Marc, after all, is the renowned designer, and over the course of our hour long Google Hangout, sits bearded and mildly unkempt in front of a half-made bed, casually munching on a bowl of cereal. Kevin, on the other hand, is (primarily) an esteemed entrepreneur and angel investor. He sits bolt-upright in the frame, clean-shaven, wearing a tight-fitting baseball cap that looks like it might somehow provide an additional dose of discipline to his cerebrations.
By the sounds of it, Kevin’s time at Google – first at Google+ and then at Google Ventures – was a touch inhibiting. “There was no big leaps there when it comes to massive orders-of-magnitude thinking,” he laments, matter-of-factly. “When you’re fighting a social fight, your product has to be something so compelling.”
Marc, on the other hand, describes himself as a “kid in a candy store” at the tech monolith, where he got to work on everything from the YouTube player to the driverless car: “At these big companies, the scale is unbelievable,” he stresses. “When you start working on products that touch billions of people, I think that gives you a great deal of empathy towards how you work with design.”
Eventually, though, Marc started to become restless. Around the same time, Kevin couldn’t wait to get back to his main passion. “I love sitting down and thinking of new ideas with entrepreneurs,” he explains. “It goes really well with my ADD brain: playing in a bunch of different sandboxes and just letting others do all the heavy lifting. I get to just come in, have a coffee, talk about crazy ideas and then walk away, without ever having to write any code or check for any bugs.”
Such were the circumstances that led to North Technologies, which is not so much a start-up in itself as an incubator for multiple start-ups.
“I don’t have to send emails to investors when we kill something,” says Kevin. “I do, obviously, as a common courtesy, but with this we said, ‘we’re going to raise a bunch of cash and give you a bunch of different shots on goal.’ That’s our MO internally – let’s come up with crazy ideas, rapidly prototype them, and decide whether we want to launch them.”
“When we started North we actually interviewed a bunch of other entrepreneurs,” adds Marc, picking up the theme. “We asked them a question: ‘how do you know when to kill a project?’ Because if a product doesn’t do well, just kill it. If a project’s doing really well, well that’s easy, put more resources on it. The middle ground is what scared us.”
Make no mistake, Kevin and Marc are on the hunt for something North can really sink its teeth into, something big. Until they find it, however, they will be conceiving, activating, and killing ideas, one after the other. The plan is to activate a new one roughly every quarter.
Kevin: “We’ve had two so far that we deemed worthwhile to launch. Our first one, Tiny, was a crazy video micro-blogging experiment that pushed the boundaries of the iPhone in some really interesting ways. The latest, Watchville, was born out of my love of mechanical watches.”
What these two extremely disparate ideas have in common is that they are rooted in areas Marc and Kevin are passionate about. The big one, if/when it comes, will be the same. North seems to be about the combination of profit and pleasure – the left and right side of the brain working in unison…
Still, there are moments during our conversation when you can sense the two pulling in slightly different directions. When I ask them to share some of the crazier ideas from the cutting room floor, for example, Marc proffers something we will loosely refer to as open source religion… we won’t go into any more detail than that because, as he starts to talk about it, Marc’s enthusiasm for the nominally discarded concept is quickly rekindled, and by the time he’s finished talking about it, he sounds like he wants to get right on and build it as soon as the interview’s done.
In this instance, however, North Technologies’ unofficial Left Side has different ideas.
“We have a lot of ideas like this one, that could be, if done properly, a Wikipedia-esque, really cool game changer,” Kevin interjects. “You go and you make a way for people trying to explore their personal spirituality. It’s really interesting….” He pauses. “Ultimately, though, as a venture funded business we have to ask, where’s the business here? We have to build a real company… I looked our investors in the eye and said, ‘listen, we want to build a billion dollar plus company in some way or another.’”
At which the right hand side of the brain shrugs, goes on eating cereal.
North Technologies – together in near perfect harmony!
Do not miss Marc Hemeon and Kevin Rose at Apps World North America (May 12-13, Moscone Center West, San Francisco)