Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Yelp, YouTube and 23andMe Co-Founders All Working on New Start-Ups

In recent weeks, I’ve stumbled onto a few fresh new start-ups from the departed co-founders of current influential tech companies. None of them are talking yet about what they’re doing, but I thought I’d see what I could find out.

For context: In Silicon Valley, you often find fabulously wealthy people going back to the drawing board — hoping for another strike of genius so they can prove they’re good instead of lucky. So-called “serial entrepreneurs” are an exalted local species, and everyone wants to be one.

Here are some of the latest efforts on that front, all of whom seem worth keeping an eye on:

1. Yelp co-founder Russel Simmons, who left the local reviews giant a year and a half ago, is working on an education project called Learnirvana.

It looks like Learnirvana’s first product, Lentil, just came out. It’s a Web tutor program that helps users learn the capital cities of the world or to read Japanese through constant quizzing. The interface is simple and unassuming, and had me recognizing some basic kanji within a few minutes.

A source said Simmons has been dreaming up this kind of product since before Yelp started. Simmons did not respond to requests for comment.

Yelp filed to go public last month.

2. YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, who left the company in its early days to finish grad school (but still made tens of millions of dollars when it sold to Google), has created a travel photography site called Fotons.

Fotons’ “about” page says: “Our mission is to create the best collection of great photos from around the world. With your help we aim to catalogue every notable country, city, building, river, stadium, statue, castle, library, zoo, island, river, cave, volcano — you name it.”

Users are told that they can only upload photos they have taken themselves, and that each picture must be at least 1,600 pixels wide or tall.

Karim said over email that Fotons “is in the middle of some big changes.” In other words, he warned not to look at the current site as a fully baked product. But that doesn’t mean it’s not usable now.

(It should also be noted that both Simmons and Karim worked at PayPal in the early days, and as such are part of the “PayPal Mafia.”)

3. Lastly, and perhaps the most vaguely, 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey — who left in 2009 to start a foundation focused on Alzheimer’s research — has a new company called Curious.

Curious has a only landing page for now, but a source said the company is working on topics around monitoring and sharing personal health information. Avey did not respond to a request for information.

Based on public posts, it seems Curious has three co-founders: Avey; Mitsu Hadeishi, who was previously at DonorsChoose.org; and early blogger Heather Anne Halpert.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik