Today, Zite announced that I will be joining the company as CEO. I wanted to write down my personal thoughts about this transition: how I came upon the opportunity and my vision for the company.
How I became Zite's CEO
I've been an advisor at Zite for almost two years. When I started, the company was still called Worio. Though the product needed a lot of work, I saw some great technology and an incredible vision. Being an advisor was a fun diversion from my day job at Microsoft and I didn't expect to join Zite full-time.
A little over a year ago, I helped to pivot the company from Worio to Zite, shifting focus from contextual discovery to a personalized magazine. The first version of Zite was a web application with lots of rough edges. With the rise of the iPad, we realized that the way people consume information was changing, but that information was still trapped in silos and search hadn't addressed the discovery problem. Conveniently, the 6-year history of Worio gave us a strong technology underpinning for a new type of product. Thus, Zite was born on the iPad.
About four months ago, Ali (the Founder of Zite) asked me if I wanted to take the reins form him and lead Zite into its next phase. I know this must have been a very difficult decision for him, since his leadership kept the company alive for over 6 years and his vision made Zite possible. I feel humbled by the trust he's placed in me.
For me, being a CEO will be a new challenge, but not unfamiliar. I was told by a mentor many years ago that being a product manager was the best training for becoming a CEO. Though I'll have a slew of new responsibilities, the core skillset of a product manager -- influence, prioritization, getting things done -- will serve me well in this next phase.
I'd like to give a brief shout-out to Microsoft and not just because Softies are more likely than Googlers to become CEOs. I've been able to work for an awesome product, I've been challenged by brilliant colleagues and I was given the opportunity to lead a team. Three years ago, I'd have called Microsoft a "dinosaur" with the rest of the technorati. After spending a few years in the Borg, I am confident in placing a large portion of my IRA in MSFT.
Where does Zite go from here?
What excites me the most about working on Zite is that, for years, I've wanted something to solve my own personal information overload (and, as ERS wisely noted: the greatest products come from scratching a personal itch).
RSS doesn't solve it: I don't have time to sort through the hundreds of stories that come through my feed. Social curation doesn't solve it: even following a smaller group of friends can prove incredibly noisy. Search doesn't solve it: I only search for things when I know what I'm looking for.
The only way to solve information overload is to turn browsing on its head and to learn what you want and deliver more of it to you, without losing an element of serendipity.
I liken where Zite is to the early days of search: everyone loved search engines because they allowed us to sift through the rapidly growing web, even though most searches ended up in failure. Similarly, Zite's personalization isn't perfect, but we've made a breakthrough advance. Our challenge over the next few years will be to:
- Improve significantly the quality of our recommendations
- Maintaining a sleek, user-friendly interface
- Give publishers new opportunities for revenue so that they continue to create amazing content.
A tall order, to be sure, but a challenge that must be taken on. I can't wait.