To Me, This New Social Networking Idea is Just Brilliant

Scott McNealy knows how to create the kind of cutting-edge high tech that makes money for his investors.

Lots of it.

You probably know McNealy as a cofounder (in 1982) and CEO of Sun Microsystems. For more than 20 years, his Silicon Valley-based firm set the standard for computer servers and workstations.

Sun also created the widely used Java programming language that still runs of billions of computing devices around the world and is a key contributor to open-source software.

Not only did McNealy and his tech firm help change the world forever, they brought an incredible payoff to investors along the way.

Sun went public in 1986, and it sold to Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ:ORCL) in 2009 for about $7.4 billion.

As a long-time tech writer, I have followed McNealy's career for many years. And when I heard that he is the force behind a new startup, I decided it was time to find out what he's up to these days.

I got the chance to chat with him by phone for about half an hour the other day.

After hearing firsthand from McNealy about his latest startup, my first thought was, it's no wonder an elite group of investors has already ponied up about $20 million to back this idea.

Scott McNealy's Latest Gem

It's a company called Wayin.

This social network startup is built on the power of a simple but vital idea - creating a global community of users who tap the service to get feedback from a large group of voices on any number of topics.

Think of it as instant polling or focus groups for questions of education, human resources, politics, games, entertainment, and more.

It used to take weeks or months for companies to get customers or workers to weigh in with their opinions.

Now with Wayin, they can do it on the fly along with a larger audience from around the world.

As such, Wayin plugs into the huge appeal of social network leader Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB).

It also works well with Twitter, a service that allows members to send out short messages of up to 140 characters to their followers. Both online firms have become runaway success stories with several hundred millions users around the world.

Here's how McNealy describes his new firm:

"With Wayin, we thought the one feature of social networking that doesn't seem well addressed and actually has huge value is the one-to-many conversation. Another way to think about that is, how does a superstar or a celebrity engage their fan base? How does a brand engage their customers? How does a company engage their employees or their shareholders, suppliers, or their resellers, or partners?

"So, we said, why don't we build a tool that would allow one-to-many conversations for those groups to their clientele or to their fan base or whatever? So, that's really what we did.

"We decided to start building out the user base through the enterprise, through employees or people who are following things that matter to them, like their sports team or their favorite singer or their politician of choice, or their government agency or their teacher or whatever.

"Now, we have reasons for people to go to the website that are part of their everyday and committed life. We give you the opportunity to create a conversation, post evocative pictures or URLs or video or audio.

"We typically start the conversation with a question that offers a choice of answers. We keep score, we allow comment and dittoing of comments. And we are building a database that then becomes very useful to somebody to understand their mandates or client base or whatever their constituency that they're following."

So far, Wayin seems to be making all the right moves.

It's already got several large clients. These include the Denver Nuggets, the PGA Tour, the National Hockey League, and George Washington University. McNealy doesn't disclose sales figure but says they have doubled or tripled every quarter this year.

And they recently launched an add-on called Twitpolls. This service enables people to gather real-time feedback from their Twitter followers. For instance, a speaker could send out a poll to the audience and provide the results before concluding the talk.

To me, this is just a brilliant idea.

I talk to a lot of heavy hitters in high tech and I can tell you they all have - and use - Twitter accounts. With Twitpolls, they could get fast feedback from their followers without having to leave their Twitter page or wade through hundreds of comments and try to boil them down to simple answers.

And then there's the play on a hot new trend called "big data."

With the Web, companies now have reams of data to sort through to launch new products or rate current ones. That approach is tailor-made for selling data to large firms, which is a highly profitable business model.

"We're creating a very interesting portfolio [of data]," McNealy says. "It's a user-generated, opted-in portfolio of demographics, confirmed intent, confirmed sentiment, confirmed knowledge, and confirmed interest."

Combined with his background at Sun, McNealy has had no problem finding investors to back Wayin. Some of them include:

  • Frank Luntz, who is famous for doing high-impact focus groups and who often appears on Fox News.
  • Robert J. Fisher, a son of the founders of Gap Inc. who serves on the clothing store's board of directors.
  • Burt Sugarman, the Hollywood producer married to Mary Hart, former anchor of Entertainment Tonight.
  • Larry Sonsini, a lawyer with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a Silicon Valley law firm that is one of the world's top tech advisors.
  • Chris Galvin, the former CEO of Motorola and grandson of its founder.

I believe this could become another huge success story for McNealy. It fits right in with the Era of Radical Change, and it has a unique take on the huge mobile wave I've been telling you about.

And I'll tell you something else.

Just when nearly everyone else is predicting our nation's failure, I get a chance to talk with someone like Scott McNealy, and I find yet another good reason to be upbeat about high tech and the future of our country.

As long as we have guys like this around - and give them the means they need to succeed - there's just no problem we can't solve. I do believe technology can save America.

What do you think?

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About the Author

Michael A. Robinson is a 36-year Silicon Valley veteran and one of the top tech and biotech financial analysts working today. That's because, as a consultant, senior adviser, and board member for Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Michael enjoys privileged access to pioneering CEOs, scientists, and high-profile players. And he brings this entire world of Silicon Valley "insiders" right to you...

  • He was one of five people involved in early meetings for the $160 billion "cloud" computing phenomenon.
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This all means the entire world is constantly seeking Michael's insight.

In addition to being a regular guest and panelist on CNBC and Fox Business, he is also a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter. His first book Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings warned people about the coming financial collapse - years before the word "bailout" became a household word.

Silicon Valley defense publications vie for his analysis. He's worked for Defense Media Network and Signal Magazine, as well as The New York Times, American Enterprise, and The Wall Street Journal.

And even with decades of experience, Michael believes there has never been a moment in time quite like this.

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To help you navigate the historic opportunity in biotech, Michael launched the Bio-Tech Profit Alliance.

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