From MIT Blackjack Team to Amazon Acquisition: The Lexcycle Story

5/8/09Follow @gthuang

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about 1.7 million users in more than 60 countries). The iPhone application is free and has been used to download some 8 million books.

Getting the word out about Stanza has been a real rush. “It’s been crazy,” says Choksi. “For the first time in a decade, I could demo my own product.” As for the particular application he has focused on, he adds, “When you’re bootstrapped, you’ve got to really find the thing that will give you the best bang for the buck.” In fact, a recent report on CNET (citing senior analyst Ben Lorica of O’Reilly Media) suggests that e-books are the “killer app” for the iPhone. Which, of course, sets up a showdown between reading books on the Kindle versus the iPhone and other mobile devices.

And brings us to the Amazon acquisition of Lexcycle last week. Choksi couldn’t add much about the terms of the deal or the strategy behind it. But suffice it to say he, Prud’hommeaux, and White are all moving to Seattle this summer, and I would guess they will be kept together as a sort of “innovation team” for the e-book sector. It’s also not uncommon for Amazon to fund or acquire competing projects within a given sector (see LibraryThing and Shelfari). But will Amazon open up the Kindle to accept other types of code like Stanza? Will Amazon use Stanza to monopolize e-books on mobile devices? Stay tuned.

Choksi could talk a bit more about Stanza itself, and he gave me a demo on his iPhone. “We want people to discover the book they want to read, buy it, and start reading it, all within the app. And not have to go to your laptop,” he says. The user interface is pretty cool—if you’re reading a book, you can tap on the screen to advance the page, which enables one-handed reading while you’re riding the bus or the commuter train, say. There are also no menus visible on the page while you’re reading, which Choksi says eliminates distractions. (I’m one of those people who greatly prefers to hold a physical book in my hands, but I can see the appeal of the iPhone reader for someone traveling or wanting quick access to a particular passage.)

For now, what all this means is that the Seattle tech community is gaining some fantastic new talent. “I’m excited about coming someplace where the software scene is so active,” Choksi says. Comparing Seattle to Austin, he notes that the latter is more hardware focused with all its chip manufacturers, and that it has a very strong bootstrapping culture. “Bootstrapping forces you to have a ridiculous focus on the customer,” Choksi says. “If you listen to the right customers, they’ll tell you what to do, what they want from you, and what they’ll be willing to pay.”

All in all, it sounds like Choksi and his fellow founders will fit in very nicely here.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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