Zooomr next big “inch”

Mashable reviewed Zooomr vs. Flickr today. Good review and covers the differences. Mashable wrote: “Zooomr is an impressive effort for a two-man team.” One thing the review didn’t cover is internationalization. Zooomr is ahead of Flickr there, many of its fans are outside the US. We’re so English-centric here in the blogosphere sometimes.

But, that all said, Zooomr has some significant challenges ahead of it. And that’s being kind to “significant.”

Disclaimer: Kristopher and Thomas are friends of mine. I don’t have any financial interest in Zooomr.

Why do we still care about Zooomr?

After all, any other Web 2.0 business that had been down for two weeks would just have been written off. One reason we still care is because Zooomr did pretty well over their two-weeks of hell (they were down for two weeks) by staying visible thanks to live video streaming on UStream.tv.

I can only speak for myself, but I love David vs. Goliath stories. And today Flickr is the one with all the cool branding and many of, if not most of, the coolest photographers. If you get some bloggers together they rarely talk about any other photo sharing site. Even Yahoo’s other photo service, that had more photos, was shuttered in preference to Flickr. It is the Goliath to Zooomr’s David. It +is+ amazing that a single developer got this far.

It’s romantic to know that Zooomr is really only one 19-year-old developer going against, um, Yahoo and CNET and MySpace.

There’s one problem with all of this: Zooomr is getting too good FEATURES WISE. It is starting to attract an audience and that audience means that Zooomr needs to move from an experiment phase to a real professionally-run business. Or, it needs to admit to itself that it can’t be run as a professional business and Kristopher needs to shut it down gracefully and go be gainfully employed elsewhere (he’s VERY employable at this point).

Even today, after being down for two weeks, it’s getting written up on many of the best blogs and is getting some decent reviews. Go back and read Mashable. Zooomr actually won in a few categories and is opening up a new business model: selling photographs for sub-$100 prices.

Flickr is still my favorite photosharing site and Zooomr is still a LONG ways away from gaining trust, not to mention gaining the necessary features to really be considered a top-tier service in the photo sharing game.

I can instantly think of thousands of pictures taken every weekend that’ll be attractive to a Zooomr business plan: wedding photography. When Maryam and I got married the photographer wanted to charge $20 for prints. Sounds like an interesting idea to take to the Web. There’s lots of photographers who are getting Digital SLRs (hundreds of thousands are sold every year worldwide) and many of these photographers are getting good enough to sell their photography online. Especially if you get lucky and get a news event or a celebrity in your lens.

But here’s the rub: Zooomr doesn’t yet have a real datacenter. If it’s really going to grow dramatically they are going to need to have someone running the datacenter and they are going to need big bucks to give a serious effort in the datacenter.

This is why Flickr sold out to Yahoo in the first place: keeping these services running professionally needs to be done by someone with a wee bit more experience than a 19-year-old. Brilliant as he may be. Kristopher himself realizes that, especially given that Zooomr’s datacenter is now inside Zoho’s datacenter (they have millions of dollars of equipment) which is inside a bigger datacenter that’s dominated by racks of Google’s computers (Zooomr’s few servers are surrounded on all four sides by stacks of Google racks).

Zoho just bought a new system made by Rackable that cost around $400,000 in order to compete (stay always up, and always give fast response times). Data center equipment is NOT cheap.

And we’re not even talking about the salaries (Kristopher and Thomas need to pay rent, buy food, etc.) and all the other costs of running a business.

So, why can Guy Kawasaki build a Web 2.0 site with just $12,000 and Zooomr needs a lot more? Well, a few reasons.

1) Zooomr has real value, real community, real users and a real business plan (selling photos could bring in some decent revenues, even though my VC friends are pretty darn skeptical and point to Getty and Corbis as examples of photo selling sites that don’t make much profit).
2) Truemors only has to deal with tiny text files. Get 100,000 users on that and you can run off of a tiny server. Maybe even a co-hosted server (my blog, for instance, is hosted along with more than a million other bloggers). Zooomr’s customers, on the other hand, regularly upload files that are more than 10MB PER IMAGE!! Huge in comparison.
3) Zooomr has tons of competition to compare it to. If it isn’t as fast, or faster, than Photobucket, Flickr, Smugmug, etc. you all will know it and will avoid the service. Heck, me too! Being fast and reliable requires a professionally-run datacenter (and excellence in other parts of the business too).

So, what now? Well, it’s been a nice experiment so far. They have quite a bit of love from the community. Which is why they got some free servers and help from a variety of companies (thank you Zoho!). But, that love isn’t going to extend to the next level necessarily (although it sure would be smart for a big company to use them as a testbed and show what the future of datacenters might look like — imagine if Sun Microsystems or Dell demonstrated its newest computers and showed how much more efficient a startup would be if it chose to use its computers rather than someone else. But that’s really not something I’d bet on happening, I think it’s time for Kris and Thomas to go to Sand Hill Road and explain how they are going to make a real business out of Zooomr).

My advice? You have something like 56 days of free loan on that Sun Microsystems equipment. Make that your deadline. Keep Zooomr up, but spend your days working on a business plan (there should be lots of people who can help out there) and go to Sand Hill Road and get some funding.

One other thought I had: I wish I had the faith in doing the impossible like Kristopher has. He was really down in a deep hole the past two weeks — friends of mine told me that lesser people would have cracked and given up. I saw him off camera and he was really in a tough spot. I told him about when I was in a deep hole in my life and I just tried to make each day a little better than the last. Jeff Sandquist and Lenn Pryor used to tell us on Channel 9 “inch-by-inch.” He really has impressed me by getting the service back up. He could have cried “Uncle” and gone to work for a big company and collected a paycheck like the rest of us but he stuck it out and got those servers back online. The lessons he learned the past two weeks will prove very valuable to him later in life. I hope I live long enough to see him get the success I think is ahead of him.

That brings me to this speech, which is how I’ll end this up. It’s one that Jeff (my boss at Microsoft) used to play for us when it looked like we weren’t going to get our way, or things weren’t getting done. Dave Winer has sent this to me a few times too over the past eight years. Kristopher and Thomas: this is your video. Go for it! We’re cheering. Just remember, 56 days and counting…

75 thoughts on “Zooomr next big “inch”

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  3. “No. I think they should fix the main features first.”

    No. They should probably remove all the stolen code first, then re-implement their functionality. Rather than continue to build on the borrowed code, then change it afterwards.

    The more they develop on the stolen code the harder it’ll be to undo it later.

    They’ll never be able to jump through the legal/lawyer hoops required for the users to sell the photos in a marketplace with the code as is. Without obviously fresh code, html markup, css, images etc, the main money making point of the site can never happen.

  4. “No. I think they should fix the main features first.”

    No. They should probably remove all the stolen code first, then re-implement their functionality. Rather than continue to build on the borrowed code, then change it afterwards.

    The more they develop on the stolen code the harder it’ll be to undo it later.

    They’ll never be able to jump through the legal/lawyer hoops required for the users to sell the photos in a marketplace with the code as is. Without obviously fresh code, html markup, css, images etc, the main money making point of the site can never happen.

  5. calm down bess. 4 posts is enough, most readers have heard enough mindless mba dribble for a lifetime.

  6. calm down bess. 4 posts is enough, most readers have heard enough mindless mba dribble for a lifetime.

  7. “Zooomr homework:
    1. rewrite code
    2. optimize all the web pages”

    No. I think they should fix the main features first.

  8. “Zooomr homework:
    1. rewrite code
    2. optimize all the web pages”

    No. I think they should fix the main features first.

  9. Hardly anyone will say much if someone copy code from tutorial site or book and modify them for personal use.

    However, it is playing with fire to copy code from high profile site like Flickr and apply it to another high profile site like Zooomr. I

    There were business reports on a fake pianoist producing award-winning CDs by copying other performists’ recorded music. They discovered the copying due to the advance technology can track down to the exact note on fraction of time including tactical errors. Luckily the fake pianoist was dead when the public discovered the facts.

    Good comments from everyone.

    Zooomr homework:
    1. rewrite code
    2. optimize all the web pages

    Agree they may not benefit much from VCs. VCs will demand to hire a new CEO and bring in new CTO. It would be better to find a few angle investors and bring in strong developer and perhaps experience admin.

    Age is not a good selling point. Many startup founders are teenagers. They managed to build Web 2.0 sites without serious scaling problems.

    Usually the legal attacks go to CEO. Law won’t consider separation of legal responsibility and technology. CEO goes to jail even if CFO is wrong doing.

  10. Hardly anyone will say much if someone copy code from tutorial site or book and modify them for personal use.

    However, it is playing with fire to copy code from high profile site like Flickr and apply it to another high profile site like Zooomr. I

    There were business reports on a fake pianoist producing award-winning CDs by copying other performists’ recorded music. They discovered the copying due to the advance technology can track down to the exact note on fraction of time including tactical errors. Luckily the fake pianoist was dead when the public discovered the facts.

    Good comments from everyone.

    Zooomr homework:
    1. rewrite code
    2. optimize all the web pages

    Agree they may not benefit much from VCs. VCs will demand to hire a new CEO and bring in new CTO. It would be better to find a few angle investors and bring in strong developer and perhaps experience admin.

    Age is not a good selling point. Many startup founders are teenagers. They managed to build Web 2.0 sites without serious scaling problems.

    Usually the legal attacks go to CEO. Law won’t consider separation of legal responsibility and technology. CEO goes to jail even if CFO is wrong doing.

  11. @ #32

    Amazon S3 is not that fast when accessed outside of the US. That is a major problem for Zooomr, which is targeting users from all over the world.

  12. @ #32

    Amazon S3 is not that fast when accessed outside of the US. That is a major problem for Zooomr, which is targeting users from all over the world.

  13. @ #29 (SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill)
    After all of the negativity swirling around this it’s nice to see a direct competitor willing to lend a helping hand to the Zoomr guys. My $.02 on this? Go after a few angel investors – not Sand Hill Road VC’s, at least not yet. And it sounds like S3 is worth another look?

  14. @ #29 (SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill)
    After all of the negativity swirling around this it’s nice to see a direct competitor willing to lend a helping hand to the Zoomr guys. My $.02 on this? Go after a few angel investors – not Sand Hill Road VC’s, at least not yet. And it sounds like S3 is worth another look?

  15. Thanks for some insight on the issues. Scaling has never been easy, but it’s tough to watch good services suffer this way.

    Having raised money a few times, I have to take issue with your suggestion that they hit Sandhill Rd. Taking on VCs at this point could kill Zooomr. First, they’re in no position to bargain with VCs with no track record of success and such a short fuse in front of them. They’d likely be forced to give up the majority of the equity, control of the board, liquidation preferences, plus take on a new CEO and a short term do-or-die exit horizon. And for what, a pile of servers and networking gear that won’t provide one bit of differentiation.

    Moving to a utility computing model, on the other hand, will let them scale without a large capital infusion. If they really need to add another developer or operator, they can take a bridge-round from an angel or two on much better terms.

  16. Thanks for some insight on the issues. Scaling has never been easy, but it’s tough to watch good services suffer this way.

    Having raised money a few times, I have to take issue with your suggestion that they hit Sandhill Rd. Taking on VCs at this point could kill Zooomr. First, they’re in no position to bargain with VCs with no track record of success and such a short fuse in front of them. They’d likely be forced to give up the majority of the equity, control of the board, liquidation preferences, plus take on a new CEO and a short term do-or-die exit horizon. And for what, a pile of servers and networking gear that won’t provide one bit of differentiation.

    Moving to a utility computing model, on the other hand, will let them scale without a large capital infusion. If they really need to add another developer or operator, they can take a bridge-round from an angel or two on much better terms.

  17. Don, ahh, that’s new. Last time we talked I thought you told me you’re using it for backup.

    Anyway, I’ll put you in touch.

    I’d also love to get a tour of SmugMug for my show.

  18. Don, ahh, that’s new. Last time we talked I thought you told me you’re using it for backup.

    Anyway, I’ll put you in touch.

    I’d also love to get a tour of SmugMug for my show.

  19. Robert,

    Hate to disagree with you, but SmugMug uses S3 as *primary* storage, not backup, for our image library (more than 200TB).

    Oh, and we’re fast. :)

    If Kristopher can’t make it go fast for some reason, I’m happy to give him a hand.

  20. Robert,

    Hate to disagree with you, but SmugMug uses S3 as *primary* storage, not backup, for our image library (more than 200TB).

    Oh, and we’re fast. :)

    If Kristopher can’t make it go fast for some reason, I’m happy to give him a hand.

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