I did a startup in 1998 by applying AI to the lead generation and qualification problem. It was early. The data was not yet rich enough.
Now, the data is there. Can the problem finally be solved at the right level of sophistication?
Sramana Mitra: Let’s go to the very beginning of your journey. Where were you born and raised?
Jonathan Spier: I’m a California guy raised in San Diego. I came up here to go to school at Berkeley. I was never able to escape again.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after Berkeley?
Jonathan Spier: I went briefly into consulting and then I landed at a company called Ariba. I was the number 85 employee. Within a few years, we were 3,500 people. It was a fun place to be.
Sramana Mitra: We have the Ariba case study. Keith Krach was on the series.
Jonathan Spier: He was a great leader. That whole team was amazing. I was the youngest person they hired. It was a really senior team they had by the time I joined. I got pretty much hooked on growth ventures.
Sramana Mitra: What year did you leave Ariba?
Jonathan Spier: 2002.
Sramana Mitra: What happens after that?
Jonathan Spier: There had been the whole nuclear winter here in Silicon Valley. It took a long time to build back up. I went off and got my lobotomy, which is a Harvard MBA. That was a great experience. I intended to start a company eventually. In 2004 leaving business school, I founded a company against my will.
Sramana Mitra: Why was it against your will?
Jonathan Spier: What they would have said back then is go learn from other people first and eventually start a company. That has changed. People are now encouraged to start companies right away. A lot more folks do that early in their careers.
Sramana Mitra: I started my first company in graduate school at MIT. I didn’t go to business school.
Jonathan Spier: Did lots of people do that?
Sramana Mitra: That first crop of internet entrepreneurs, a lot of people were doing that. I did my first company in 1994. Then my second company in 1997 and third in 1999. At that time, people were doing that. The period that you were describing was nuclear winter.
Jonathan Spier: I remember going to Silicon Valley Bank to deposit my seed funding. I remember they were surprised that an entrepreneur was there. I was excited about the idea. My co-founder was an MIT guy. He invented a concept. I was super excited about it.
Sramana Mitra: What was the idea?
Jonathan Spier: The basic idea was looking at the huge data explosion and the amount of connected information in the world and saying that that information could be very valuable for businesses to mine. Instead of the old approach that was based on a few people, they could, in a millisecond, understand the whole web of opinion. It was a very high-end social listing product that did real well in some of those large Fortune 500 companies.