MEET JAMES SUN, a “smart” entrepreneur and television star! James was one of two finalists in the Donald Trump-hosted hit television show, “Apprentice” during the 2007 season. Using his creative business skills, James distinguished himself as a worthy leader, until eventually losing in the season’s finale episode.
For the “smart” entrepreneur, however, things have worked out just fine. The show catapulted him into celebrity status, creating huge recognition of his new internet venture, Zoodango. Not having to work for Mr. Trump has allowed him to completely focus on his company.
Now, James has just announced the “smarts” behind his company (press release due out later this week). Zoodango is in full beta launch of two exciting new products: Smart Invite and Smart Recommendation Engine.
When Zoodango first launched, the company was positioned as a social network website for professionals wanting to have offsite meetings (mostly at Starbucks Coffee Shops). The popularity of Apprentice attracted more than 10,000 alpha members. Yet, the initial functionalities for setting up meetings through Zoodango were not much different than other tools available online.
But James had a plan all along. He was building intelligence for Zoodango. Smart Invite now does a lot of the legwork in planning events for collaborating groups of people. This social search technology automatically computes options on where and when to meet up with friends based upon who is invited. The technology uses computational algorithms and neural networks to help you make collaborative social decisions.
In simpler terms, Zoodango does a lot of the “thinking” when organizing a get together with friends. The Smart Invite engine looks at each invitee’s location, their prior recommendations for favorite places to meet, as well as everyone’s available times. Then, the Smart Invite engine narrows the choices to a few with relevant (algorithm) scores, allowing each person to vote on the final location.
Zoodango is basically enhancing and integrating some successful social networking concepts in the market. For one, Evite users need to have figured out a venue and time before sending out electronic invitations through its website. Zoodango helps to select a venue and time, along with offering an electronic platform for communication. Furthermore, while Yelp collects many recommendations and reviews, Zoodango makes this type of data relevant to selecting an acceptable venue for everyone in the party.
During a lunch with James at O’Asian, his youthful passion for his vision was intoxicating. Neither of us ate much, too excited about our conversation. Always confident, I remember when James, as a senior in high school, was one of the recipients of the “Future Leader Award” by the Korean-American Professional Society (an organization which my wife, Shari, co-founded). Soon thereafter, he went to University of Washington to study, but also started a technology investment company. With an initial capital of $5,000, he managed to grow the portfolio to a little more than $2 million, cashing out while still a full-time student.
Now, he is a regular on the speaking circuit. He has attracted such renowned investors as Scott Oki, a former Microsoft executive and local philanthropist, among other prominent investors.
Mr. Thrump fired the wrong candidate on that season’s finale. How much could he have benefited from a fresh perspective of a technology-centric entrepreneur on his team? Instead, Mr. Trump went with the safe real estate attorney – to work with his army of other real estate attoneys.
James, he’s a risk taker – and it’s exciting to see his vision take shape in our backyard.
I’m a member on Zoodango. Look for me there when scheduling an event.