Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part interview.


Todd Masonis, one of the co-founders of the red-hot California-based software company, will be in Durham on Saturday to tell the CED’s Entrepreneur 04 conference the Plaxo story. Despite headlines and money today, the journey has not been at all easy – and for a long time meant no paychecks.

If you aren’t aware of Plaxo, you probably will soon be among the millions of users who are signing up for the free, easy to use contact software that has gone from zero to 3-million plus fans as of August. Plaxo has raised $20 million in venture capital — including heavyweight investors such as Sequia Capital and Cisco — and is now preparing a commercial grade of Plaxo, which will require a payment.

Masonis won’t be selling Plaxo as much as he will be seeking to help other men and women who hope to turn their own idea into a Plaxo-type success.

“I heard about CED through Jason Caplain at Southern Capitol Ventures. Jason and I had been talking about finding a way for Plaxo and his portfolio companies to work together,” Masonis tells Local Tech Wire. “In the process, he invited me to present at Entrepreneur ’04.

“I wanted to attend the event for two reasons: First, the Plaxo application is built upon sharing contact data with your friends and colleagues and demands users’ trust. There are a number of ways to build that trust – a strong product, a strong private policy, doing the right thing with the users’ data, but there is no substitute for getting out there and putting a face on the company, saying what it is all about, and ‘spreading the Plaxo word.’

“The second reason is that it was only a few years ago when I would attend these conferences, as an audience member, and would sit there and think, ‘I can do this too.’ So by presenting my story, I hope that some people in the audience will think, ‘I can do this too’ and go for it.”

First step

In an email exchange coordinated by Caplain, LTW asked Masonis what the key message, or sound bite, that he wanted entrepreneurs to remember from your session.

“Though it is a lot of work and there are a million reasons why a start-up can fail, the only way to make it succeed is to take that first step and get out there and do it,” he said. “No amount of research, advice, or analysis is as important as taking the first step. If an audience member is thinking about starting his/her company, they should just do it.”

Masonis co-founded two other ventures before teaming up with Sean Parker, who helped launch Napster, and Cameron Ring to launch Plaxo. ( Masonis and Ring were both engineering students at Stanford.) LTW asked what frustration or “pain point” did the three see in founding Plaxo.

“The original pain was felt most acutely by Sean Parker — As a young founder of Napster, Sean was meeting a lot of people very quickly and had to keep track of them. It was quickly apparent that people’s contact information goes out of date almost immediately,” Masonis explained. “Technology wasn’t providing any solutions either – in fact it was making the problem worse. People were getting new mobile phones with new numbers, and email addresses were changing all of the time.

“Sean, Cameron Ring, and I came up with the idea for Plaxo while trying to find a solution for this problem. Plaxo aims to create a connected address book network where each user maintains his or her own information and that information automatically stays up to date in all of his/her friends’ address books. In addition, we quickly realized that in order to solve this problem, not only would we have build a great product, we’d also have to build an enormous user base.”

Fail, fail – succeed?

Masonis and Ring had worked together before, attempting “to start companies during the Internet bubble with only limited success.” The fact they weren’t successful didn’t dry up the entrepreneurial spirit.

“It was through those failures that we learned about building a product, talking to VCs, courting the press, etc,” he said. “Even though those companies didn’t work out, we gained valuable experience that we applied to Plaxo.”

Correction: Amazon is not an investor in Plaxo as reported Thursday. Information provided to LTW was incorrect.

Part Two: The building of Plaxo.

For information about the CED conference, see: www.cednc.org/cgi-bin/irCom.pl?92069/1/db/351/0/0/28/0/0/0/2157