Marilson Campos, CTO of Whojini
BayBrazil: What is Whojini?
Marilson Campos: Whojini is a service that allows you to request, store and search information from people you know and trust. We leverage Social Networks (Facebook) and email groups (Yahoo groups, etc) to propagate requests to friends and friends of friends.
Social Networks are good for publishing information, but they are not designed to organize and retrieve knowledge. That’s where Whojini comes in.
BayBrazil: You have a Beta version for now. How are users reacting to it?
Marilson Campos: We’ve launched an initial version and tested our product with selected group of about a thousand users. The feedback has been very good but lots of users strongly want some features that we don’t offer yet. We are in the process of completing this wish list before we start heavily promoting it.
BayBrazil: What is Whojini’s business model?
Marilson Campos: Our model is based on delivering high value online ads. By storing information about user’s needs and the need of their friends we can figure out what kinds of products and services would be more relevant to each user and deliver more relevant ads to them. With more relevant ads we can deliver a better return on investment for the advertisers. There is a company called Aardvark, recently acquired by Google that also uses some of the same ideas we are focusing on.
BayBrazil: So private companies will use Whojini to boost their social media marketing?
Marilson Campos: Yes, companies can create marketing campaigns that leverage knowledge stored in Whojini.
BayBrazil: How much traffic do you expect to generate in countries like Brazil?
Marilson Campos: We need to be close to our users in order to figure out their needs. That’s why we have started locally first. After this initial phase of product rollout, we plan to use local partners in Brazil to test the product there.
BayBrazil: Internet privacy is a growing concern worldwide. How will it impact social networking?
Marilson Campos: One of the companies I’ve worked with in the past was releasing a social component of their product in 17 countries. It was a nightmare. You have to realize that with social networks any user would have a different set of options of how to control his/her privacy depending where they are located. The complexity comes when any interaction between two users have to take into account both policies.
Another issue is educating users about what should not be published. A corporate lawyer friend of mine told me that the first thing that he recommends to his clients is to remove any information posted on Facebook.
I believe that the power of social networks is visible at the hundreds of applications that it enabled. A substantial part of these services is going to go away, but few will continue to flourish and will become platforms. The idea is that users don’t want to belong to 20 different networks.
LinkedIn for example has been able to retain a large part of the business network, while Facebook acquired more the personal relationships.
The question is “How do I avoid that my grandmother is bombarded with messages from my professional friends”. This is just one dimension of the problem.
As social networks continue to grow across borders it will be natural the emergence of international standards for privacy.
BayBrazil: You left your hometown Rio de Janeiro after leading the design of Cade.com.br, now part of Yahoo. How was your transition to San Francisco?
Marilson Campos: I moved here in November 1998. My goal was to sell a product based on the technology we licensed to Cade. My Company in Brazil partnered with a Berkeley based company specialized in software sales and marketing. During the first year we struggled to find the sweet spot in the market for our products.
After one year operating this way it was clear that was not a good fit. I decided to make some changes to the product and transform it into a toolkit used to create Internet portals. After repositioning the product we were able to get several large consulting contracts and also retain large long term customers.
On the personal level, I have to say that I have been lucky to land here at San Francisco Bay Area. This is a wonderful place to live. People here tend to be very open and friendly like in Rio. Also, I had to fine-tune my professional communication skills. The Brazilian culture has different ways to convey urgency, congratulate and express concern; I spent lots of time learning how to adjust to it.
BayBrazil: What are some of the challenges to lead engineering teams?
Marilson Campos: As a technical leader you are responsible to manage “Innovation & technology risk”. This relates with making sure that technical decisions are backed with real data. The leader doesn’t need to be an expert in everything but needs to be able to drive the process.
Additionally, it’s important that the team understands that they will be measured not only on “What” they do, but also on “How” they do it. This relates with collaboration with others, personal attitude and going above and beyond to make sure that the project is successful.
Engineering leadership is an extensive subject and despite the many academic books available there are few sources of practical information about it. I, along with several friends, wrote a book called ‘Leading in Silicon Valley” that tries bridge this gap describing in practical terms “what worked” and “what to look for” when you are leading engineering teams.
BayBrazil: How has been your experience as a Brazilian CTO in the Silicon Valley?
Marilson Campos: The Silicon Valley is a cosmopolitan place. In general people don’t care where you came from as long as you deliver results. It’s important to notice that most CTO’s end up leading a group that is composed with people from all over the world. Also, here you can rely on the help of very specialized experts to perform critical tasks. This experience of wearing many “hats” in software development helped me to see the big picture while being able to capture the low level view of some important points.
BayBrazil: How managers can succeed at leading culturally diverse teams in the Silicon Valley and abroad?
Marilson Campos: This is a very complex question. A general recommendation is to try to understand the best practices used in software industry but then step back adapt these practices to fit into the culture of their teams/company.
If I had to pick two things to follow, I would list: “No Surprises” rule and “Definition of Done”. The “No Surprises” rule, states that you want to know about bad news as soon as possible. This will give you time to find alternatives. Communicate that to your team clearly.
The “Definition of Done” relates to how you define that a piece of software is done. In general there are several tasks that are required for the work to be done that are not “part” of the project. Well, they should be. Done means: “I can make the module live now with a click of a button and the users will be happy with it”.