5 Questions For Albert Lai, CEO Bubbleshare

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Prior to BubbleShare, Albert Lai has been involved in founding and launching a variety of start-ups for over a decade in the fields of educational software, electronic marketing, online publishing, e-commerce, peer-to-peer software, and commercialization of alien technologies.
He loves photography, small animals, and coming up with crazy feature ideas. During his spare time he likes long walks on the beach (except when it’s snowing in Toronto), candle lit dinners, being grilled by prospective investors, and writing silly little bios like this one I forced him to write just now.

One Degree: It was great to see you at Torcamp.  I’d lost track of you after MyDesktop but I always assumed you were up to amazing stuff.  What have you been doing since selling MyDesktop To JupiterMedia? Fill us in on the last five years or so.

The first thing I did after selling MyDesktop in 1999, which at the time was the largest technology focused media network in Canada, was to work on starting a spin off from MyDesktop called BuyBuddy, and raising the first round of financing from the U.S. We had bootstrapped MyDesktop, and wanted to see what it was like to go down the venture capital route.  BuyBuddy was one of the first comparison shopping engines on the net, and an early implementation of the concept around paid search/referrals (We got paid for referring qualified leads to e-commerce partners.)

After BuyBuddy I spent roughly two years traveling back and forth from Silicon Valley while working on a p2p storage software company called IdleAgent that was founded on the premise that there were vast amounts of storage capacity going unused, and that there was a commercial opportunity to bring some far ranging research down to a real world backup application level to aggregate and virtualize this unused capacity. The vision was to do this using self-healing, and self-optimizing software agents distributed on PCs across the network.  Unfortunately, I founded this around the same time the NASDAQ plummeted and no one was interested in funding far-ranging visionary ventures that required any sort of runway before revenues/profitability.

Most recently, I started BubbleShare.  We built BubbleShare to be the best way to share photos and tell your stories online.  With BubbleShare, our users can immediately create photo slideshows or albums – without registration – and narrate their photos with their own voice right inside their Web browser.

One Degree: BubbleShare rocks.  Really.  It rocks. This is one of the smoothest online apps I’ve seen.  Finally someone is using all that Web 2.0 ajaxy goodness to aid the average person rather than making more eye-candy.  Well done!  Can you tell us a bit about the design decisions you made with BubbleShare?

Our development philosophy as refined over the course of the past year with our team stemmed from a number of pains we found in existing offerings. We wanted to (1) focus on solving a real world pain/problem better than anyone else by simplifying the experience (e.g. allow users to quickly and easily share photos with friends and family, privately), (2) create a service that solves big enough real world pains that people would actually want to pay money for (some announcements on that are coming in the near future), and (3) lower all barriers to adoption (read point number one) so as to allow for viral and quick adoption. Although you’re interviewing me, BubbleShare is FAR from a one-man show. We have the most talented, passionate group of developers and designers around. This includes Chris Sukornyk and Stephen Gay, with their simple philosophies that make BS easy to use; our lead developer Terry Gregory, who is constantly pushing the envelope; and Mazdak Rezvani, who got our Mac users excited with the iphoto plugin, which would have never made it into the release if it wasn’t for him developing it in his SPARE time.

One Degree: The most obvious thing about BubbleShare right now is the lack of a revenue model. When and how will you start making money from this thing?

We have a premium services model that we’ll be rolling out shortly. We also have some very innovative revenue strategies that have worked in other sectors that have not yet been applied in the photo arena that we’ll be rolling out in the 2006.

One Degree: Can a consumer-oriented start-up like BubbleShare succeed in Canada?

I think so. But being in a country where the venture community is a relatively conservative certainly makes starting a B2C company such as BubbleShare difficult. Consumer technologies are naturally more “hit-driven” than other types of businesses as compared to other B2B businesses. But there are a few things going for B2C start-ups in Canada, more now than before.

For example, it used to cost a lot of money to set up a hardware/software infrastructure. This is no longer the case with open source software and the low cost of hardware and bandwidth. It also used to be difficult to get the word out without spending lots of money. Today, with the power of blogs and search technology, it’s a lot easier to get viral spread if you have a compelling product. This makes for a lower cost of start-up and operations, reducing the requirement for vast amounts of capital to get going, reducing the amount of risk involved for entrepreneurs and investors alike to get going.

Today, the cost to “get going” is probably 1/4th or less than it used to cost. This means that there’s lower risk for venture capital and angel investors to get into the consumer Internet and software game. There are great examples demonstrating that you don’t have to be in the B2B space to do well. Just look at a recent successful B2C example: Skype. It started as viral technology, with little infrastructure, built out of a small corner of Europe and ultimately built a multi-billion dollar exit for itself. The company could have been founded anywhere really. But what made the difference is the savvy nature of the entrepreneurs. The next Skype could happen in India, China, Greenland, or heck, even right here in Canada!

But frankly, you do have a competitive advantage by being in a hotspot like the Valley or NYC for tech and advertising. There’s sometimes just no substitute for face-to-face discussions—even with, well, things like Skype.

One Degree: Are there lessons you’ve learned in creating BubbleShare that you think apply to Internet marketing in general?

In the technology business, it’s tempting to get into an arduous development cycle that stresses quantity over quality-throwing incredibly crazy features into your product because you can, to make it do the next big this or the next-next big that. But a lot of companies lose their way getting caught up in a feature race, when what people really want are powerful tools that are easy to use. If you want to win in a radically complex world, there’s one philosophy that we’ve taken that I think can be applied to a lot of different industries and categories, its also the tagline of my blog Simply Albert Simplicity is the ultimate Weapon of Mass Disruption. Want to build disruptive innovations? Just keep it simple.

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