YouTube made Chad Hurley and Steve Chen rich as Saudi kings after they sold it off to Google. They had the chance (and money!) to build anything they wanted — and they did, a brand new company called AVOS Systems. Two years later, and it seems the YouTube duo were a one-hit wonder.
The setup for AVOS was immense: they'd snatched internet-adored bookmarking site Delicious away from Yahoo's mediocre grasp. Fans loved it. The company started to create more sites, expanding on Delicious.
But don't blame yourself if you haven't heard of AVOS' startup stable: most people haven't, and that's why they're so screwed, according to a YouTube alum who's still tight with many former staffers at AVOS. Emphasis on former: the firm has a turnover rate almost as high as the rate it's burning through money, despite a rumoured $US15-20 million funding round and support from Google Ventures. But if you actually look at what AVOS is doing — or "doing" — it's easy to get why it's not exactly a cash cow. It's made a stack of new sites that nobody wants to use.
Delicious itself is free and has no advertisements, which means no money. It's also dropped off the map for most internet denizens, who've fled to other communities, leaving behind a creepy bookmark ghost town, where there was once a thriving site of page-swapping friends. Even the site's "featured" users are only there in spirit: many haven't posted anything in weeks, or even months. "There is constant discussion about whether the product will be shuttered or not," says our tipster. "A Chinese version of delicious was launched, too, and its performance is poor as well."
No one is really sure what d.me is. It started as a link shortener (a la bit.ly), but now looks sort of like a counterfeit New Digg, with all the activity and charm of apocalyptic Old Digg. Its search bar doesn't work.
Dropdot is a website for leaving tips about places on the planet, which is rendered redundant by many, many other existing things. Also — majorly bad (and embarrassing!) sign: a huge number of the "tips" are clearly left by employees around AVOS' San Mateo, CA headquarters, or its offices in New Zealand. This is the content equivalent of inviting your mum to your birthday party. Many listings also just mass-posted by an automated script.
Zeen is another mishmosh kind of site, vaguely Pinterest, vaguely Digg, vaguely interesting, billing itself as "a smart, new way to share what matters." This is code for "We're not sure what this is." The virtual magazines it lets users create are embeddable, but none of them seem to be getting many eyeballs at all.
Finally, there's MixBit, which is just a mysterious landing page for now, presaging "the future of video." So where is it? I want the future now. "[YouTube co-founder Chad] Hurley mentioned at a talk during SXSW that there was a collaborative video service in the works, but even though he said that it was a month away (that was back in march) it still isn't out of the gate yet," says our source. "Predictable that they returned to the thing that made them millionaires: video." He's got a point — it's strange that a pair would create (and sell off) the most successful, beloved thing to happen to moving images since people stopped playing pianos during silent films or whatever the hell, only to return to the medium. It sure shows a lack of faith in the likes of "d.me" and "Zeen."
That lack of faith is reflecting back at AVOS. Morale is bottoming out. There's a lot of churn: "Former colleagues and friends who work (or worked) there were not happy at all," says our source, "and they have all at some point taken me aside and cautioned me against joining whenever my name came up with recruiting." This goes beyond morale problems: "AVOS has operating at a loss since its inception," and even though "everything seems fine on the surface...their office space is mostly empty." Our tipster has heard at length from company engineers "that [YouTube co-founder] Steve Chen clashes with everyone, and eventually they either are pushed out and forced to leave or just fired." It's a pattern, says the tipster, following AVOS as it's hired staff and bought out smaller firms, a trail of silicon blood:
The first designer they hired, — — — — — -, moved from New York to California and Steve pushed him out. — — — — — — — and — — — — — - were fired soon after the Delicious relaunch disaster, and the rest of the team they acqui-hired from Tap11 was gone within about 90 days. — — — — — — - worked there doing communications for a bit but now he's at Mozilla. There is only one person left from their trunk.ly acquisition, — — — — -. — — — — - was brought on before the Zeen launch, but she was fired after spending too much time promoting her own ventures and speaking engagements.
If the YouTube OGs are truly squandering all their money, goodwill, and ideas for things that aren't YouTube, at the very least they can fall back on being millionaires. There's always that.