I had a great conversation with Rob Monster of Epik.com a couple of days ago. I ended up with so many scribbled notes from that call that this is going to end up being a multi-post interview. I’m just not sure yet if it will be two parts or three. I hate to cut anything out of this one. Rob has a strong background and a vision for the future. Talking to him gave me a sense of his passion for his vision.
Mike: Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Who is Rob Monster?
Rob: I’m Dutch-American, based in Seattle. I grew up in the Netherlands and in Philadelphia. I spent the summer time with my mother’s family. They were all farmers. I received my undergrad and MBA at Cornell. Then I went to work for Proctor and Gamble in Germany for 4 years and 5 years in Japan. I moved to Seattle in 1999 to start my first company, Global Marketing Insite (GMI) and it grew about 100% per year for seven straight years. I raised $48 million in private equity as part of that enterprise and remain a large shareholder and director.
In 2007 I spent a couple of years angel investing and started domaining as a hobbyist. Then in March, 2009, I came up with the concept of Epik, based on creating something really game changing in the in the domaining/developing world.
Mike: What is your overall vision for Epik?
Rob: Two levels, one element is empowering domain developers and a new generation of Internet entrepreneurs to be able to build income producing websites that they can operate without having a deep technical background. It should be possible for a generation of Internet entrepreneurs to be able to build online businesses but not have to master the subtleties of DNS and PHP.
The second aspect is a bit more audacious. That is to play a significant role in capitalizing the rearchitecture of the internet. Not to talk so much publicly about web 3.0 or semantic web, but a big portion of what we are setting up to do in building this network of developed domains is also applying certain elements of the unified architecture to every new domain that we develop.
Mike: How do you decide which submitted domains will be developed?
Rob: I approve every name that goes onto the network. The idea being, with each new site, where does this fit into the larger ecosystem. Just as in designing a city, you might have some design assumptions on where should city hall be, the numbering system for streets, where should the airport be relative to down town… When you get to a city that works, it’s pretty obvious it’s well designed.
Mike: How does that vision compare to the Internet we know today?
Rob: The Internet, in its origins, is very much like the wild west. Things just happened organically, bit by bit. The structure has kind of evolved, but not with an eye toward architecture or design planning. As a result, to some extent, the internet has become overwhelming to a lot of people.
Mike: How does Epik fit into this picture?
Rob: Part of what we are doing with Epik is taking an architectural approach to finding what pieces go with what pieces and to create a more intuitive, more useful, and more user centric version of the Internet that can take things to the next level.
Mike: I have seen some of the Epik portal sites. What is the concept supporting these?
Rob: What we are essentially talking about here is federating or distributing Amazon. The person looking for a particular type of goods may not be the same person looking for housewares. You can federate the web and have different types of information on different domains as opposed to having everything residing in one massive repository. It’s implausible that any one company is going to be best of breed at everything.
At some point, the Amazon model with cease to scale because there will be subject matter experts that can tell you detailed minutia about scuba diving gear and they don’t work for Amazon. The degree to which we can bring together content, community, and commerce into these federated sites, we are building a framework of a web that works better.
Mike: How does this apply to other types of sites?
Rob: The same principle applies to, for example, directory portals. Just as we have yellow pages, it is possible to federate yellow pages so that there is a yellow pages for a metro area, a yellow pages for people looking for a certain type of service provider. By creating these segmented sites that cater to a particular audience, we are creating the ability for content, community, and commerce to converge.
Look for part 2 of this interview in the coming days where Rob explains how multiple sites can compete with a giant like Amazon and how the silo version of sites we know today will need to change.
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