Kevin Chou, 28, is chief executive of two-year-old Watercooler, a company with $4 million in venture funding that has built applications to bring together couch potatoes across five social-networking sites.
Kevin Chou’s Mountain View, Calif., startup could be seen as a celebration of sloth.
Chou, 28, is chief executive of two-year-old Watercooler, a company with $4 million in venture funding that has built applications to bring together couch potatoes across five social-networking sites. Sports and television fans on Facebook, MySpace and the like use Watercooler’s technology to congregate virtually around blog posts, message boards and trivia quizzes the way they might congregate around the water cooler at the office. Get it?
The company just launched a stand-alone Web site, TVLoop.com, that allows the two or three people on Earth who are not Facebook or MySpace members to connect with television fans already using networking sites to yammer about TV.
I sat down with Chou for a semiregular feature I call The Off-Kilter Q&A. Our talk has been edited for length and clarity.
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Q. What’s your favorite TV show of all time?
A. I would say “Star Trek.” Sadly enough, “Star Trek.” I could watch reruns of “Star Trek” forever.
Q. I personally know people who went to check their Facebook pages some time last summer and have not resurfaced. They’re buried in this stuff. It’s addictive. Does the world really need more social networking?
A. I think that social networking for social networking’s sake is, maybe, a well-served market at this point, with very well-established players. But I think this idea of taking different things that people are used to doing in real life and helping them do it in a digital way, I think it’s a model that has a lot of potential.
Q. The economy is collapsing. Yet you and other business leaders in Silicon Valley are starting businesses that amount to a bet on the future. Is there something about Silicon Valley that inspires optimism? I mean, you hear about it a lot.
A. You take a look at the statistics for startups. Some 90-plus percent of startups fail. So you wouldn’t start a startup unless you had some irrational kind of confidence. I think the best advice I ever got was: The No. 1 thing you should do as an entrepreneur and founder of a company is to build a really great team. Not just a team that’s really able to build great products and execute a vision, but also a team that has a lot of fun together and is enjoyable to be with. Because even when things get really bleak from a business standpoint at least you have people that you want to be around.
Q. As a CEO what do you owe the people who work for you?
A. We try to create a very open-communication type of environment. The financials of the company, the financing of the company, partnerships and so forth. Every month, every employee knows how much we’re making, how much we’re losing, people know how much money we have in the bank.
Q. Do you watch a lot of TV?
A. Not nearly as much as I used to. I watch all of my major shows online now because I don’t have TiVo or a DVR at home. So I watch “Heroes,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “The Office” and “Scrubs.”
Q. Did you watch a lot when you were growing up?
A. I did. I was an only child. I grew up in a small little town where there wasn’t very much to do. So I watched a tremendous amount of TV. I loved “Small Wonder” [in which a robotics engineer builds a little-kid robot]. That was one of my first sitcoms back then.
Q. OK, favorite sitcom of all time?
A. I have awful taste. I really do. The other sitcom I used to love watching was “Married with Children.” I’m really embarrassed to admit that. That show just cracked me up.
“Married With Children”? Maybe Chou should ease up on himself. He’s not the only Al Bundy fan out there. In fact, on his very own Web site you can find 1,693 of them.
I know. Another sign of the apocalypse.
Mike Cassidy is a technology columnist
at the San Jose Mercury News.