Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

What Is ThingD, Why Did It Make Fancy and What's Up With Those Fancy Offices? Let's Ask Founder Joe Einhorn.

Some buzzy start-ups are easy to explain. Then there’s ThingD.

The year-old company has big-name backers and lots of interest from tech’s A-list. But when you start talking about what the company is up to–a structured database of objects, compiled primarily by machines–things get a little fuzzier.

Here’s another way to look at what the company is doing: It’s ThingD’s consumer site (and where you’ll now end up if you try heading to

This one is easier to understand. It’s a catalog of stuff people like, illustrated with photos they’ve taken or pictures they’ve found on the Web.

See something you like, and Fancy will tell you more about it; find someone who has interesting taste and Fancy will show you more stuff they like. You can also see what Ashton Kutcher likes, if that floats your boat.

And there is an iPhone app, of course.

There’s no business there yet, but you can easily imagine how Fancy could add e-commerce into the mix, if it gets scale. Which makes it quite similar to other social/stuff/catalog start-ups like Svpply.

The big difference is that Fancy is powered by ThingD’s database, which is supposed to be doing some very heavy lifting, and that Fancy/ThingD has some very serious expectations. The kind you get when you get backing from people like Andreessen Horowitz, Allen & Co., Twitter’s Jack Dorsey and Facebook’s Chris Hughes right out of the gate.

You can see where this is going, or at least where it’s supposed to go. ThingD’s ambition to catalog lots and lots and lots of stuff puts it in the same sandbox, theoretically, that heavyweights like Amazon and eBay are already playing in. And Google, of course. The folks at Facebook, among other big tech companies you know, are paying attention.

With the exception of a Sun Valley showcase, ThingD/Fancy has stayed mostly quiet for the past year. But now, as 29-year-old founder Joe Einhorn gets ready to open up Fancy to the general public, he’s trying to explain what he’s doing to the rest of the world. This New York Observer profile is especially well-done.

I thought it’d be fun to get him on camera and let him tell his story in his own words, so I dropped by his very unstart-up-like office (it’s on top of the Apple Store in New York’s meatpacking district!) and he put up with my brutal cold and my caveman questions.

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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