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The Next Big Thing in Social Networking

26 | By Michael A. Robinson

Scott McNealy knows how to create the kind of cutting-edge high tech that makes money for his investors.

Lots of it.

You probably know McNealy as a cofounder (in 1982) and CEO of Sun Microsystems. For more than 20 years, that Silicon Valley firm set the standard for computer servers and workstations. Sun was a key contributor to open-source software. It also created the widely used Java programming language that still runs of billions of computing devices around the world.

Not only did McNealy and his tech firm help change the world forever, they brought incredible payoff to investors along the way. Sun went public in 1986, and it sold to Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ:ORCL) in 2009 for about $7.4 billion.

I’m a long-time tech writer who has followed McNealy’s career for many years. When I heard that he is the force behind a new startup, I decided it was time to find out what he’s up to these days. I got the chance to chat with him by phone for about half an hour the other day.

After hearing firsthand from McNealy about his latest startup, my first thought was, it’s no wonder an elite group of investors has already ponied up about $20 million to back this idea.

Take a look…

Wayin is a social network built on the power of a simple but vital idea – creating a global community of users who tap the service to get feedback from a large group of voices on any number of topics.

Think of it as instant polling or focus groups for questions of education, human resources, politics, games, entertainment, and more.

It used to take weeks or months for companies to get customers or workers to weigh in with their opinions. Now with Wayin, they can do it on the fly and from a larger audience from around the world.

As such, Wayin plugs into the huge appeal of social network leader Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB). It also works well with Twitter, a service that allows members to send out short messages of up to 140 characters to their followers. Both online firms have become runaway success stories with several hundred millions users around the world.

Here’s how McNealy describes his new firm:

“With Wayin, we thought the one feature of social networking that doesn’t seem well addressed and actually has huge value is the one-to-many conversation. Another way to think about that is, how does a superstar or a celebrity engage their fan base? How does a brand engage their customers? How does a company engage their employees or their shareholders, suppliers, or their resellers, or partners?

“So, we said, why don’t we build a tool that would allow one-to-many conversations for those groups to their clientele or to their fan base or whatever? So, that’s really what we did.

“We decided to start building out the user base through the enterprise, through employees or people who are following things that matter to them, like their sports team or their favorite singer or their politician of choice, or their government agency or their teacher or whatever.

“Now, we have reasons for people to go to the website that are part of their everyday and committed life. We give you the opportunity to create a conversation, post evocative pictures or URLs or video or audio.

“We typically start the conversation with a question that offers a choice of answers. We keep score, we allow comment and dittoing of comments. And we are building a database that then becomes very useful to somebody to understand their mandates or client base or whatever their constituency that they’re following.”

So far, Wayin seems to be making all the right moves. It’s already got several large clients. These include the Denver Nuggets, the PGA Tour, the National Hockey League, and George Washington University. McNealy doesn’t disclose sales figure but says they have doubled or tripled every quarter this year.

And they recently launched an add-on called Twitpolls. This service enables people to gather real-time feedback from their Twitter followers. For instance, a speaker could send out a poll to the audience and provide the results before concluding the talk.

To me, this is just a brilliant idea.

I talk to a lot of heavy hitters in high tech and I can tell you they all have – and use – Twitter accounts. With Twitpolls, they could get fast feedback from their followers without having to leave their Twitter page or wade through hundreds of comments and try to boil them down to simple answers.

And then there’s the play on a hot new trend called “big data.” With the Web, companies now have reams of data to sort through to launch new products or rate current ones. That approach is tailor-made for selling data to large firms, which is a highly profitable business model.

“We’re creating a very interesting portfolio [of data],” McNealy says. “It’s a user-generated, opted-in portfolio of demographics, confirmed intent, confirmed sentiment, confirmed knowledge, and confirmed interest.”

Combined with his background at Sun, McNealy has had no problem finding investors to back Wayin. Some of them include:

  • Frank Luntz, who is famous for doing high-impact focus groups and who often appears on Fox News.
  • Robert J. Fisher, a son of the founders of Gap Inc. who serves on the clothing store’s board of directors.
  • Burt Sugarman, the Hollywood producer married to Mary Hart, former anchor of Entertainment Tonight.
  • Larry Sonsini, a lawyer with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a Silicon Valley law firm that is one of the world’s top tech advisors.
  • Chris Galvin, the former CEO of Motorola and grandson of its founder.

I believe this could become another huge success story for McNealy. It fits right in with the Era of Radical Change, and it has a unique take on the huge mobile wave I’ve been telling you about.

And I’ll tell you something else.

Just when nearly everyone else is predicting our nation’s failure, I get a chance to talk with someone like Scott McNealy, and I find yet another good reason to be upbeat about high tech and the future of our country.

As long as we have guys like this around – and give them the means they need to succeed – there’s just no problem we can’t solve. I do believe technology can save America.

What do you think?

26 Responses to The Next Big Thing in Social Networking

      • Dave says:

        What is the symbol? Sounds good to me! If not trading, can we expect an IPO soon and if so, do u know when? Thank u kindly!

        Dave

    • Ray Forthuber says:

      OK Scott; proceed immediately on a few mundane issues addressed to world leaders, the U.S. congress, major University faculty and honors students…also our own fine Oxford and Agora intelligentsia. Need I review what all of us have read YTD in our voluminous e-mails, reports and books?! It is very late for us to recognize the absolute neccessity for a “Declaration of InTERdependence”. To realize that we are all defacto citizens of This World: near CHAOS in scale and velocity of CHANGE! GO!

  1. KWK says:

    I BELIEVE AMERICA WILL BECOME VERY DOMINATE IN THE WORLD IN
    THE FUTURE IF I CAN GET MY BILLION DOLLAR IDEA WORKING.
    I CANNOT BELIEVE SOMEONE HAS NOT THOUGHT OF IT.

  2. June Levin says:

    This company sounds terrific. How can a small time every day person buy some of their stock; or is their stock available yet? If so, what is the PPS?

  3. McGillycuddy says:

    SELLING technology is more likely to save America. I don’t understand enough to identify with the benefit of Wayin. There are already a number of global community networks such as Facebook. What’s the difference?

  4. Based in Reality says:

    yet another way to have millions of dupes avoid reality and for the big boys to gain more info to make more money that they do not need. GET A LIFE big boys! You are lost in a world of nothingness. absolutely unimportant stuff that has no meaning and no value.

  5. Doug Garnett says:

    The idea that social media of any type is reliable enough to do anything we’ll call “research” is horribly mis-guided. (BTW, the idea that Frank Luntz does focus groups is quite an insult to the people who do real research for a living. He’s a shill making huge bucks for faking focus groups to make interesting TV. That’s NOT research.)

    What happens for investors might be quite nice coming out of this. But the negative impact on product development and marketing could be devastating for a large number of companies. Nothing is higher risk than research known to generate mis-leading answers. And that’s “social media” research.

    In part, the people you hear back from in these forums are NOT the leaders who thoroughly know the industry. They tend to be the consultant and the novices building their knowledge. They can see interesting things, but not reliably enough to build a strategy.

    So I’m disappointed in McNealy’s direction. But inside the digital echo chamber, not many people will pay attention to the fundamental flaws in this idea.

  6. paul sykes says:

    The next big thing in social networking will be Youtube .Their strategic planning is gaining momentum
    for the best interactive entertainment TV. paul m sykes

  7. David Gosse says:

    Really appreciated the article Michael. This is a very hot space. With acquisitions like Do.com, Chatter.com and the recent Yammer.com – the investment community is taking notice. My startup, http://www.tracky.com, is taking it one step further. We have integrated all the best-of-breed products like Yammer and Dropbox into a free platform that anyone can use to connect and collaborate with anyone else. Since we are not “enterprise” specific, your account stays with you for life. That means all the people you connect with at conferences, in your community and online, are always part of your network no matter who you are employed by. Typical productivity software is company specific. When you leave that company, you loose all the connections you made on that platform. We think collaboration is one of the most important needs for the social web and I am encouraged to see Scott entering the space.

  8. randy says:

    The comment about misleading is true only if you try to use this info as ‘statistics’. Absolutely useless. But to get outside comments or thoughts on products or ideas I love it.
    People can make comments and give you impressions that are honest (in that there is no personal relationship).Yes of course one must be careful with such but some good comments from a wide range of people can be obtained if one is ‘careful’ with how they read the results.

  9. Jason Chapman says:

    Love this application and happy to be working on a similar Mobile App called Show of Hands backed by MIT scientists. Its awesome to post a question and see 10,000 results before the day is over. Check it out! We are nearing 300,000 users.

    http://www.showofhands.mobi/

  10. Cheryl Turja says:

    A true visionary and the best leader I have ever had the honor of being around! I spent 22 years at Sun driving that vision surrounded by amazing people doing things differently and believing in where we needed to go. I have no doubt Wayin will be even more successful and pushing an even bigger wave of change for the good in this world! Thank-you for the story.

  11. Jay Chatzkel says:

    Scott McNealy was a great creator in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Sun began failing in the last decade and got sold at a bargain basement price to Oracle. I would be hesitant to be as enthusiastic as the author is on this. The breakthroughs are by a different generation of innovators. McNealy would not have been able to create Google, Apple or Facebook. Social media, if it is to be creative, is not warming over an innovation and making it an application, which is what seems to be offered here. If Marc Andriesson and some other people like him were on the board I might think otherwise.

    This is not to say that the idea is not a good one, or that the people can’t mobilize resources to make it happen. I just don’t expect it will be the breakthrough I would like to see.

    • Horace Lim says:

      Jay, I think you are REALLY underestimating Scott… one of the truly visionary greats in US tech, but you’re right Sun was sold for a bargain basement price but that was perhaps because so many of Sun’s best people “lost the hunger” had already left and the hardware sector generally had already peaked.

      I would STILL be willing to bet (real money) that with Scott’s guidance, a $100 billion (startup) company is “just around the corner”… Mark my words, you can make fun of me if that doesn’t happen!!! Stay tuned, superstars and great visionaries like Scott attract success like a magnet, and these will help fund his philanthropic and especially his education-for-the-world activities from Curriki to Flogton. GO SCOTT… many thanks for this article Michael and for the heads-up.

  12. RJ says:

    Innovative companies like WayIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc., are really just small business employers. How many innovative companies the size of Wayin or Facebook are going to be required to add enough jobs to the US economy to re-employ millions of out of work and under employed workers?

    Tech hiring growth is not keeping pace with even the new workers entering our workforce, let alone the displaced workers.

    So how exactly does a WayIn, Facebook, or Twitter firm resurrect the US economy, as so optimistically insinuated by Michael?

    High tech and high efficiency means fewer workers needed in the economy; A surplus global population still seeking a radical shift and change in the economy and governance. It’s called a tipping point.

  13. SONJA DEVUYST says:

    NEUROLOGY ,IN FACT THE IMPOSSIBILATY ON MOTORICAL POSSIBILITIES AFTER BEING A MISTAKES WHO HAPPENED DURING AN OPERATION AND AFTERWOODS BEING CONFRONTATED WITH THE FACT YOU’RE AT ONE LEG PARALISED AND EVERY MOVEMENT BEOME A HELL OF PAIN YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH.
    THIS IS MY STORY AND SPECIALIST ARE STILL TRYING TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED AND HOW THEY COULD HELP ME TO MAKE THE PAIN MORE BAEREBLE.
    I TALK ABOUT ONE DISEASE BUT THERE ARE A LOT OF OTHER DISEASES WHO HAVE A REPERCUTION ON YOUR MOTORIC NEUROLOGIC SYSTEM.
    SO I FOUND YOUR EXPLANATION A FEARY TALE,,IT HAS NO BACKGROUND, I MISS DEPT IN HAT YOU ILL BY TO PEOPLE, AND IT SEEMS LIKE OTHER DISOVERIES HAPPENING every minute;
    BY ACTING AS SOME-ONE YOU HAS SUCH A THING TO SAY,KNOW FIRST HOWHARM YOU PROVOQUED TO PERSON WITH A MOTORIC DISEASE . IT IS CRUEL ,REALISE that with your neurologic capacity toTHINK.
    I DON4T BELIEVE THIS IS THE PLACE TO TELL SUCH DILICATE ISSUE.
    DO YOU REALISE WHAT A PERSON SUFFERS OF BEING DEPENDED FROM SOME-ONE ELSE AND WHO’S LIVE AND HIS PERSONALATY ARE HAVE NO OTHER POSSIBILITY TO ACCET HAT HAPPENED.
    DO YOU THING THAT ISN’A BIG PROBLEM?

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