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Milo’s CEO is a second-generation Web entrepreneur

Some familiar names were scribbled in the corner of a white board: Amazon. Google. Craigslist. EBay. PayPal. Above them was an unfamiliar one: Milo.

“We’re aiming high,” explained Jack Abraham, the 24-year-old co-founder and chief executive of Milo.com Inc., a Web start-up that aims to become the go-to site for the millions of shoppers who research online before buying merchandise in brick-and-mortar stores.

So far, Abraham, the son of ComScore Inc. founder and CEO Magid Abraham, is precisely where he wants to be. If he isn’t the first second-generation Internet entrepreneur, he’s part of a small club -- and the only one to occupy a storied Silicon Valley address that has a certain cachet.

“This is the war room,” Abraham said in the upstairs quarters at 165 University Ave. in downtown Palo Alto amid a crew of engineers. His own workstation, he points out, is located “where Sergey used to sit.”

That would be Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google Inc. And before Google grew here, PayPal did. Later came Danger, the phone innovator that Microsoft Corp. acquired for $500 million before its founder, Andy Rubin, took a leading role in Google’s Android project.

Abraham’s goal is to make Milo a household name -- a tall order, especially given that Google recently added local store inventory data to its own product search functions. Silicon Valley start-ups Krillion Inc. and NearbyNow Inc. also factor into the competitive mix. Milo’s mission, as Abraham describes it, is to someday offer real-time data covering “every product on every shelf in every store” in America.

Milo, founded in 2008 and backed by $4 million in venture funding led by True Ventures, now covers dozens of major retailers, including Sears, Target, Macy’s, Best Buy and Fry’s stores. It says its site can access 2 million products in 48,000 stores nationwide.

Magid Abraham, a director of Milo, seems unsurprised by the progress of a son who at age 12 started coding software for ComScore. The elder Abraham, whose own intellectual gifts took him from a farm in Lebanon to France and later MIT, said that Jack, the eldest of four siblings, exhibited leadership skills as a teenager, with adults often commenting on his confidence and poise.

Magid Abraham also fondly recalled how his son, as a high school junior, traveled to Miami as a finalist in a national marketing competition. Shortly before his presentation, Jack realized he had left his sports coat in his room and resorted to stopping strangers in the lobby, begging to borrow their coat and return it the next day. The fourth stranger agreed -- and Jack went on to win the marketing competition.

As an undergraduate business student in the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, Jack Abraham saw an opportunity in the way retailers were embracing digital systems to track inventory and pricing. Retailers and shoppers would both benefit, he figured, from a website that reformulated data into a comparison-shopping site.

Milo, like Google, earns money for clicks on its ads, Abraham explains, but the company is also building a system that would give it a commission when a sale generated by research on the site is executed.

Abraham’s first move was to sell his idea to John Evans, a highly regarded computer consultant whom his father enlisted in the late 1990s to build the initial architecture of ComScore, now a leading Web metrics company based in Reston, Va. Abraham appealed to Evans’ love of poker, likening the market opportunity to “an all-in type of hand.” To go with the metaphor, Abraham provided Evans with the $10,000 entry fee to the actual World Series of Poker. (Evans finished just outside the money.)

Going all in meant moving to Silicon Valley. The partners set up shop in a motel, then moved themselves and Milo into a two-bedroom Palo Alto apartment.

Through friends they met Ted Dzuiba, who helped manage Google’s internal search engine and later co-founded a news aggregation website. Dzuiba, who came aboard as a third founder and lead engineer, joked that they found him at the right time in the company’s evolution: between the motel and 165 University Ave.

After learning that the storied address would be vacated, Abraham brought a gift of baklava to angel investor Rahim Amidi, who owns the property with his brother Saeed.

“The baklava sealed the deal,” Saeed Amidi said with a laugh.

Harris writes for the San Jose Mercury News.


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