Don Henderson left me a comment yesterday (my comments indicator isn’t working properly for some reason, so it looks like there are 0 comments for that post, when in fact if you click on "comments" you’ll see his post). He very justly corrects me – it’s LEE Ho who’s the VP of marketing over at Muze…JEFF Ho works in marketing at McGraw-Hill and I got them confused.
At any rate, Don goes on to say "There are plenty of Muze personnel left". Indeed! But my question is…how much experience do they have in the particular market Muze addresses? How much institutional knowledge is left when so many of the folks who have been with the company for years have now left? What’s to prevent Muze from making the same mistakes over and over again when that institutional knowledge is no longer there?
Since I left in November 2006, the company has been gutted. I’m sure many wonderful people have come in to replace those who have left or been laid off, but that kind of turnover has a profound effect on a place. It’s not a question of moving bodies and minds around – when turnover is that high, there’s a sacrifice in the organic growth and cohesion of a company. And I wonder if Muze can make up for that.
Muze has amazed me before. It began in 1990 (or thereabouts) in a warehouse in Williamsburg. I came on board in 1995, at the tail end of the warehouse phase – wires and cables draped from ceiling to floor; running the copy machine too long would blow a fuse that would take out the entire video department; it was a bizarre combination of old and new that was right out of a Terry Gilliam movie. In that environment, we played and learned and developed amazing applications. Moving to Soho in 1996, the Skunkworks mindset continued. It was a place of extraordinary inventiveness.
And yet…it wasn’t sustainable. Through massive mismanagement, Muze lost several dozen people, many of whom flocked to Barnes & Noble.com. (I was one of them – I went in 1998.) The mismanagement continued – we’d hear things about one disasterous CEO after another. When I returned in 2006, it seemed that things had stabilized…but this was deceptive, obviously.
No one running the company has ever known quite what to do with it. It is such a promising enterprise – and it attracts extremely gifted people – but every single CEO it’s had has wanted to turn it into something it isn’t. This last round…turning it into a company that distributes actual content instead of simply catalog metadata and sound samples…was particularly ill-thought-out. Acquiring the Loudeye assets was a mistake. It diverted the company from its core business. Muze, I think, is not a company to be transformed. It’s a company that needs to make the best of what it’s got – and it’s got quite a lot.
I’m interested in what Peter Krause and Paul Parreira at Tactic Company are going to do - I believe they have taken the best in what Muze has to offer (editorial and data creation) and are making a business of it.