Silicon Valley's New 'It' Company


The current “it” startup in the tech world is — perhaps fittingly — in an office that looks like an outlet for Silicon Valley’s “it” tech giant.

Flipboard’s headquarters (at least for now) is a stark white office in Palo Alto, Calif. filled with long desks, holding up so many MacBooks and iPads, it looks like a small Apple store.

It’s not selling anything yet, but what it gives away is red hot.  Flipboard makes the app for your iPad that turns the web news you want into a digital newspaper, that you can touch.  It turns your Facebook page and Twitter feed into magazine of sorts, too.  If you haven’t tried that last one yet, it really makes those 140-character links you flip through look like the skeleton of what the Twitter stream should be.

You can check out what Flipboard looks like here:  www.qik.com/budman.

I sat down with Flipboard co-founder Mike McCue, to talk about his latest venture.  McCue is one of those guys who, though quiet, has been part of enough Silicon Valley success stories to earn E.F. Hutton-like respect around here.

After leaving Netscape, his ventures included TellMe, which he sold to Microsoft.  Now, he’s got the world’s hottest download, what many are calling the iPad’s first “killer” app. He says he got the idea for Flipboard while visiting an airport newsstand. Which makes sense, in a sort of “past-meets-present” kind of way.  The newsstand is likely going away, along with many of the items it sells.  But paging through Flipboard makes you understand why so many tech-watchers predicted that the iPad could actually bring the publishing industry back to life.  We already know that digital downloads now rule the Amazon world.  Now, reading newspaper and magazines feel hip again.  And they look great.

“When the iPad happened,” McCue says, “I realized there was an opportunity to bring some of the aesthetics to print, and to the digital world.”

And the app does that.  When married to the iPad’s screen, the effect is magazine-like.  If circulation of weeklies like Newsweek are falling, this is the kind of thing that could prop them up.  News photos — and even newsprint — pop on the screen, it’s super easy to navigate around, and you get to choose the sources on your home page.

Fittingly for a company that’s changing the way we see Facebook and Twitter, Flipboard is funded by, among others, some of the co-founders of those two social network hotshots.

With people actually waiting to download their app, it’s probably just a matter of time before people are willing to pay for it — or at least pay for advertising content inside, as McCue plans.  As cool as the iPad is, the best news about it is that creative people are stepping up to give us cool, good-looking things to do with it.

Flipboard can be found on the iPad.  Scott can be found on Twitter: @scottbudman.

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