March 28, 2012
With a resume that includes: founding Microsoft Live Labs, Yahoo! Research Labs, and Overture Research, being the VP of Technology at Yahoo! and Technical Fellow at Microsoft, winning the World Technology Award, and authoring a book about the computational properties in nature and the perception of beauty (yeah), Gary Flake left his job with Microsoft to pursue the lone missing ingredient from his career – starting his own business.
Now, as the founder of Clipboard, a browser plugin that allows for seamless note-taking, organizing, and sharing, Flake is able to flex his entrepreneurial muscles without the holdups that come with working at a large corporation.
“Really it started from wanting to help myself. The idea stemmed from wanting to fix a selfish need.”
As most good ideas do.
Frustrated with not having a good way to save certain elements from a webpage while still retaining the visual properties and functionality, Flake wasted little time getting to work to solve this problem. Clipboard accomplishes just this, allowing users to grab text and images from a webpage, tag, and share if they deem appropriate. Personally, I’m a fan of the ability to embed the content in other webpages (to see an example, I’ve done this with my Appalachian Trials book website).
Essentially Flake is taking a new approach to the long-standing issue of efficient bookmarking. In the past, Del.icio.us was the tool of choice, but eventually sold to AVOS Systems and has since had key features stripped out. More recently, social news sites such as Reddit and StumbleUpon have taken precedence.
Flake sees two key differentiating factors between these services and his own. One, bookmarking sites save a URL – an entire page – which is often more content than the user is interested in retaining. “You’re setting yourself up for information overload,” says Flake. Two, social bookmarking sites focus on, well, social. The core element is sharing what you think other people might find interesting. Clipboard’s primary focus right now is in personal note-taking. “We want to be good for your private needs first. Not all browsing habits are meant to be shared. We’ll worry about how we can fold that into social later on.”
On top of feature differentiation, Flake is convinced that timing is going to play a crucial role in Clipboard’s success. During our conversation, he used photography as a comparison. “Everyone is very aware of this transformation over the last 15 years. Back then, we were bound by shoeboxes and photo albums. Today, with how ubiquitous photography is, most people have thousands, even tens of thousands of photos. Huge hard drives make this possible. With most of us spending the majority of our lives in web browsers, there’s a lot more opportunity to share and save. Five years from now, most people will have thousands of web clips. This is a pretty big deal.”
As of now, Flake isn’t overtly concerned about revenue. “When it comes to consumer products, I don’t think anyone succeeds by making monetization the primary concern. Right now, user engagement trumps all else, followed by user acquisition. We’ll worry about the business model further down the road.” Although monetization isn’t the primary concern, Flake was quick to point out that they are in talks with a series of potential partners.
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Image credit: Fast Company
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