approach. And, while that provides its own challenges (making sure your stuff can handle high numbers of users), it provides a ton of opportunities to get your ideas exposed to a large number of people and get a large amount of feedback. Also, if you are pursuing very forward-looking ideas then a larger company like Google provides staying power in the market. There’s that old adage in startups “being early is the same as being wrong”. In a startup, if you’re too early for the market, it feels like there is no market at all. It’s hard in a startup to really tell the difference between early and wrong and in most cases it leads to startup death. Google is a place where there is strong interest in the long term and that is a very unique thing.