Diane Francis on Business Issues

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Business Issues: The next disruptive technology

My column National Post Jan. 17, 2006:

CAMBRIDGE -- A chance meeting between Salim Ismail and his eventual partner Bob Wyman has led to the creation of one of the Internet's more promising technologies. Both were looking to relocate in New York City back in 2000 and ended up sharing an apartment.

It turned out that Wyman had a revolutionary technology idea and Ismail had business smarts and money.

So the two created pubsub.com which has proven it can do what Google cannot do: Google searches the past based on your search specifications. Pubsub takes your search information, watches for you and alerts you instantly the second what you're interested in appears.

"We are the other half of Google, and we complement them. Google is retrospective search and we are prospective search. In other words, Googles searches the past and we search the future," said Salim in an interview at a recent conference at Harvard that we both attended.

Google news alerts and eBay auction alerts are similar but glacial, sometimes taking days to notify users, in comparison to Pubsub's split-second matching capability.

"No one can match our speed of three billion matches per second. We have a unique algorithm, and as far as we know, nobody has ever been able to do what we've done," said Salim. "It makes information active rather than passive."

The "engine" is based on Bob Wyman's expertise and experience. He is
the CTO at Pubsub and an Internet pioneer who developed predecessors to Lotus Notes and the first known wide area network hypertext system, among other innovations.

Salim is Pubsub's Chairman and a Waterloo graduate in theoretical physics who gravitated toward business and computers. He has worked in Europe as a management consultant for ITIM Associates in London where he led projects to restructure NatWest Bank, Philips NV, Carlson Wagonlit, then graduated into entrepreneurship in the U.S.

In essence, their "engine" does what vastly more expensive systems developed by financial institutions do to alert traders to shifts in prices or volumes. And it does this in a split second.

Currently, Pubsub is ready to go to the next level. Its service is up and running to attract customers and to prove to future investors that its technology is scalable, fast and comprehensive.

So far, Pubsub has extended its matching capability to 20 million blogs, Securities Exchange Commission filings, earthquakes, U.S airport delays and news wire services. More content streams will soon be added.

Pubsub also private-labels its services to CBS and its news outlets, who tell users "tell us what you're looking for and we will let you know the instant it appears."

Like any tech start-up, Pubsub has built its technology and operates its 20-person enterprise based on "angel" investments totalling about US$4 million raised from 26 investors. Its principle "angel" is Vancouver investor, Lance Tracey. Lance invests in new technologies but is also a partner in The Sutton Group, the large Canadian real estate broker with 190 offices and 8,400 agents.

In a recent interview in Vancouver, Lance explained his bet on Pubsub.
"It's an awesome matching engine. It's brilliant because it means you don't need hundreds of thousands of servers like Google and others," he said.

The applications are universal and answer the "whenever" question. This technology, once expanded, will be able to tip off users the instant specific automobiles, jobs, concert tickets, cheap flights or goods and services are published.

"For example, if you want to know the instant U2 tickets come up for sale near where you live, this technology will be able to let you know; there's no point finding about it a month later on Google, said Salim.

Salim's last business, called New York Grant Co., helped its Lower Manhattan business clients make successful grant applications in the wake of the 9/11 catastrophe. He then launched Pubsub and loves the business world.

"It was at Waterloo that I got into entrepreneurship. I ran out of money as a student one semester so I made chili and sold it to other students, then I hoarded beer before a beer strike and made a big profit," he said. "I had just finished a course in entrepreneurship."

He began studying to be a civil engineer, as his father was, but changed his mind.

"I needed a technical degree but hated civil engineering. When I learned that the second-year curriculum had a course called `concrete' I just couldn't bear the thought," he said. "I was fascinated by physics."

His parents remain in Ontario, and he loves Canada because its an "elegant halfway house between the American and English ways of life". But he says for him New York has the best lifestyle and business opportunities of the any city in the world.

"A deal that would take eight months to do in Canada, takes six weeks here," he said. "New York is not conservative and the way of doing business that's evolved here is exceptionally advanced."