Business Technology: Success Takes More Than A Good Idea

Why is a startup taking on not just Google but also search-engine newcomers Microsoft, Yahoo, and Amazon? And what does that have to do with an archive of business plans of failed companies in Maryland?

Bob Evans, Contributor

October 1, 2004

4 Min Read

Last week was many things, but it was certainly not boring: We had pennant races for baseball fans; we had a volcanic advisory for Mount St. Helens; we saw an IBM computer execute 36 trillion calculations in a single second, making it the fastest computer on the planet; we had a presidential debate; we had a startup challenge Google, Amazon, and Microsoft with a new search technology; and we had donors put up almost half a million bucks to preserve the business plans of companies that failed.

While I can't prove an inextricable link across all those phenomena, I can say that like most people I admire bold risk-taking that carries with it a focused audacity, and in the technology business we've all surely seen many examples of that spirit. Among the latest such adventurers are the folks at San Francisco startup Blinkx, who've come up with a new approach to search a variety of formats, from desktop apps to MP3 files to video, JPEGs, and more. That type of innovative approach is helping the small company build some nice momentum, reports my colleague Tom Claburn: Blinkx 1.0, released in July, has racked up more than 1 million downloads, and Blinkx 2.0 should be out by mid-October.

Also, company co-founder and marketing director Kathy Rittweger says the company is not just trying to cram a pile of unique technology into a product that techies will call cool but the masses will call useless. The "genesis of this was based on human need," Rittweger said, and it's hard to argue with the premise that a more-intelligent approach to search technology would find an enormous market. After all, Google became a verb long ago, The New York Times' Tom Friedman wrote a column about it atop which's headline said, Opinion: Is Google God?, and we have all read/heard/seen an astonishing overabundance about the company's IPO. Considering the explosive growth for cell phones, PDAs, combos, notebooks, wireless terminals used by truck drivers and delivery people, and good old-fashioned PCs of all sorts, it's hard to imagine that the growth rates for information searches will slow down anytime in the foreseeable future.

So that would seem to bode well for a feisty startup like Blinkx, right? Well, maybe. But for all the purity of the company's focus on building something based only on human need, the raw and immense appeal of such a rapidly expanding global market is also drawing intense interest from multibillion-dollar global corporations with extraordinary brand awareness: not just Google but also Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, and even Apple.

So I'm hoping that Blinkx doesn't move rapidly from being a standalone member whose pluck and brains earned it a spot in our "news items of the week" to an exhibit in one of the other items: the archive of business plans from companies that tanked. I mean, there's no dishonor in having tried and died, but on the other hand, given a choice, wouldn't most of those on the other side of the grass rather be back on this side? So Blinkx has its work cut out for it, but that's no surprise to anyone at the company, particularly co-founder Rittweger: "We're definitely aware of the competition." However, since a million people downloaded Blinkx 1.0 in the past couple of months and 2.0 is due very soon, the competition is probably equally well aware of this startup.

In fact, maybe now would be the perfect time for Rittweger and her colleagues to visit the Business Plan Archive at the University of Maryland, which has just received $470,000 from the government and private benefactors to store business, marketing, and technical plans, along with venture presentations. "We want to let today's entrepreneurs learn from the mistakes," David Kirsch, the archives' lead researcher, recently told my TechWeb colleague W. David Gardner. "It's the failed companies, whose documents are endangered, that interest us, and we want to save them."

Bob Evans
Editorial Director
[email protected]

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About the Author(s)

Bob Evans


Bob Evans is senior VP, communications, for Oracle Corp. He is a former InformationWeek editor.

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