Silicon India covers KnowNow...
Wed, 15 Aug 2001 11:18:45 -0700
From the Department of Self-Aggrandizement.. :-)
The Garage is Still Alive
By Alan Park
In a period that witnessed the single largest corporate death march in
the history of the Internet, two unlikely entrepreneurs beat the odds to
get their idea from the garage to the open market. Now they want to
fundamentally change the way the Internet works.
Adam Rifkin and Rohit Khare (pictured above) are ready for this.
Eighteen months after the two decided to ditch graduate school and set
up a little R&D shop in a Seattle warehouse, they are finally out of the
garage. Their company, KnowNow, Inc. - flush with a new CEO, an elite
staff, and strong backing from Kleiner, Perkins, Caulfield & Byers - now
inhabits a modern, airy space in the high-rent district of downtown
Mountain View, California.
Their product has a potentially huge market: software that effectively
turns Web browsers into mini-servers and transforms the Internet from a
request/reply communication process into a fluid, two-way data-flowing
experience. Yet just two days after emerging from stealth mode to
officially launch the company, Khare and Rifkin are as calm and
unaffected as, well, two guys in a garage.
"What's radical about this is that we don't invent anything new," says
Khare matter-of-factly about the technological innovation that spawned
KnowNow. "Instead, we intelligently implement what you already have." To
hear Khare tell it, today's browser is like a telephone, or at least as
ubiquitous and useful to business as a telephone. "But if you believe
that," says Khare, "the browser is a telephone that doesn't ring.
There's no way for anyone to call you at your browser and say, 'Hey,
you're out of stock,' or, 'This price has changed.'" The KnowNow
solution consists of an event router that acts to keep a continuous
connection open between the browser and the server, and a
real-time communications over the Internet without the need for users to
download plug-ins or perform any installation.
In other words, Web developers can use KnowNow technology to deliver
instant updates to users' browsers without them having to initiate a
request. Not only that, but users can now "publish" updates to other
users subscribing to the same information instantly now that their
browsers can act as mini-servers. Although the archetype for what Khare
calls "Internet-Scale Event Notification" is as simple as instant
messaging, Khare and Rifkin want to extend the model to enable
businesses to seamlessly integrate disparate applications at the network
level - the next step, Khare insists, in the road to the "real-time
Event-based integration inside enterprises has been around for a while,
with companies like Tibco leading the pack. The challenge, says Rifkin,
was "to take that technology and instead of applying it to local area
networks, distribute it across the Internet."
That challenge began when the two founders of KnowNow met at California
Institute of Technology almost nine years ago. Rifkin was a graduate
student studying event-based computing; Khare was an undergraduate
working on some of the same issues. During the next few years they
formed a close friendship and a working relationship that resulted in a
number of co-authored research papers.
They also developed a small but influential following through the
creation of an online community known as the FoRK (Friends of Rohit
Khare) mailing list, in which they bantered about ideas and opinions on
everything from distributed systems to popular music. Finally, sometime
around Thanksgiving of 1999, they decided to take the ideas they had
been working on and go out into the real world. "We both had mid-life
crises," says Khare, 26, about himself and Rifkin, 31, without a trace
of sarcasm. "So, we said, 'Let's do it.'"
Not that getting here was easy. Moving to Seattle left Rifkin 1,000
miles away from his wife for most of the past year, while Khare commuted
from Southern California on a regular basis. At one point, a car
accident in which Khare broke his foot put him in a wheelchair for more
than two months. Like most entrepreneurs running early-stage startups,
the duo also had to face the multiple challenges of developing their
technology, managing a small but growing staff, and selling themselves
to anyone who would listen. This last challenge was ultimately the most
difficult hurdle they would face.
DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME
"This is a great time to start a company, right after the crash," says
Khare, "but it is not a great time to start a company with zero
experience." It is just that lack of industry experience that Khare and
Rifkin believe made it difficult for them to secure venture capital for
their fledgling company. While VC firms responded to the potentially
huge market for their product, they were hesitant to believe that the
two could create a successful company. Nearly one year and more than 100
VC pitches after they began, Khare and Rifkin were still waiting for
someone who could see the big picture.
That's where, in perhaps one of the more unlikely endings to this type
of story, Kleiner Perkins came in. According to Khare, "Ours will be the
only entrepreneur memoir that will begin with 'So we took this deal with
Kleiner because they were the only VC that understood us.'" In fact, say
the founders, it was a perfect fit: Kleiner loved the idea, and had the
experience and industry weight to attract the top management talent who
could take it to market.
While many entrepreneurs struggle to retain absolute control over their
companies after receiving funding, Khare and Rifkin seem content to
relinquish that type of control for what they consider to be more
important: influence. By creating an influence-based culture, one that
gives individuals within the company control over their own functional
environment, Rifkin believes the company will ultimately stand a better
chance at success.
"We are lucky in that we are surrounded by people who are excellent at
execution," he says, "so we basically still have the charter to
innovate." He and Khare now occupy a space where they can exert
influence without having to take care of some of the day-to-day
operational hassles of running a company.
Make no mistake, however: Khare and Rifkin are nothing if not ambitious.
They see themselves as evangelists leading the masses toward the next
generation of the Internet. Eighteen months after the two began the
journey from a tiny Seattle R&D shop to a shot at being Silicon Valley's
next big thing, that's just where they want to be. Says Khare, "I want
everyone to raise their expectations of what the Internet is capable