February 28, 2006

I am filthy rich, in a parallel universe …

Posted in Category: Life — Amr Awadallah @ 11:57 pm | link | | comment (0)

I am a big SciFi geek, really addicted to that stuff, even though many of it is very absurd. For example, my favorite SciFi series is Stargate SG1 and in many of its episodes they play on the concept of parallel universes that are created every time we make a decision.

Well, if this theory is true, then my parallel amr (lets call him amr’, pronounced amr prime) is now filthy rich, sleeping on a beach in Hawaii, has a private jet, and houses across 5 continents. This is the story of amr and amr’.

In spring of 2000 both amr and amr’ existed in the same universe, at that time they were founders of a small 6-person startup called VivaSmart. Though the startup got some nice angel funding, it was not able to secure VC funding and bubble 1.0 was starting to crack. The founders decided to shop the startup around, and we got a nice offer from Excite@Home to buy the startup for $12M, not bad for such a small 1year old startup.

The acquisition deal was signed and we were working on finalizing the legal work and meeting with Excite engineering teams to see how we can integrate with them, learning their internal systems, etc. However, just one-day before we were supposed to move into the Excite@Home campus, we got sad news that Excite@Home is reneging on the deal. It was ugly and they ended up paying us $1M as penalty for backing out.

But now we were in a very bad situation, the bubble burst was becoming more evident, and we had closed our contractual relationships with all our customers (Productopia and epinions) as was dictated by the Excite@Home acquisition agreement. The $1M was enough to pay back the angel investors and shut down the company, so that was being discussed as a serious possibility, which obviously got me very concerned. I needed to line up another job so that I can continue to support my family (I had two children at the time).

So, I proceeded to shop my self around, and landed my self a very nice offer at Google, the offer was for an engineering position with $100K in salary, and 40,000 shares (these are shares, not options, since common share price was very low and you can just buy them outright). Now note that Google had two internal splits since then, so its really 160,000 shares in today’s GOOGs.

During the same time, our CEO, Charlie Oppenheimer, continued to shop the company around to other potential acquirers, and Yahoo came in and said they can buy us for $9M (which is really $8M since we had $1M in cash). Now I had a choice to make, should I say no to Google or go with the acquisition to Yahoo. Note that the acquisition value was mainly for the people and know-how, my self and Thai Tran being the core technology founders (Thai defected to Google in mid-2004 to be product manager for Google Local, rumor has it he got 20,000 GOOGs at $50 strike price).

If I did not go with the acquisition then that would have probably reduced the value of the company considerably, so if I took the Google offer I would have most likely pissed off my co-founders and investors at VivaSmart. I also did a lot of math and predictions with all the info available at the time, and Google seemed like a small startup that will eventually be acquired by Yahoo anyway since their main revenue stream (at the time) was to get money from Yahoo for every 1000 search requests that Yahoo sent to them. So I figured the right solution was to go to Yahoo, and this is where amr and amr’ got separated.

Its interesting that when Google sensed that I might turn their offer down, since the bubble was bursting, a very senior engineering chief over there (he has a short name that starts with U) sent me the following email:

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: Google
Date: Mon, 17 Apr 2000 11:33:56 -0700 (PDT)
From: u__@google.com (U__ _______)
To: aaa@CS.Stanford.EDU


Just as a reminder, in case you have any questions feel free to contact me. Also, in light of last week’s stock market, let me assure you that one (additional!) difference between us and the average “.com” is that we have a clear path to profitability. For example, this quarter’s loss was smaller than last quarter’s even though we have many more employees.


– U__

You see, amr’ agreed to join Google, so he has 160,000 GOOGs which are now worth in the neighborhood of $60M (before long-term cap gain taxes). But that is just the original GOOG shares you get upon joining, you typically get more shares every year, so I figure amr’ is now rolling in about $100M of cash 😉

Amr envies amr’, but there are many new parallel universes to come. Even if amr never beats amr’ (on wealth basis), amr is still super happy to have a loving family, and that is priceless.

— amr

PS: There is another amr” in a parallel universe in which Excite@Home did not renege on the acquisition offer, he is very pissed ;). There is an amr”’ that did not sell VivaSmart, continued to grow it, and sold it for hundreds of millions ala PriceGrabber and Shopping.com. Finally, there are two more amrs from two more universe intersections with Google in 2002 and 2004, I might cover those in a later posting.

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February 20, 2006

Google’s Privacy Argument is Flawed

Posted in Category: Work — Amr Awadallah @ 1:09 pm | link | | comment (0)

I was shocked after seeing that Google on Friday tried to make an argument that releasing a bunch of query strings from its logs (without any personally identifiable information, PII for short) would:

1. undermine public trust in the privacy of Google’s service

2. expose its trade secrets

3. unnecessarily burden Google

what were they thinking ?

This is why I think their arguments are ridiculous:

1. The government is asking for this data to help fight exposing our children to porn, so definitely a good cause and very legitimate reason.

2. The government is only asking for one week of query-strings, they are not asking for IP addresses, for cookies, for zip codes, etc. Its just a bunch of query-strings. Its impossible to tie just a query string back to the person who issued it, even if you were searching for your name, it could have been somebody else searching for you (I am sure the government can give them the option to sanitize out vanity queries, replace them all with George Bush or something like that)

3. The government is also asking for a random 1M sample of the links that Google crawls, now that has nothing to do with privacy what so ever, that’s all public info on the web.

4. How can the query-strings that the user’s enter into Google and the URLs that are publicly available on the web, represent a trade secret ? That would be a trade secret only if Google was generating these things, but they aren’t, the people are. If Google is worried about refinement queries from its spell-correct or also-try feature (if any), then they can filter those out and only leave the organic queries that the users typed in by them selves.

5. Finally, I was really ROFL when I saw their last claim: “unnecessarily burden Google”. He he 😉 we all know that getting either of those 2 pieces information would take one Google engineer a couple of hours using the Sawzall query language and map-reduce.

The message I am getting is: “We Google think its ok for us to use the user queries to make money, but its wrong to let the government use them to help protect our children”.

I predict that Google will lose this fight.

— amr

• • •

February 16, 2006

Meebo Not!

Posted in Category: Work — Amr Awadallah @ 5:24 pm | link | | comment (0)

I just saw in the San Jose Mercury News issue for last Sunday that Meebo got $3.5M from Sequoia Capital. If this is not the start of Bust 2.0 then I am not sure what is (may be its the end of Bubble 2.0?)

Meebo has a simple Ajax/DHTML based UI that lets you connect to IM networks through a web browser. The UI is cool and everything, but the only reason Meebo had such strong growth was that large corporations and government offices around the world block the standard IM ports for security and productivity reasons. Meebo represented a loophole and got tons of users that way.

For example, my mother is a general manager in the tax authority in Egypt (the equivalent of the IRS here), and she was very upset when the government offices closed all IM ports last year; she now loves Meebo, its her only way to IM while at work.

The question is: how long do you think it will be until these corporations start to block meebo.com? and why would Sequoia fund something like that? Are they “betting” these 3 gals can build lots of other interesting web apps?

Sorry Meebo, but my prediction is that you are going down.

— Amr

PS: My blog is the number one result now in Google if you search for Google Hatred, funny, huh 😉 Seriously though, I do not hate Google, I hate what Google did to Yahoo (though its as much Yahoo’s mistake as it is their’s).

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