A Visit to Michael Birch's Monkey Inferno
One of the most glamorous offices I visited in San Francisco was that of Monkey Inferno, a private ideation lab, founded by the Bebo millionaire Michael Birch. It's a quirky place, decorated in a style that mixes Bat Cave with Buckingham palace. Micheal Birch was the brains behind the deceased social network Bebo, which he successfully sold to AOL for $850 million then bought it back 5 years later for $1 million.
I got to see Birch speak at the 2010 London Inspire Conference, back then he was working on Jollitics.com a site that mixed crowd wisdom and politics. It was a pretty cool idea, a move towards democracy 2.0. Users could debate and vote on a selection of topics. They could also give their vote to specific thought leaders or domain experts who could amass huge followings and wield great influence. Sadly it appears Birch lost interest in the project and turned his resources towards Monkey Inferno.
The inferno is a stand alone company, all employees are well paid and have options or equity in the projects that they work on. They have a mantra use to grade ideas: passion - potential - progress. If a project doesn't meet these three criteria it will be shelved.
I quite liked their mantra and mulled over a few others:
Market - Sell - Fulfill
Educate - Support - Create
Although a little meaningless without context please do comment with any new 'Mantras' of your own!
Monkey Inferno is focused on developing a selection of new apps and potentially using the BeBo database to launch them. The first app that they have released is called Blab its billed as a 'video walky-talky' it might be better explained as Whatsapp for video messaging. I downloaded Blab and had a little play. While I know some people that love it, I was uninspired! However maybe it will be the next big thing, what do you think?
Over all I found Monkey Inferno to be a little disappointing. It's often said that 'Necessity is the mother of innovation' however the team at Monkey Inferno didn't seam to be in need of much, after all they had an in house gourmet chef! It would be have been so refreshing to see a cushy idea incubator working on social problems rather than merely searching for Silicon Valley's next financial unicorn, I hope they alter course going forward!