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:
“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.
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?