Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Interview with Stan James, Founder and CTO, Lijit Networks
Stan James is the Founder and CTO of Lijit Networks (www.lijit.com), a Boulder, Colorado-based startup that is developing browser extensions to help web users identify safe web sites. The company came out of Stan's master's thesis, recently landed a round of angel funding from Brad Feld, Seth Goldstein, and other local angels, and we thought it would be great to hear about the company and how it came about.
Techrockies: Tell us a bit about Lijit -- where'd the idea come from, and what's the story on how the company came about?
Stan James: One weekend while I was away in Germany I was surfing around and a window popped up asking "You must install such-and-such software to view this site. Do you want to install it now?" It was a well-known adware company and I wouldn't have thought much of clicking "No", except that I had just spent the entire previous weekend helping my Mom clean up a particularly bad adware infestation. She must have answered "Yes" to just such a window. I knew this company's reputation by reading about them in tech blogs, but what chance did my Mom have? I don't expect her to read SlashDot. To her they are just a bunch of names: Norton, 180Solutions, Macromedia, Claria, and so on.
Then the idea hit: Wouldn't it be great if my Mom could just say "I trust Stan and would like his opinion before answering this question?" But even better, wouldn't it she would automatically be put in touch with the blogs and other people that I trust. So even if I don't know the answer, someone that I trust might know better. It's true social networking, just like you would do it in the real world.
From there it was natural to also include the positive side where people could also recommend good resources that they've found. So for example, when I view a restaurant website I can see that several friends of mine have recommended it.
Techrockies: What was it that made you decide to take the big step, and take your thesis and make it a company?
Stan James: The short answer is the blogosphere. I released the first version of my software and hoped that a few people might try and like it. But it spread like a firestorm from blog to blog, showing up on such notables as Slashdot and BoingBoing. It was clear that I had touched on something important, something people wanted.
Through this publicity, I met Seth Goldstein who in turn introduced me to Brad Feld here in Boulder.
Brad introduced me to Todd Vernon and the rest is history.
Techrockies: Talk about the software and how it works--I see it's a Firefox extension you can load into your browser?
Stan James: Lijit is a combination of a website and a browser extension. (And with our latest release we now support Internet Explorer as well as Firefox.) The website is used to add trusted people to your network, see who's new, and see what's popular. But you're right, the main juice of Lijit is in the extension. As you visit pages, the extension displays real-time information in the sidebar from your trusted network about the pages you view. This information might be the simple fact that a friend of yours has bookmarked it. It could be a comment on the customer service of an e-commerce site. It could be a detailed analysis of the company's political contributions. It could even be a warning that the page contains spyware and you should run away--just the sort of advice I wish my Mom had been given back when this all began!
Techrockies: It looks like you've raised some funding, can you tell us a bit about the round and where it's coming from?
Stan James: We raised our angel round of approximately $566K on August 1st. The angel round was designed to give the company enough runway to make key short term milestones before raising a venture round investment late in the year.
We had approximately 15 angel investors, most technology based people from the Boulder community. We are lucky to have Brad Feld and Seth Goldstein on our board of directors as well as investors in the company.
In addition the majority of employees were investors in the company as well.
Techrockies: Thanks for the interview, and good luck on the company!