Sparkbuy founder Dan Shapiro doesn’t like talking to people on airplanes. But on a trip between Silicon Valley and Seattle late last year, the entrepreneur started a conversation with the guy sitting next to him, which happened to be Google’s Matt Klainer. That chance encounter, along with a previous meeting with Google Kirkland site director Scott Silver, led to the search giant’s interest in Shapiro’s new search engine for consumer electronics. Google snapped the company up this week just six months after it was started, leading to one of the quicker outcomes we’ve seen in the startup business.
Sparkbuy’s service is being shut down as a result. But Silver, for one, is excited to have Shapiro’s entrepreneurial energy at Google. “The way that Google stays young and fresh and is able to execute on great ideas … is to make sure that entrepreneurship is encouraged,” said Silver, adding that Shapiro can help set that tone.
Shapiro, who previously merged Ontela with Photobucket, could have continued to build Sparkbuy on his own without the support of Google. But the 35-year-old entrepreneur said that would have been a tough proposition. Here are some excerpts from the GeekWire interview:
Why did you want to join Google? “When I think about what’s awesome about doing a startup, there are a lot of pieces about it. But one of them is the opportunity to create a vision and bring that vision to life and see it blossom. And there’s a long path from the beginning to the end of that…. It takes a long time to build the kind of scale that really lets you bring your vision to the broader audience. So, this is absolutely just for me the best of both worlds…. While the teams are still small here, so you can still get a lot done quickly, the audiences are much, much bigger.”
You are an accomplished entrepreneur in Seattle. So, why not turn down Google and go for something bigger? “Maybe that is an economic way of looking at it, or something that I am unfamiliar with. When I am running a startup, I am running it really for just two constituencies: for the shareholders and for the team. And this was awesome for the shareholders and was awesome for the team. It may not have been as awesome for people who were looking for news stories or in the peanut gallery, but there was no question, for Sparkbuy, Google was an awesome outcome by every metric.”
Does that mean there wasn’t a big enough opportunity to do it on your own? “The opportunity is huge, or we wouldn’t be here in the first place. There is a phenomenal opportunity. The question is: at what size and what scale and how fast can we go after it? And this was just strapping turbo chargers on a really exciting business.”
On gaining scale: “The concepts and ideas that we put into that business are just going to get to see an amazing scale that would have involved a lot more work and a lot more struggle and time otherwise.”
Aren’t you a startup guy and won’t it be hard for you to operate inside of Google? “I spent half of my career inside big companies, Microsoft and RealNetworks, most notably, so I know that world. This is something that I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t realize, but if you look at the big picture world that happens to startups, there are really three things that happen: IPOs, acquisitions and bankruptcy. So, if you take out bankruptcy and realize that IPOs are very tiny percentage of the outcome for startups, most startups wind up being bought by somebody and those entrepreneurs wind up working for whoever the acquirer is. I wouldn’t be doing startups, if I wasn’t excited about the idea of taking the business and energy that comes from startups and transferring that into a bigger organization. That’s kind of a part of the deal.”
On joining Google: “There isn’t any other big company that I’d be anywhere near as excited about…. It may not make any logical sense, but whether you are an investor or an entrepreneur, being acquired by Google is pretty awesome, just at face value. There are some bragging rights that comes with that because Google has had such fantastic outcomes with some of its great acquisitions, things like Android really set the stage for how a big company can go and bring a small company into the fold and use that to drive innovation. You can’t bat 1,000 with those things, but Google I think has had tremendous success.”
What are you going to do inside Google? “I am still figuring that out.”
Do you have a team you are overseeing? “That’s what they tell me. I really haven’t gotten out of the conference room circuit. I just finished showing proof of U.S. citizenship so they let me on campus tomorrow, so I am still taking care of the basics.”