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.

Ray Ozzie

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.

Microsoft stock price April 2006 - August 2006

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.

99 comment on “Leaving Microsoft

  1. good luck niall. although i was so happy that msft had the intuition to hire you, i suspected this was going to happen. i’m glad you’re moving on to do something instead of waiting around for microsoft’s proverbial aircraft carrier to turn.

  2. niall, good luck in your new venture. we’ll all be anxiously watching the blog and waiting for the next “tech sessions” to see what you have up your sleeve.

  3. “It’s easier to get funding outside Microsoft than inside at the moment, so I am stepping out and doing my own thing.” Ouch. That bullet Microsoft just fired into its own foot is going to really sting before too long.

  4. wow!

    i sensed msft “live” was having problems, this seems to confirm it.

    sonds like a good move for you. definitely a(nother) loss for msft.

  5. Sorry to hear about the problems you had there. I was really excited for Microsoft when Bill threw his full support behind Ozzie, I kinda figured they knew the stock was going to drop like a rock when they had to spend a small fortune to catch up to Google’s infrastructure. Too bad the company went into paralysis, that doesn’t bode well for the future–good call getting out now.

  6. So is it really all Wall Street’s fault? Sounds more like a weak, dazed and confused executive team to me.

    Your post should be required reading for every analyst who has a “buy” rating on MSFT.

  7. It goes without saying that you’re a smart guy, and you’d be wasting your time (and consequently, your money) by staying at a company that doesn’t really want to keep up with the rest of the market. Honestly, were I still in the valley, I’d be paying for coffee and getting you in on our plans.

    Best of luck!

  8. Good Luck. I totally understand how you feel. I left MSFT and started my own thing as well. Many of the same issues you outline, were a problem for me as well. Heck, I had resource problems and I was working on Vista.

  9. Best of luck to you Niall. Can’t wait to see what you do next; too bad Microsoft isn’t truly seeing the potential and neccessity of syndicated information. They’ll continue to come around slowly, but will have lost those with the raw passion like yourself.

  10. Wow that was fast. I meant to say hello yesterday at the party at the Tech Museum – hopefully I can catch you in the cafeteria one of these days before you leave!

  11. OK, now, that makes (more) sense. I always thought you would go for a startup after leaving Technorati and could not help being surprised of the Microsoft move.

    Good luck with the “idea formation” phase. Let’s chat when I am back.

  12. Excellent! Another indy citizen!

    The market is hot right now and you’ll do awesome. We should definitely chat. We’ve been swamped and had to turn potential clients away lately. Although I’m sure you will be swamped with your own inquiries, coming together as ‘small pieces loosely joined’ is good for many of these projects. ;)

    Tara

  13. Niall – The world has seen you succeed and there is no doubt that we’ll continue to see your succeed in your new venture. Hopefully you keep up the podcast.

  14. Keep believing, and dare to think big!

    Think of it this way: Whilst it may seem a pity to have spend time toiling at Microsoft, at least you weren’t at AOL. ;)

    Best of luck.

  15. Heya Niall, sorry it didn’t work out for you at Microsoft – I know how excited you were about the potential to make a big difference. But I’m wrapped to hear that you are still thinking positive and am very excited to see what you can do with your own business!

  16. Good Luck! You always seemed more of the entrepreneur type. You’re passionate about blogging, and I’m confident that you can make a successful business out of your ideas. I’m looking into branching out on my own, too, got any advice?

  17. Good luck Naill! It has been a pleasure working with you the last months. Best wishes, go cook up some killer technology and keep the bunny glowing! :)

  18. I’ve read and listened to you for a long time now so the news that you were moving to MS came as surprise – philosophically. I just said “I knew it!” to myself as I just read your post. I wish you much success Niall!

  19. Congratulations Niall. Taking great ideas and turning them into products doesn’t always have to be a startup, but it’s good to hear we don’t have to wait too long to get to see your ideas come to fruition if it wasn’t happening at MS.

  20. I’m clearly late to this party reading this post at 11:06 PM, but let me be one of the last to wish you good luck on your new venture. Microsoft’s loss is undoubtedly the rest of the world’s gain.

  21. I’m more relaxed than ever. I hate MS at the first place but still felt that it can help me to fulfill my dreams.

    I really want to thank Niall forclearing my inhibitions.

    During my interview, I tried my best to convince them that RSS is extremely helpful especially when RSS generation is automated in web-servers.

    I think MS is left only with one option: Quit Web services & technologies and have an alliance with Yahoo!

  22. What an amazing couple of days it’s been! AOL is a little *too* free with its data. Google slaps down a huge commitment of cash to get invited to a party they missed. And now Microsoft lets one of its more creative minds wither on the vine!

    Good luck to you Niall. Spread your wings and fly!

  23. Good luck with the move. Quick pendantic pet peeve – “extremely unique”. You can’t qualify the word unique, it either is or isn’t.

  24. Niall:

    The alumni group from MSFT, in just a year, is pretty high-powered. You’re making it more so.

    Keep up the podcasting.

    Frank

    (This list of commenters looks like a roster of a Web 1.0 and 2.0 Hall of Fame.)

  25. I haven’t been following along too closely – when I saw you at Dcamp I wondered what it was you were doing then; didn’t know what it was – I guess I know now. Congrats on the move and good luck!

  26. Niall, I only came to know your existence today thanks to Dennis Howlett. You are doing the right thing in following what you believe is right! Have you run a start-up before? Its my 20th month. I am sure you do not need my advice, but I am going to give it anyway – just simple common sense:

    Try not starting on your own like I did. The burden is too much to bear at times. Find one or two partners and share the risks and joys!
    Have enough money. Bootstrapping is part of the game. But you need to be realistic
    If you need VC, angel money, grants or other, get a competent person to take the responsibility of raising the money. Otherwise you will not have any time to realize your (now yours and your partners) dream

    There are lot more, but above should do it as you did not ask for help.

    I like the idea when you said you like to help your friends with start ups. Ace! I blog at http://manojranaweera.wordpress.com. Do drop in sometime. Who knows there might be areas we can collaborate in.

  27. Thanks for being honest in this post. It seems some commentators are asking whether your comments are just those of a disgruntled former employee. But after reading your post and the comments, I think it is safe to say you are trying to present all the facts, and your reasons, without letting sour grapes become a factor.

    Good luck!

    P.S. I assume you either already have VC connections or that VCs will be knocking on your door. However, if you find yourself wanting to check out other VC options, I’ll be glad to make a couple introductions for you. Make sure you select VCs the way you would choose any other partner – personal compatibility is a top criteria.

  28. I like that you decided to do what’s right for you, however I find it interesting that you go on about market cap drop etc.

    That shouldn’t be a focus on whether your work etc is going to succeed, just because investors want a return immediately.

    4 months seems like hardly any time to make any impact or even understand fully what is going on anyway. Would take a month just to get up to speed with day to day processes and work out who’s who.

  29. Good news for innovation – bad news for microsoft. I think you can make a better and more creative job outside this company.

  30. Good luck Niall. If you will need collaboration for your future projects, especially for marketing in Italy, I would help you. Ciao! And support the soccer in the world!

  31. Niall, that was a short time to make significant impact let alone get to know workmates strengths and work environments. I tried used live.com and would was impressed by the upcoming improvements.

    waiting on your next big innovation … :) best of luck

  32. I cannot approve your career move. You were leaving to soon leaving important things unfinished. This has also something to do with loyalty. You said that the opportunity presented to you was extremely unique. How can this fade away so quickly?

  33. Niall: Good luck!

    My colleague Paul left MS on Aug 11 to join a start-up in San Francisco called wallopcorp.com.

    I left MPG group on Aug 14, 2006. I believe I can build software in a different way: stress free, good work/life balance, highly focused, very productive and innovative.

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