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WhizBang! Labs Closes Its Doors
by
Posted On June 3, 2002
In an unexpected move, WhizBang! Labs announced that it would cease operations, letting most of its employees go on May 20. Until this surprise announcement, the company seemed to be weathering the harsh technology climate and signing up major clients, such as LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

In a recent interview for EContent (http://www.econtentmag.com/r2/2002/ojala4_02.html), president and CEO Bob Sherwin was upbeat and confident that WhizBang! was on a fast track to success. He alluded to potential customers in the information industry, similar to LexisNexis, with which the company was in negotiations. He was enthusiastic about WhizBang!'s ability to set the standard in providing sales professionals with leads. He believed, and still does, in the potential of the company's research and development.

WhizBang! Labs was founded in 1999 by Sherwin, Berkeley Geddes, and Dallan Quass. Its first product, FlipDog, spidered corporate Web sites for job postings. It automatically extracted the data, categorized the jobs, and added them to FlipDog's database. The site was so successful that it became the fifth most visited recruiting site. WhizBang! sold FlipDog to Monster.com, a TMP Worldwide company, in 2001.

For LexisNexis' Red Book and Directory of Corporate Affiliations, WhizBang! provided Web crawling that identified mergers, acquisitions, company name changes, and any other alterations in corporate affiliations. Dun & Bradstreet hoped that WhizBang!'s technology would make its directory listings more pertinent and timely, plus allow it to cut back on the manual labor involved in phoning the millions of companies in its directory. WhizBang! would also suggest new companies to add to the directory. Another technology from WhizBang! transformed legacy data into XML format.

A LexisNexis spokesperson confirmed that WhizBang! technology continues to power its advertising Red Books and Directory of Corporate Affiliations. As with other customers, WhizBang! is trying to keep a few employees to work on customer support with existing customers. LexisNexis is "in communication with WhizBang, and we are discussing alternatives to continuing the operational relationship."

Headquartered in a semi-residential neighborhood in Provo, Utah, in an unassuming low building, WhizBang! Labs gave the impression of a fiscally conservative, technology-driven operation. It employed about 40 people there and another 30 in its Pittsburgh research lab. Some 35 people worked for the company part time, as interns, mostly in Pittsburgh. The problem, according to Sherwin, wasn't the technology or dot-com-like flamboyant spending. The company simply couldn't find a profitable business model. Even Sherwin acknowledges that, although WhizBang!'s information-extraction technology is excellent at searching, classifying, and extracting information from the Web and original source documents, it's expensive. This makes it a harder sell in an economic climate not yet in full recovery.

Sherwin had several ideas for bringing the price down, most notably an off-the-shelf version for database-creation engines. It's costly, he noted, to make customized versions. Therefore, the game plan was to develop versions that required a minimum of software training. That potential may still exist. WhizBang! Labs did not declare bankruptcy. Instead, Sherwin shut down the company, but retains its intellectual property. This software is now for sale and Sherwin is consulting with financial advisors to find buyers for the technology. With sales slow, WhizBang! was forced to rely on its $30 million in venture capital raised in May 2000 to meet its operating costs, rather than spend it on cutting-edge R&D. Last week, the money ran out.


Marydee Ojala is the editor-in-chief of Online Searcher magazine, chairs WebSearch University, and is Program Development Director for Enterprise Search & Discovery.

Email Marydee Ojala
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