Interview with Kimbal Musk, OneRiot

Our profile today is with Kimbal Musk, CEO of Boulder, Colorado-based OneRiot (, who sat down with us and explained a bit about the firm's services, it's evolution from a browser sidebar, and where the firm is focusing on next.

Thanks for the interview. First off, for those not familiar with OneRiot, what is the site all about?

Kimbal Musk: OneRiot is a social search engine, that lets you find the pulse of the web--what people are talking about, whether that is news, videos, or products. The way we gather that information from people, is we have a number of very popular toolbars that users opt-in to share their activity. We gather that all together, and create a real-time index, based not on search, but what people are surfing today.

Why do people use your site?

Kimbal Musk: They use our site to find out the pulse of the web, and what is important to people right now. It fills a very important niche in search. While Google and Yahoo do best on long tail and navigational searches--such as finding out the health effects of olive oil, or typing in an address on a map--they don't do a good job on browse searches. Forty percent of searches are browse searches, for example, typing in "Barack Obama" to find out what's going on. They're not trying to get to the White House web site, they want to find out what Barack Obama is doing today.

Your firm started as a browser sidebar, Me.dium. Can you talk about why you transitioned out of that, and why?

Kimbal Musk: We were doing our sidebar for four years. The core technology was a real time index, which allows people to share what was important to them. Our first iteration was the Me.dium sidebar, which allowed people to see what websites other people were interested in. It was quite successful, but we found out that when we put a search box in, and gave people the ability to search for what people were surfing, there was an order of magnitude more searches. We shrunk that toolbar to a very straightforward toolbar with a search box. You can use the search box to find topics, and to connect you with your social network. We released that under the OneRiot brand, to exclusively focus on social search.

The firm is venture funded, isn't it?

Kimbal Musk: We are backed by a very strong team of investors. From Denver, we have Commonwealth Capital and Appian Ventures, and from Boston we've got Spark Capital.

Elon Musk (Editor's note: co-founder of PayPal, and well known Silicon Valley investor and executive) is an investor as well, isn't he? How did that come about?

Kimbal Musk: Elon is my brother.

We didn't realize that... Back to the company, what's the revenue model for your firm?

Kimbal Musk: We have a partnership with Yahoo. In addition to OneRiot, you can get long tail search through Yahoo, and as part of that deal we have access to their ad network.

When did you decide that the sidebar wasn't the way to go?

Kimbal Musk: We had a great response, and great reviews on the searching side. But, we figured out that the issue was that people wouldn't use the sidebar. They didn't want the sidebar, because it took too much space. We found people would close the sidebar, but still use the search. That told us that what people wanted was a search product.

Given your position looking at browser add-ons, what's your opinion on where the browser market is nowadays--are things like Google Chrome affecting your plans?

Kimbal Musk: The big monsters are Internet Explorer and Firefox. Google Chrome is not on our radar yet. Safari is also a big player, and we would do them first before Google. At the end of the day, it's a question of whether browser companies support the add-on community. Google Chrome and Safari don't, they keep the system closed.

Speaking of the search aspect, do you compete with search engines like Google?

Kimbal Musk: The important thing is we're now competing with Google, instead, we're complementing what's there. If you want to get to a Wikipedia page, you use Google. But, we believe what we provide is a very unique view of the web out there.

What's next for your firm?

Kimbal Musk: We're focused very much on the pulse of the web, related to news. We're realizing what's new is related also to video, so we'll be adding top videos on the web right now. We'll follow that up in the summer with products on the web--things like digital cameras, to tell you what the top digital cameras are right now, and where to buy them.

Finally, how big is the company now?

Kimbal Musk: We've got a small office in San Francisco with two people, and twenty seven people here in Boulder.