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October 30, 1999
Yodleeing Their Way to the Top
A P Kamath
He had reasons to get upset.
For Singh was spending sleepless nights and days with five guys from IIT, Madras in the backroom of a Sunnyvale building -- slogging her way for over 12 hours a day. All this, to launch a new product and start a new company. She rarely went home.
The way Singh and her buddies tell stories about themselves and laugh, you may think these guys are preparing to be desi stand-up comedians. How could you take anyone seriously when they tell you that they have named them company Yodlee, perhaps because they remember a Kishore Kumar from the Shammi Kapoor movie,Andaaz?
But you do know this team of young men and women, including Singh and Melanie Flanigan, who would become the director of marketing communication of the new firm, have added another chapter to Silicon Valley's history.
They have launched Yodlee.com, which as Venkat Rangan, its co-founder and CEO says, "is delivering on the true promise of the Internet - to make people's lives easier."
Yodlee.com, launched as a Beta version recently, provides consumers with one-stop consolidated access to their personal Internet accounts, including e-mail, banking, news, travel, shopping, bills, and investments.
"With the launch of Yodlee.com, I can now find all my personal information on the web in one place," says Sabeer Bhatia, founder of Hotmail, who was one of the angel investors in yodlee.com.
On October 26 about four months after they had raised $ 2 million from angels such as Junglee and Exodus, Yodlee.com completed a $ 16 million first round of venture funding led by Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital. Yodlee.com also announced that Bud Colligan, partner at Accel Partners, and Mark Stevens, partner at Sequoia Capital, joined Yodlee.com as directors.
Started with a handful of people, the Sunnyvale-based firm has 45 employees.
Nearly a dozen students from Stanford and other universities who interned in summer for Yodlee.com loved the atmosphere and challenge of working for the company they decided to skip a semester and work for it. Some may not back at all.
"What would the professors at Stanford do without their students," a visitor asks the founders, who laugh loudly.
Yodlee.com is the brainchild of five Internet entrepreneurs -- Venkat Rangan, a professor at the University of California, San Diego and an internationally recognized pioneer in multimedia; Sam Inala and Ramakrishna "Schwark" Satyavolu from Microsoft; Sukhinder Singh from Amazon.com and Junglee; and P Sreeranga Rajan from the Stanford Research Institute. The founders -- who are in their mid-20s -- are credited with more than 80 published works and 30 patents.
Yodlee is supported by an elite group of private investors and advisors, which includes the founders of Hotmail, Junglee, Exodus, and Integrated Systems, as well as executive leaders from Amazon.com, Netscape, Microsoft, Checkpoint Software, AT&T, AOL, and VXtreme.
"You hear stories about many Silicon Valley projects started in a basement here," says Satyavolu. "In our case, it started in a basement in Seattle. We thought we would scare up Bill Gates.
"We were convinced that we wanted to do something of our own," says Venkat Rangan, reminiscing of their fascination with the Internet in IIT, Madras, and how the passion continued when he and his friends arrived in America for graduate studies. "We were reading every other month about start-ups being sold for several hundred millions."
For several months, as the team brainstormed and argued and debated about their future product, there was hardly any time to sleep.
"Eight hours a day to us was half a day," says Rangan. "If you asked us what our favorite wish was, we would have said, a bunk cot."
The Yodlee team analyzed web sites in a dozen categories to figure out how they accept and transmit data. Their firm could then stream the data off of those sites and present it to the consumer in one place.
Thus users could see their Hotmail messages, Amazon.com account updates, and Monster.com job searches on one home page. The data would be presented to the users as a link.
"Instead of a user going to over a dozen sites, we make sure these sites come to you," says Rangan.
One of his partners chimes in: "Think of us as the providers of sliced bread, which is easier to eat. There is so much of a mass of information out there on the web. We slice it and dice it up for you, making it easy to eat."
Discussing the evolution of their vision, the partners point out how the web continues to grow at an explosive rate, and so does the personal confusion.
With over 3.9 million web sites, an expected 350 million Internet users, and hundreds of consumer service providers coming online, consumers are looking for a way to easily access and manage their own personal network of information on the Internet," their vision statement says.
"Yodlee.com is the first service specially designed to cut through the growing Internet maze."
"It's complementary to a lot of personalization services," says Sukhinder Singh, co-founder and vice president of business development, adding that Yodlee.com provides a central location with links to more than 600 Web sites.
"Yodlee tracks your specific account activity across a multitude of sites. It's a way to manage your life online. You can get one-click access to all your accounts in one place," says Singh.
You log in from Yodlee using one password with multi-account access. Since Yodlee.com is server-based, it's available any time.
To create your very own page, select an ID and password and enter your e-mail address. Next, choose links from 12 information categories.
A reporter recently chose The New York Times and Travelocity for starters since she is a registered user at both sites. When she clicked to get to my page, she was greeted by an error message asking her to try back later due to excessive web traffic.
"That's one constraint. We're as slow as the web site is," Singh said recently. "It's one variable we can never determine when retrieving information and refreshing."
But Rangan points out that such complaints are few.
Given the intense debate recently, and the questions author Simon Singh poses about Internet and privacy in his book, The Code Book, one invariably asks the question, How secure is this site?
Yodlee.com uses secure sockets layer protocols, multiple firewalls, and intrusion-protection technology, Singh told reporters recently. All data is encrypted and stored at a third-party data center that is kept under continuous surveillance.
"The explosive growth of the Internet has heightened the need for personalization services like Yodlee.com, which makes users' time on the Internet more relevant and productive," says Mark Stevens, partner, Sequoia Capital.
"This is the first service we've seen with the breadth of content and depth of services to provide real value to a large consumer base. We're very excited to be part of the growth and evolution of Yodlee.com."
Yodlee's biggest challenge may not be competitors, but instead convincing consumers to try out a somewhat new idea, David Card, analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York was quoted as saying in a magazine.
In a recent Jupiter survey, consumers were asked whether they would rather fill out forms online themselves, have the forms filled out automatically by an application on their computer, or by a site with which they were comfortable. Fifty percent said they would rather fill out the forms themselves.
"Clearly there's a barrier, which I suspect is privacy and trust-related," Card said. "Apparently, there's serious concern from consumers and already some resistance in terms of selling these. Is this an interesting idea and one consumers might be interested in? The answer is yes to both, but there's some education involved."
The Yodlee.com guys are not fazed. Given the enormous amount of press they have received from Upside magazine to Forbes.com, they are convinced they don't have to look around for daytime jobs.
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