Mok Oh, Ex-PayPal, Joins North Bridge to Build “Consumer Big Data” Startup
When last we heard from Mok Oh, he was done with being chief scientist at PayPal. That was October, and the Boston-bred entrepreneur and veteran of companies like EveryScape and Where was on the move. We speculated he would dive back into the early stage startup world.
And we would be correct. I got a tip that Oh has hooked up with North Bridge Venture Partners, which has offices in Palo Alto, CA, and Waltham, MA. No, he’s not becoming a VC. Reached by phone this morning, Oh says he has joined North Bridge as an entrepreneur-in-residence, working out of the West Coast office on a new startup. “The whole point is to start another company,” he says.
Oh was pretty mum about details—his new venture is in very early stages—but he’s working with North Bridge general partner (and Silicon Valley hotshot) Jonathan Heiliger. Before joining North Bridge last April, Heiliger worked at Facebook as vice president of technical operations; served on a number of boards, including Jive Software, OneID, and the Open Networking Foundation; and also had experience at Walmart and Loudcloud (now Opsware/HP).
Oh’s new startup— “I’m not ready to name it,” he says—will focus on what he calls “consumer big data.” Before your eyes glaze over from buzzword syndrome, Oh explains that it’s about “pushing relevant content to you” based on tying together and analyzing your personal data—from things like social media, photos, videos, inboxes, contacts, and calendars.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? There are probably 800 startups trying to do something that sounds similar, whether it’s creating smart notebooks to keep track of daily information, pushing related info about contacts and meetings, or understanding social-media conversations.
But Oh says he’s talking about something deeper. “What can we do to service consumers better?” he says. “You have your own data. From all the data you own, what kinds of insights and predictions can we make?” He wouldn’t get too specific, but you might imagine that a smart algorithm could look at your calendar, see you have some free time, and suggest that you write or visit a friend or family member who shows up in your old pictures. (Purely hypothetical example.)
Oh admits that an issue that interests him personally is, “What are some significant things and moments and people in our lives, and how do you measure those qualities of your life?”
Knowing his expertise, I would guess the new company will use machine learning, natural language processing, analytics, and computer-vision techniques to try to “understand” each consumer in a personal way. One thing Oh is clear about is that he’s coming at it from a consumer-centric viewpoint, not an enterprise or ad-tech perspective. “This is definitely pro-consumer,” he says. (Which is easy to say when you’re just starting out, anyway.)
Thinking longer-term, this kind of technology eventually could compete with the Apples, Googles, Facebooks, and Nuances of the world. Imagine a smarter, predictive Siri; a proactive Google; heck, even a smart Instagram would be useful.
For now, Oh is concentrating on filing some patents and building his founding team. (The company isn’t incorporated or funded yet.) One good sign so far is the chemistry between him and North Bridge’s Heiliger. As Oh puts it, “The precise nerd-speak is there.”