Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Young Ex-Googlers Explain Why They Left to Do a Social Start-Up

WhereBerry, a site to help people find and plan cool stuff to do offline, launched Tuesday.

Co-founders Nick Baum and Bill Ferrell were until late last year product managers at Google. At 28 and 27, respectively, and with five and four years at Google, respectively, they had each spent most of their careers at the search giant.

Baum was a product manager on Chrome, Android and Reader, and an engineer for AdWords and YouTube. Ferrell was a product manager on search ads and infrastructure.

Both of them had participated in Google’s “associate product manager” program, which trains young technical hires to be internal leaders. But they actually didn’t know each other from Google; they met late last year at a Y Combinator “Start-up School” event at Stanford, and ended up applying to the accelerator program together.

Having completed Y Combinator in March, Baum and Ferrell are now funded by the $150,000 Yuri Milner’s Start Fund offered to all recent YC companies.

Until Tuesday, San Francisco-based WhereBerry was being tested among a small group of a couple hundred people; now, it is open to the public. The main thing that people do on the service is post ideas for places to eat, events to attend, and venues to visit. Users receive emails whenever one of their friends posts a new proposal.

“Neither of us left because we didn’t like it at Google,” Baum said. However, he added, working outside of Google seemed like the right thing to do when starting a social Web service.

“We explored doing it internally within Google,” Baum said. “But at the end of the day that made sense for products that used Google’s infrastructure in a really powerful way, like something that crawls the web, or needs machines, or needs to hire really quickly.”

As for a social planning service? “It’s amazing that these days two people with laptops can create something that millions of people use,” Baum said. And WhereBerry was a way for Baum to return to coding, something he’d missed in his product managing days.

Plus, Baum added, “The biggest thing we got by not doing this with Google is access to Facebook Connect–which is pretty hard to do within Google.”

Connecting to Facebook won’t necessarily be WhereBerry’s ticket to success, but it does help the service be “social from the ground up,” as Facebook likes to describe it. WhereBerry bears more than a passing resemblance to a long line of online get-together planning services that haven’t really gotten off the ground, such as Renkoo, Skobee, Socializr, LivingSocial before it did deals, Pinchd, Plancast and Ditto. It’s too early to say whether WhereBerry can be sufficiently better or luckier.

Meanwhile, back to the ongoing ex-Googler start-up phenomenon, it wasn’t hard for Baum to think up a quick list of some other start-ups from people who’ve recently left Google: Beluga, Optimizely, Inporia, ReadyForZero, Firespotter Labs, Campfire Labs, TapJoy and AdKu. I’m sure readers can think of plenty more.

Baum described Google’s “bottom-up culture” and the associate product manager leadership program specifically as forms of preparation for being an entrepreneur, saying he disagrees with the perception “that Google has lost its appeal.”

Baum referred to Marissa Mayer’s comments, as reported by Steven Levy in the new book “In the Plex” about Google anticipating that its young APMs would one day leave. Levy wrote in his account of traveling around the world with a class of APMs in 2007,

I was stunned when a poll of my fellow travelers revealed that not a single one of them saw him- or herself working for Google in five years. Marissa Mayer took this news calmly, claiming that such ambition was why they had been hired in the first place. “This is the gene that Larry and Sergey look for,” she told me. “Even if they leave, it’s still good for us. They’re going to take the Google DNA with them.”

Baum, it turns out, was one of the APMs on that trip.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald