Updated: Aug 1
A friend asked me what I thought about him taking a job offer at MIX.
“They're the new version of StumbledUpon. They want me to improve their recommendation engine, to keep the users they have with 'better recommendations,' and to get new users by recommending them 'better' content.”
Hmm... “This is yet another startup looking for you to save them with tech,” I told him. He'd been down this road many times. As a seasoned data scientist, failing businesses reach out to his ML, NLP, and AI programming background, looking for him to come in and fix them—code collaborative filters and recommendation algorithms that will attract and retain users.
MIX is yet another SaaS site that has no real differentiators, other then to die-hard brand advocates of StumbledUpon. And a rec engine isn't going to fix MIX.
“Their platform is a marketing play,” I told my friend before he accepted the position.
“This isn't a tech fix. They need some solid differentiators, and a plan to stay ahead of competitors, and tightly targeted marketing campaigns to brand and sell their ever evolving UVPs. All that's marketing.”
Six weeks after my friend was hired, he was fired, along with the entire rec team. The CEO was right to do so, even though he'd authorized every job requisitions to hire the team of data science engineers. Some had been with MIX for years. They were shocked to be abruptly terminated, as was an H1B employee, who, suddenly unemployed, found himself at risk of being deported.
MIX doesn't have near the reach that Google has, nor the communities Reddit, LinkedIn and Facebook have built. They don't need a correlation/recommendation engine at this point in their development. Three or more years into MIX's launch, they still don't have enough users to garner quality affiliate advertisers.
The CEO should have seen all of this, but his background, other then entrepreneurship, is data science. He is an engineer, who got lucky with his first entrepreneurial endeavor. StumbledUpon launched in 2002, the same time Google was getting popular. The platform, “discovered web content with a single click,” according to Wikipedia. I got on it for a year or two, until Google provided what I needed, and onsite search tools became more accurate. StumbledUpon's value became nominal, so I stopped using it. My behavior is typical. Growth, and retention, are continuous hurdles for most businesses.
Getting lucky with his first offering integrated the CEO into the startup and VC communities, which propelled him to his next, now infamous mobile app, and then his incubator. Being one of the many startups in his investment arsenal, he may not be aware of what is missing from MIX. As an engineer, it's typical he'd think every problem can be solved with more tech, which is likely why he hired engineers, not personnel to build a pro marketing team. But if MIX is looking to host quality affiliate ads, it needs many 'quality' users. And to get these users to their site, then excite them to join, and stay engaged on their platform, is NOT a tech fix, but a marketing play.