Crosslink's personalization braintrust

Matt Bowman · December 18, 2009 · Short URL:

With Pandora, and iCurrent, Crosslink Capital has a big bag of new media tricks

 What do Pandora, and iCurrent all have in common?

a) they’re all built on personalized media technology
b) they all have Crosslink Capital as an investor
c) they’re all kicking butt

If you answered “c” (or all of the above), you might be jumping the gun slightly—iCurrent is still young, but with a founder who attracted big investment dollars from the CIA and had his company acquired by Business Objects, and counts Pandora and Like CEOs as colleagues, iCurrent has plenty of promise.

The company is a “Pandora for news,” and is based on the belief of CEO/Founder Ramana Rao that user-curation, assisted by the right level of machine-assisted suggesting, can provide readers with the best way to keep current on their interests. It goes a step beyond RSS readers and behavioral tracking technology, and invites more robust user feeback with a Pandora-like thumbs up / thumbs down option on all news and headlines. It also has a "Frontpage" newspaper feel that's a bit easier on the eye than typical RSS readers.

iCurrent’s biggest competitor is Google News (or iGoogle). Lots of other companies have also tried to break the personalized news consumption code as well, from Pageflakes to Netvibes. But with access to some impressive algorithms (Rao founded social monitoring company InXight that was funded by In-Q-Tel and bought by Business Objects) and the  commercial intelligence that comes from Pandora and, iCurrent could one day make an appetizing acquisition for Google competitors.

Interestingly, all three companies have deep-dive technology at their root—and Crosslink has stepped in at the inflection points, when the companies were turning a corner toward big growth or monetization.

Pandora grew out of the geeky Music Genome Project. After Crosslink invested in 2005, Partner Jim Feuille convinced Pandora Founder Tim Westergren to abandon the subscription model and make the service free and ad-supported. Pandora is now is adding 500,000 users a week with an annual revenue run rate exceeding $80 million in the fourth quarter. started out as a tool to organize photos using its visual search technology in April 2006. Six months later, in November 2006, it changed to, a shopping engine that uses the same technology to help people make clothing purchase decisions. Crosslink injected money in October 2008. It’s now generating more than $20 million in annual sales. Munjal gave a great talk at the Juice Pitcher in October on revenue strategies.

At a time when Big Media is losing its footing and users want more relavent results, Crosslink’s personalization braintrust could prove to be a powerful asset.

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Pandora, the leading internet radio service, gives people music they love
anytime, anywhere, through a wide variety of connected devices: laptop and
desktop computers, smartphones, connected BluRay players, connected TVs,
etc. Personalized stations launch instantly with the input of a single “seed” –
a favorite artist, song or genre. The Music Genome Project®, a deeply
detailed, hand-built musical taxonomy, powers the personalization or
Pandora. Using this musicological “DNA” and constant listener feedback
Pandora crafts personalized stations from the more than 800,000 songs that
have been analyzed since the project began in January 2000.
More than 75 million people throughout the United States listen to
personalized radio stations for free on Pandora through their PCs, mobile
phones and devices such as the iPad, and connected in-house devices
ranging from TVs to set-top boxes to Blu-Ray players. Mobile technology has
been a significant factor in the growth and popularity of Pandora, starting
with the introduction of the Apple app store for the iPhone in the summer of
2008. Pandora instantly became one of the most top downloaded apps and
today, according to Nielsen, is one of the top five most popular apps across
all smartphone platforms.

Pandora is free, simple and, thanks to connectivity, available everywhere
consumers are – at the office, at home, in the car and all points in between.
In 2009 the Company announced that Pandora would be incorporated into
the dashboard in Ford cars via SYNC technology; GM has already followed in
announcing plans to integrate Pandora into its vehicles and Mercedes-Benz
introduced their Media Interface Plus device that works with the
free Pandora iPhone app to provide direct control of Pandora from in-dash
stereo controls. This was all great news for the millions of Pandora listeners
who had been plugging their smartphones into car dashboards to listen to
personalized stations while driving. More than 50 percent of radio listening
happens in the car, making it a crucial arena for Pandora.

Today tens of millions of people have a deeply personal connection with
Pandora based on the delight of personalized radio listening and discovery.
These highly engaged listeners reinforce the value Pandora provides to: 1)
musicians, who have found in Pandora a level playing field on which their
music has a greater chance of being played than ever before; 2) advertisers,
who benefit from the multi-platform reach of Pandora, as well as its best
practices in targeting consumers for specific campaigns; 3) the music
industry, which has found in Pandora a highly effective distribution channel;
and 4) automobile and consumer electronics device manufacturers, who have
noted that incorporating Pandora into their product makes it more valuable
to consumers.

Pandora continues to focus on its business in the United States. The radio
arena has never been hotter, thanks to technology that enables radio to be
personalized to the individual and more accessible than ever before. Right
now millions of people listen to Pandora in the United States and we hope
someday to bring Pandora to billions of people around the world.

• 2000 – Tim Westergren’s Music Genome Project begins.
• 2005 – Pandora launches on the web.
• 2008 – Pandora app becomes one of the most consistently downloaded
apps in the Apple store.
• 2009 – Ford announces Pandora will be incorporated into car
dashboard. Alpine and Pioneer begin selling aftermarket radios that
connect to consumers’ iPhones and puts the control and command of
Pandora into the car dashboard.
• 2010 – Pandora is present on more than 200 connected consumer
electronics devices ranging from smartphones to TVs to set-top boxes
to Blu-ray players and is able to stream visual, audio, and interactive
advertising to computers, smartphones, iPads, and in-home connected


Joined Vator on is a visual search engine for shopping for soft goods (clothing, shoes, handbags, jewelry, etc).  Our unique value is our ability to search inside of photographs looking at the color, shape, and pattern of an item to help you find similar items.

Munjal Shah

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