After co-founding and leading CNET (from which this blog issues forth) from obscurity to Web stardom, Halsey Minor started 12 Entrepreneuring, raising over $130 million to incubate Web services companies before flaming out during the 2001 bubble bursting. One of the few incubated companies to survive 12 Entrepreneuring's dissolution was Grand Central Communications, which provided a hosted SOA integration hub.
I interviewed Minor [video here] in August 2004 about Grand Central, which he characterized as similar to salesforce.com in terms of leading the software-as-a-service wave in the enterprise. As an integration platform, Minor said that Grand Central was taking advantage of the massive industry shift to Web services and standards, and was the beneficiary of "the biggest IP [intellectual property] give away in history." In October 2004, Minor put up $50 million of his own money to form On Demand Venture Capital Fund, which was initially chartered to provide venture capital for startups that would would be customers of Grand Central's hosted integration platform.
Grand Central wasn't able to capitalize on the IP giveaway, become the hosted integration hub for thousands of enterprises or provide investors a return on investment. Now Minor is recapitalizing the company and attacking a more focused problem with a new operating company, Swivel, which currently exists under the Grand Central Communications, Inc. umbrella. In fact, the Grand Central Web site has replaced the product information about the Grand Central integration platform with the Swivel product description, although the Swivel name isn't used.
Swivel is applying the Grand Central hosted integration platform concept to hottest Web space--online advertising and e-commerce. According to the Swivel Web site, the software service helps monitor ad spend, site traffic, conversions and other metrics across popular Web commerce platforms, such as Google AdSense, Amazon Associates, or Yahoo Publisher, tracking real time stats and optimizing revenue across all programs.
Under "Coming Soon" is integration with salesforce.com (Minor was an early investor in the company), PayPal, Intuit, eBay and various shopping sites. If you have blog or sell products across various online shopping sites, such as eBay and Yahoo Shopping, Swivel is designed to aggregate and synchronize the data, send out alerts and provide dashboards and business intelligence for optimizing revenue generation. According to the Web site, Swivel is currently working with a limited number of beta users.
I left messages for Minor with his assistant, but didn't hear back from him yet. However, I did talk to Grand Central board member Richard Bergmann, president and CEO of Avexus, about Grand Central/Swivel. After an estimated $60 million in investment over the last five years and just a handful of customers, the writing was on the wall. "Proof of the offering was there and the business benefits were clear, but the adoption rate by the Fortune 1000 wasn’t," Bergmann said. "The Grand Central vision was a little ahead of its time, but the demand will be there—it’s just manifesting itself among early adopters who aren’t going to be spending millions on infrastructure."
He cited concerns about security, existing business process models and confidentiality among the reasons Grand Central stalled. As Bergmann put it, “Adoption rates weren’t meeting investor expectations.”
In August, Grand Central’s management team came up with a new strategy, leveraging Grand Central's software assets, but addressing a target market that didn’t need to be sold on the virtues of software-as-a-service. With a more lightweight offering and pricing model, Grand Central (Swivel) hopes to attract publishers, marketers and shop keepers who spread themselves across Amazon, Google, eBay, Yahoo, MSN and other sites, which are already service enabled. Former BEA and current Grand Central executive Brian Mulloy is rumored to be Swivel's top executive.
I asked Bergmann about supporting the handful of existing customers, and whether Grand Central would be going away or become a holding company. He indicated that the since the August reformulation, a majority of Grand Central resources have been focused on the on-demand services space. He also said that a recapitalization of the company is underway to bring in new funding. “As [Grand Central] comes out with a clean model, it will reposition itself to get a new group of investors who believe in the new model,” he said.
Belatedly, Minor and company seem to be embracing some of the Web 2.0 business logic. Instead of going after the big hosted services home run in large enterprises ahead of the curve, optimize for the long tail with a lightweight, trusted subscription service that the end customer understands intuitively.