Q&A with Primal Fusion

November 30th, 2009 | Posted in Company Profiles by

Kristina McDougall caught up with Founder Peter Sweeney and Director of Product Design Robert Barlow-Busch to talk about product strategy, attracting top talent, and what the future holds.

Kristina McDougall: You’re starting to put beta releases of your product into the wild. Tell me what you think your solution will eventually look like, who will use it, and your long-term plan.

  • Peter Sweeney: Our flagship app is essentially a personal research assistant where you spend a little time brainstorming and we find, harvest and organize information that’s important to you. We call it <a href="http://corp slimming tablets that work fast.primalfusion.com/blogs/ideas/2009/02/03/thought-networking-primal-fusion-product-launch-at-demo/”>Thought Networking, and what offers is a way for customers to generate and select content that is relevant to them.

    For 2010 we have 5 different products that we’ll land. They’ll be babies, but they’ll show people what is possible with the technology.
    – Peter Sweeney

    From a business perspective, you can look at it as a producer of content. The problem that publishers, retailers, service organizations and other content producers have is that it is tremendously expensive to aggregate, organize and archive content.

    Our business model serves two markets. We serve consumers who might use our product and we can help producers solve their content manufacturing challenge.

    Either way, we’re exploring a better way for people to get stuff done online.

Congratulations on your strong finish in the Red Canary Hotstarts survey. You ran away with the title of Best Tech Team. How have you built a team in a region where competition for technology professionals is so intense?

  • Robert Barlow-Busch: I think Primal Fusion’s technology is a big part of that. Our semantic synthesis brings together computer science and knowledge modeling and has the potential to provide value to different industries.

    Even if something isn’t fully baked yet, we can start learning from it immediately.
    –Robert Barlow-Busch

    The appeal of getting involved at an early stage in something so fascinating has been a big draw, but I think our secret is that we offer our people big challenges, too.

    People can really stretch themselves and influence the next big wave on the Internet.

Given that there is such a broad application for the technology, how do you as a start-up not try to do everything at once, how do you stay focused, and where are you in that process?

  • Peter: Our strategy is based on differentiation, on building a new category of activity online. The mistake that you can make when entering a new category is to take an overly direct approach, to assume that you know what thought networking is going to be and create a product that you assume people will use. That’s misdirected.You can’t predict how a new market is going to evolve around a new technology. The only way to address it is to hedge by placing a number of strategic bets across a series of different product markets, then watch to see who is clamoring for it and who is repulsed by it.

    How do we build a product whose category does not exist? You have to land a product as early as you can. Then listen.
    –Peter Sweeney

    We are spending lots of time exploring products and talking to people. The range of reactions has been either outright joy that we’re working on these problems or outright repulsion that we’re working on these problems.

    The challenge is daunting, so our approach has been careful. We make a number of small product investments in a handful of different market areas. For 2010 we have 5 different products that we’ll land. They’ll be babies when we land them, but they’ll show people what is possible with the technology.

    Based on the reaction we get, we’ll let the market pull us to the next iteration of the product. For consumers who want information that is scattered all over the place, the technology can organize that in an automated fashion.

  • Robert: We have to stay true to that and really listen to the people who are trying the technology and seeing what we are doing. So that we really understand why the people who love what we are doing, love it and also why those that don’t, don’t – and respond. It’s very much about being a learning organization.

    I believe we have assembled the best group of angel investors that this region has ever seen.
    –Peter Sweeney

    One of things we talk about here is when is something good enough. We would rather err on the side of putting something out too soon than holding onto it too long. Because even if something isn’t fully baked yet, we can start learning from it immediately. The challenge is getting things out as soon as possible – and engaging a market to find out what they think of the product.

Are you under pressure from your investors? How much runway do you have?

  • Peter: There is enough financial backing to get us there. We have a tremendous and astute group of investors, and we have a world-class group of advisors. They are strategically-minded and understand that a new category solution requires a certain amount of investment, patience and runway.
  • Robert: The bulk of our energy has been spent getting the foundation of the technology in place. Knowing that we could take it in a number of directions, we developed our strategy and research and got all of our ducks in a row.So while it is true that there is not much in place in terms of a product portfolio that is clearly communicative of what we are doing with the company, 2010 is the year that we get more stuff out the door and our story becomes clearer.
  • Peter: Right now we are defining a new category and investing time with several strategic bets and listening to the market. We have thousands of people who are investing of their time to tell us what this thing needs to look like, which is invaluable.We’re starting to see what thought networking is going to look like and we’re not there yet, but you just wait. In the next couple of releases you’ll see, and people will be shocked how quickly this thing comes together.

What keeps you awake at night?

  • Peter: We are building a foundational technology and a suite of products on top of that. And it seems like a large start-up with 35 people, but when you spread 35 people across that much work and that big a challenge it is really about going shoulder to shoulder and getting stuff done. A new category makes it all about you and your internal strategy and execution.I don’t lose sleep though. I think this is the best team that I’ve ever worked with. The challenge is huge, but we’re up to it.

Waterloo has a great start-up culture and supportive community, but it has also been described as insular. What advice would you give other young companies that want to take advantage of local resources, but grow beyond their local geography?

Waterloo is a beachhead, and we can use the community solidarity and then get out in the world and show people that Waterloo is a top-notch tech cluster.
–Peter Sweeney

  • Peter: The region is tremendous – great organizational support. Waterloo is a beachhead, and we can use our community’s solidarity and then get out in the world and show people that Waterloo is a top-notch tech cluster. You need to get out and build relationships in your market, and use the people in the community to expand your network.
  • Robert: There are many communities, including regional communities, but also communities revolving around market segments. Use social media, it is inexpensive to get out there and then your physical location is of secondary importance.
  • Peter: I also recommend getting on a plane and meeting with customers – nothing beats building a relationship face-to-face. You don’t have to be extravagant, but you need to get out there. There is no such thing as a local Internet business – you need to think globally.

Being a technical founder, how do you not get caught up in the technology or fall in love with the technology, at the expense of the customer?

  • Peter: You have to be thinking about solving problems, and you have to think about what you are doing in the language of solving a customer’s problems. You need to do it to raise money, you need to do it to attract top talent, and you need to do it to build a technology and move the product forward.I recommend just getting very focused on the problem. It is absolutely core.It is often technical insight that brings to light new benefits and capabilities that the market is missing. But when it comes time to bring that to a commercial business, you must have defensible IP, market position and a real business idea.

Who should a founder hire first?

  1. Someone to look after the finances
  2. A great product manager who can look at customers
  3. A great technical lead

What kind of positions are you hiring for right now?

  • We’re looking for a Director of Community Marketing to help us consolidate and nurture our communities, plus product managers with strong business and technology acumen, and a product manager to work on the content producer side of the business. We’re looking to add about 5 people.

Thanks guys

  • Peter: Thanks to you, too.
  • Robert: My pleasure.