Before the holidays, I interviewed Eric Wu the Vice President of Product for Fuser. Fuser is an aggregator of communications and handles email from Yahoo!, AOL, Gmail, etc and social networking messages from MySpace, Facebook and Twitter.
Fuser was founded by Jared Polis to solve his communication problem. Jared Polis (now Congressman Polis) sold Blue Mountain to Excite for $780 million without a hint of revenue. I really miss those days.
He wanted to be able to go to one location to get all of his emails. He looked around and could not find a service that aggregated emails. Polis couldn’t believe that no one was offering the service and then went to talk to a DU computer science teacher to put the concept in front of him. The professor, with his class mapped it out and saw that it was feasible.
So Jared moved forward. He started to build his team in the fall of 2006.
I asked why Eric thought that people did not simply go back to one email address and notify all their friends and associates. He believes that it’s the network (and time) effect that people have with their emails. In other words you meet people at a certain time in your life and communicate to them via the email address you’re utilizing the most at the time. This is true for me and I broke my email out this way.
- Yahoo! – Used for noise and email that is not important or too personal
- Hotmail – Used only for an IM account with a name that is too ridiculous to say in print
- Gmail – Not really used and was gifted when they were hard to come by
- DU – Given as a grad student at DU and is now forwarded to Yahoo!
- Comcast – Not really used and log in once a month to remove spam
- .biz – This email is utilized the most
For social networking communications I have LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Eric mentioned that this network effect is still prevalent in that 20% of the traffic leaves Facebook and goes going to MySpace. “It’s a guilty pleasure for Facebook users.”
I asked Eric about data portability and he thought that it was eventual and essential. “Data portability is our (Fuser) dream. We want users to be able to access and use their data in whatever ways they choose.”
There are issues with the body that is developing those protocols. History has shown that someone within organizations developing those protocols has a member that has business interests and then make decisions based on benefiting that business as opposed to doing what is best for the overall protocol.
We talked about Fuser’s technology and Eric had this to say. “Early on we made the decision to use Java on the client side since it offered the operational advantage of distributed processing and access. The real issue is that client-side Java applets are somewhat less than perfect.” They have planned out what it would take to make the application server based and are weighing the benefits vs. the effort.
When I asked Eric what he thought Fuser would do if the predicted explosion in niche social networks. Eric is of the opinion that niche social networks will come to fruition and that they will utilize a set of common platforms such as Ning. A set of common platforms would make the adoption of niche social networks much easier for Fuser to aggregate.
We talked about the plight of all Web 2.0 companies and their desire to create a business model once they have established traffic. Today Wu describes a model that has Fuser leveraging the data extracted from messages Fuser handles to offer the user relevant marketing materials. According to Eric, Forrester recently reported that the top two things people do online are emailing and shopping. “Message content across multiple providers can create a near 360 degree view of that user’s behavior.” Behavioral marketing potentially at its best. Users have also mentioned that they’d pay for the service (while usually requesting a feature) and a “freemium” model is not out of the question.
In my mind this is another element to persona creation.
When I asked about the future of the mobile web and Fuser, Eric talked about Java being an issue but also saw the mobile Internet as a big part of the future of Fuser. If they were to go after this market they would have to go an operational server side model. Right now operationally they are lean due the tech model they have created. Partnerships with services such as Amazon Web Service would be necessary and operational costs would obviously increase.
Today Fuser has tightened its belt, reduced its staff (and its cash burn rate) and is working on securing additional investment. The economic climate hasn’t made this easy. “It was amazing how fast the market changed. In early September when we talked to people they told us they loved the idea and were excited about the future. By mid September they were talking about how we may be able to make money in the future and then in early October, it was simply a question of how much revenue do we make.”
Fuser is also exploring ways that they can partner with companies that could benefit from the Fuser technology. They’ve recently started discussions with ISPs about providing their customers Fuser’s aggregate service. This type of deal has the potential to deliver cutting edge technology to ISPs who are starting to pay more attention to the content their pipes are delivering (reference Comcast’s acquisitions of Plaxo and Vehix). I believe that Fuser will survive the downturn and wish Skype would buy them. I’ve posted about Skype forgetting that they are in the communication business and this would be a great addition to their offering.
Now is the time to believe.