The ink was barely dry on the check from Intuit when Mint.com founder Aaron Patzer, flush from the software giant's recent acquisition of his young company, wrote a check of his own last month. The happy recipient was 23-year-old Jack Abraham, who I met in Manhattan a couple of days ago and whose website, Milo.com, moved out of beta today with a million unique users and $4 million in Series A financing. Patzer is an enthusiastic participant in that round.
Milo enables shoppers to research items on line and then actually find them in stock at local retailers. So if you'd like to buy, say, Upstarts: How GenY Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business (shameless promotion alert), you'd enter the book's name and your zip code into the site's search engine and Milo would tell you which local bookstores carry it. The site makes money through commissions if you choose to buy the product online and have it held at the store for you. But Abramson says he is also developing a "proprietary tracking system" that will enable Milo to link users to actual foot traffic in stores and to thus earn commission for in-store purchases as well.
It's a very user-friendly site powered by highly complex technology that captures real time inventory and price data from major retailers. Abraham, the son of comScore CEO and co-founder Magid Abraham, helped build the technology and has signed on 30 major retailers with 42,000 stores and 1.5 million products. (Footnote: Abraham also helped build comScore's technology when he was just 12 years old!). He and his partner/CTO John Evans have grown Milo.com's traffic from 2,000 users to a million a month in just about a year. No wonder their Series A round was over subscribed. True Ventures took the lead and was joined by Abraham's dad, Jawed Karim (YouTube), Kevin Hartz (Eventbrite, Zoom), Keith Rabois (PayPal, LinkedIn, Slide), Aaron Patzer (Mint.com), and several other Silicon Valley heavy hitters.
Patzer and Abraham met by chance more than a year ago, on a strenuous 11-mile hike at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. "I was there with my friends and I saw this guy roll up in a car with Mint.com license plates and I thought, that's got to be Aaron Patzer," recalls Abraham. "I bumped into him on the trail and I was picking his brain about Mint. Over the next year, I kept pinging him and he got excited about the company." Neither will say how much Patzer invested; he's not on Milo's board but Abraham considers him a mentor. So I caught up with Aaron last night and asked him a few questions about his first venture investment.
DF: What do you see in Jack that reminds you of yourself?
AP: Jack is young (23), the sole founder (usually it's two founders, one tech, one business), an engineer by training (programming since 12), and yet incredibly articulate in describing his business, its value to consumers, its technical difficulty (and therefore sustainable advantage), and revenue model. He's also good a product designer, despite never having formally done it before - he did much of Milo.com, just as I did the user interface and product specs for the early version of Mint.com.
DF: What are the three things about Milo that makes it a good first investment for you?
AP: 1) Jack, for the reasons above. 2) It's core technology for querying the real-time inventory of all the stores near you is actually very similar to Mint.com pulling data from banks. 3) It has a real business model (lead generation and sales referrals) that is valid now, and 10 years from now. Unlike, for example, the 87 Twitter derivative companies that you see springing up.
DF: Do you think Milo is the next Mint.com (in terms of star quality, growth potential, etc.)?
AP: Milo.com definitely has a solid consumer value proposition: price comparison and product research online, with real-time local availability so that you can get what you want now, rather than waiting a week for shipping. It has a young, bright, articulate, product and engineering focused founder, and an impressive technical team (including one of the original comScore developers). It has a real business model. It's metrics focused, and all the metrics are up-and-to-the-right. And it's got a four-letter domain name that begins with "M". The parallels are uncanny, so of course they'll be successful.
What do you think? Is Milo.com the next Mint.com?
DONNA FENN is the author of Upstarts! How Gen-Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit From Their Success, an exploration of the ways Gen Y is changing the entrepreneurial landscape.
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