I am leaving Microsoft to start my own company. My last day at Microsoft is next Friday, August 18. It’s uncertain whether Microsoft will continue the feed platform work I started, but it’s some good stuff so I hope they do.
RSS is the internet’s answer to the notification scenarios we’ve discussed and worked on for some time, and is filling a role as “the UNIX pipe of the internet” as people use it to connect data and systems in unanticipated ways.
I joined Microsoft in April excited to change the world and build an Internet-scale feed platform to power the experience of Microsoft’s hundreds of millions of users as well as opening up the feed experience to outside developers to leverage in their own applications. The opportunity presented to me was extremely unique and a way to change how the world interacts with syndication technologies such as RSS, RDF, and Atom. The launch of Windows Live and Ray Ozzie’s vision of Internet services disruption made me believe Microsoft was serious about the space and not being left behind in yet another emerging industry as they had been with the web browser and search.
The Windows Live initiative got off to a huge start, with lots of new services created and an “invest to win” strategy in the new division. There were so many new programs created and headcount opening up Microsoft told Wall Street it would be spending $2 billion more than anticipated in the short-term to cover these new costs including over 10,000 new hires over the last fiscal year.
The stock plummeted on the announcement Microsoft did not have its costs under control. Microsoft’s market cap lost close to $59 billion in the six weeks after I joined and second quarter financials were released, more than the GDP of Ecuador and over half the market cap of Google. What do you do when the market responds to your 6 month-old online services strategy by reducing your valuation by 1.5 Yahoos? Windows Live is under some heavy change, reorganization, pullback, and general paralysis and unfortunately my ability to perform, hire, and execute was completely frozen as well.
I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish as a team of one attached to the Windows Live Alerts group. If we had the resources I truly believe we could have tackled the number of users Hotmail, Messenger, Spaces, or even Internet Explorer might supply, and then ask for more by opening up the platform to the world. I was able to borrow resources here and there, but there was no team being built around the platform in the foreseeable future. I could have stayed at Microsoft, waited for the other 85% of the company to ship their products, and then hope support for my group might be back on track again, but I didn’t want to sit around doing little to nothing until Vista, Office, and Exchange ship. It’s easier to get funding outside Microsoft than inside at the moment, so I am stepping out and doing my own thing.
So what’s next? I had a few startup ideas before joining Microsoft and those never went away. I want to change the way the world thinks about personal data, publishing, and search and I might have the right opportunity to do just that. The product(s) will hopefully be profitable in under a year and not rely on advertising revenue to get there. I fully own my IP rights again on August 19, so I won’t be talking much about past inventions until then to limit legal hassles (I invented this before Microsoft, but still playing it safe).
I’d also like to help out my friends with startups a bit more, and make sure they have everything they need to succeed. It was great to see Automattic engage the WordPress community last weekend at WordCamp and I’m proud of the work Om is doing with his new media empire. As long as I have a successful business paying the mortgage I’d love to continue helping out local startups in various ways without the many conflicts of interest that come with being part of a big company. On a similar note I’ve received a good response from people wanting to work together on a new venture and can see the tremendous opportunity ahead from many talented people building smart small agile businesses focused on thrilling users.
I’m driven by the many opportunities ahead to develop new user-centered products. I’ll be writing lots of Python in the coming weeks and months and I have a few good blog posts on feed syndication planned in the next week as I wind down at Microsoft. My personal contact information remains the same.