Cheezburger Hits the Big Apple, Zaarly’s Big Debut, Sizing Up the Talent Crunch & More in the Seattle-area Tech Roundup

3/29/11Follow @curtwoodward

The Cheezburger Network‘s bid to dominate meme-dom took another leap forward this week with the acquisition of Know Your Meme, a site that attempts to trace the histories of passed-around bits of Internet pop culture that are the fodder for Cheezburger’s humor sites. But the purchase of Know Your Meme, said to be in the seven figures, is significant for more than adding context to a moment of funny: The acquisition also plants the Cheezburger flag in New York.

Founder and CEO Ben Huh told us the Seattle-based company definitely plans to add more staff to the “Cheezburger East” offices in Manhattan. This was the first big buy we’ve seen Huh make since Cheezburger landed $30 million in investment backing earlier this year, and it appears the guy behind the weird cat photos means business. Other big news from the past week or so in Seattle-area technology business:

RealNetworks (NASDAQ: RNWK) CEO Bob Kimball resigned abruptly on Monday, with no specific reason identified. Kimball was a veteran of the Seattle online media company, which hung around through the dot-com bust and has spent the past year or so trying to slim down and remake itself. Most of the heavy lifting on that score fell to Kimball, who took over the chief executive’s chair from Real founder and chairman Rob Glaser early last year. Kimball said just a few weeks ago that Real had reached the end of its restructuring phase and was preparing to move forward—that restructuring included shedding a good number of jobs and spinning off the Rhapsody music joint venture. At this point, it looks like either Kimball, the company, or both decided that it was a good time to make a switch. Glaser has said he’s not coming back as CEO.

—I dove into the Seattle-area market for tech jobs, and folks who watch that scene closely are ringing alarm bells about the ability of this region to sustain the growth needed to keep companies staffed. It’s particularly worth paying attention to since the college system doesn’t have the capacity to supply people as fast as companies like Microsoft and Amazon need them, which naturally leads to some poaching of the big boys’ talent. This is not necessarily a new dynamic, but it is becoming more amplified as more Silicon Valley companies move northward to satisfy their own hiring needs beyond the Bay Area. Stuck in the middle are smaller companies, particularly those that have made it past the early startup phase and are pushing toward a second round of growth and evolution.

—I had fun sitting down with Seattle startup lawyer Eric Koester for a debrief on the seemingly overnight debut of Zaarly, a kind of reverse-auction service that allows people to tap into mobile networks to supply goods, services, or close to anything else legal that they’d like to pay for (there is a ban on drugs or the kind of temptations that used to be listed on Craigslist under “adult services.”) The team went from checking out a startup weekend to getting into the competition, to landing $1 million in investments and rolling out the service at South By Southwest in about a month. It’s a very of-this-moment company founding that will be fun to follow up on in the future.

—Some acquisition news made its way onto our radar screen, with Amazon closing regulatory approval on its purchase of Diapers.com and dot-com survivor Drugstore.com getting scooped up by pharmacy chain Walgreens (NYSE: WAG). Amazon expects the diaper deal to close in the next few days, now that the feds are satisfied the acquisition doesn’t mean Amazon now has the baby bottom market covered. The Walgreens and Drugstore.com (NASDAQ: DSCM) tie-up is worth about $429 million, a nice premium on the present stock price but, of course, nowhere near the insane days of the pre-bust valuation.

—We saw some other personnel news: Seattle-based business software company Varolii announced that former Microsoft general manager David McCann was its new president and CEO, replacing company veteran Nicholas Tiliacos. And over at supercomputing giant Cray, officials said they were cutting about 50 jobs to make room for hires in different categories.

—Those newshounds over at Amazon rolled out their new appstore for Android devices, even though Apple took umbrage at the branding similarity to its own “App Store” and filed a federal lawsuit seeking to stop Amazon’s version. These two companies are going at it pretty heavily these days, which makes me think: Didn’t we always used to talk about Microsoft vs. Apple?

—Finally, in the sage advice department, Seattle entrepreneur and poker organizer Bob Crimmins weighed in with a guest column on his (lucky?) 13 tips for getting the entrepreneurial seedbed prepped with good advisers, networking, and all the other support structures needed to find success in the startup game. A sample tip: “Be totally f#cking honest … about everything.” That can’t be bad advice, just generally.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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