The Birth of Obvious Corp.

I'm very excited to announce something that I've wanted to do forever.

Odeo has been acquired by a new company called Obvious Corp. Obvious Corp was started by myself, with help from long-time collaborator, Biz Stone, and other Odeo people.

Obvious has purchased all the assets of Odeo, Inc.—including and from the investors and other shareholders and will continue to run these services. Obvious is fully funded by me and, eventually, will create other things, as well.

The Back Story
Obvious is the company I've wanted to start for a very long time—before Odeo and even at the beginning of Pyra Labs. It's great that both of those companies worked out the way they did. I learned some crucial stuff, and doing what I'm doing now wouldn't have been as feasible before. But now I think the time is right.

As I wrote about last year, when I got involved with Odeo, it was at first supposed to be a part-time thing, as an advisor and investor. I got sucked in for numerous reasons, including my own ego, the hype surrounding podcasting, and a strong belief that there was a big opportunity there that I was uniquely suited to help realize in a short amount of time. Not all of those are particularly great reasons to make major life decisions, but some of them I wasn't aware of at the time.

Odeo was a humbling and highly educational experience for me. As I talked about at The Future of Web Apps, I screwed up several things, which hindered that quick success—several of which I knew better than do to beforehand: not focusing the product, building for other people, raising too much money too soon, etc.

But hey, hindsight's 20/20, right?

Odeo had plenty of money in the bank. We could have held out for a couple years. But we had to look at the risk and the opportunity cost. Just because we could spend the money doesn't mean we should. Did it seem like continuing on the path we were on would be the best use of both the money and the time of everyone involved? It did not.

I believe there is a lot of value in what we've built—both Odeo and Twitter—but I did not believe the structure was going to lead to the kind of success we wanted. In the new company, with a new structure, and a new model, I think they are great investments.

The New Model
We are attempting to create a new model for building and running web products. Nearly everyone I know in the Internet business is either at one of the giants, wishing they were at a startup, or at a startup that hopes get bought by a giant.

The models for how these types of companies build and launch products is fairly well-known—although some certainly do it better than others. My theory is that a confluence of factors are paving the way for a different type of company:

  • Sites are cheaper and faster to build
  • The consumer web is increasingly hits-driven and increasingly crowded, which makes it more difficult to predict what's going to work.
  • Sites that do get attention can make money with advertising and/or subscriptions.

    The Obvious model goes something like this:
  • Build things cheaply and rapidly by keeping teams small and self-organized.
  • Leverage technology, know-how, and infrastructure across products (but brand them separately, so they're focused and easy to understand)
  • Use the aggregate attention and user base of the network to gain traction for new services faster than they could gain awareness independently

    As services mature, the goal is to get them to profitability with advertising and/or subscriptions, so they can add to the network (and fund more building).

    When justified by growth, resource needs, and desire of the team, we will spin off growing properties to form their own entities (with outside investment). It's not that we're against investors and acquisitions. That model works great for some things—especially once the idea is proven. But we're also not an incubator, with the goal of hatching companies from everything we build. Some things are perfectly worthwhile but don't need to be a company.

    The New Deal
    Lastly, for me, I just wanted to create a company that would be as much fun and as fulfilling as possible. Fun in work to me means a lot of freedom, and ton of creativity, working with people I respect and like, and pursuing ideas that are just crazy enough to work. I don't want to have to worry about getting buy-in from executives or a board, raising money, worrying about investor's perceptions, or cashing out.

    It may be stupid. It may be naive. It may be selfish and undisciplined. And, frankly, it may not work. All I know is I'm more excited about work than I've been in a long time. And from excitement and bold moves, great things often happen.