Dog Patch Lab—An Entrepreneur’s Kennel

5/26/09Follow @bbuderi

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as CEO and co-founder Kyusik Chung told me, “We’re still working on a name.”

Chung had previously worked in Seattle, for Expedia and Zillow, an online real estate service. In San Francisco, he teamed with co-founder and president David Yu, his former undergraduate roommate at Yale, who has spent most of his career in bioinformatics at Genentech.

The pair are developing technology that learns about your reading preferences and recommends books you might like. They compared it to the movie recommendations NetFlix pops up based chiefly on the movies you have rated.

Other companies, such as LibraryThing, Shelfari (bought by Amazon last year), and Amazon itself, purport to do something along these lines. However, says Chung, such sites tend to recommend popular books that don’t really reflect your true preferences. “Most of the time, it’s actually wrong,” he says. “What we have is something that really personalizes to the individual user. We actually get accurate pretty quickly. You get to find those gems—they’re never going to be on the front table at a bookstore.”

There are few things I love more than discovering a new favorite author, so I hope they get funding. Presumably, it would be from Polaris—but as I mentioned above, that’s not guaranteed by any means.

Which brings us to the terms of setting up shop in Dog Patch. There really aren’t any. A startup or someone pursuing a startup idea gets free office space, Internet connectivity, camaraderie, and the eyes and ears of Polaris folks. But Polaris doesn’t take a stake in the endeavors or even insist on first rights to fund the enterprises it houses.

Dog Patch Lab company with no nameRather, says Hirshland, Polaris is practicing a kind of “open source” entrepreneurship. There’s an implicit understanding that the venture firm will have first crack at funding a promising Dog Patcher, but only as what he calls a “‘first sponsor’ goodwill thing. No economics, no rights/obligations.” It’s generally expected that the groups will move on—ideally by raising capital and finding their own space—within six months or so, but even that is loose.

So far, Polaris has backed two kennel startups—the aforementioned LOLapps, which provides tools that make it easy to create custom Facebook apps, and Plinky, a conversational Web startup co-founded by ex-Googler Jason Shellen (former Polaris technology partner Sim Simeonov is part-time CTO).

Dog Patchers can use the "lobby" in Social Media's spaceBut even if Polaris never funded another resident of Dog Patch, it’s worth the cost. The lab affords an up-close and personal eye on the future to help inform the firm’s other investments. It should also help foster the good will of the entrepreneurs who pass through—making it more likely they will come back to Polaris in the future.

It’s easy to see why Polaris started Dog Patch in the new media-rich Bay Area. But I can’t help but wonder why we don’t have something like it out here in Boston. Maybe we do, and I just don’t know about it (let me know if I am missing something).

Hirshland told me previously that Polaris would be open to starting a Dog Patch East, if there was enough interest. I think all the firm would have to do is put out the call—it wouldn’t take one of those high-pitched dog whistles to bring the entrepreneurs running.

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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