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Betting that LiveWorld will thrive

|Includes: Apple Inc. (AAPL)
Live World Logo

Today, a short history note on an obscure little company with a long history, surprisingly capable and agile management team and uncertain future. LiveWorld, Inc. (OTCPK:LVWD), which now trades in Pink Sheets, is one of the very few remaining survivors of the 2001 dot com bust. The company got started from the ashes of Apple's short-lived eWorld, the successor of Apple's original 9 year adventure into online services, AppleLink.

In March 1996, eWorld was disbanded and its subscribers were incentivized to switch to AOL. Peter Friedman, a 12 year Apple veteran, was the vice president and general manager of Apple Computer’s Internet/Online Services business unit at that time. Within days after eWorld closure, Peter along with his Apple associates Bernie Bernstein, Chris Christensen and Jenna Woodul, formed what became LiveWorld, Inc. Other Apple Inc. veterans eagerly followed, as well.

There were three keys to the company's early success: 1) The fledgling company was able to retain all of Apple's eWorld content moderation technology and people. 2) The already established world wide network of dedicated eWorld/AppleLink moderators was virtually free to operate. 3) AOL was willing and able to pay for their service.

Since their dawn in 1996, the company has gone through more transformations than anyone could have possibly imagined at the time. They have first developed and then shed the Talk City brand name, the name for which they are best known and under which the company operated in their hey days of 1998 - 2001.

About ten years ago is also when I first got excited about this company, joined their ranks in the product management function and bought a boat load of their stock in addition to all the stock options that I received upon hire. Needless to say, I lost that job and then my shirt when things got tough for the dot coms. I finally threw in the towel on my remaining Talk City stock exactly 8 years ago this Sunday, loosing many tens of thousands of $ in the process.

At the peak, according to Chris Christensen, the company employed 256 people (that's a full byte for the nerds among us), dropping down to 15, when things got especially dark and stabilizing in the 50 - 60 people range these days. Not so long ago, the company shed one of the founders, Bernie Bernstein - an ingenious engineer who along with Chris made the early days of LiveWorld technically possible.

Chris, one of the other four founders, has also just announced his plans to depart in January. Sad as it is to see the loss of such dedicated talent, it is probably what is best for the company's bottom line. I am confident that the ten year Talk City / LiveWorld veteran Dan Zaner and his engineering team will be able to take it from here.

Currently, the company describes itself as a "social media marketing agency and technology provider for everything Fortune 1000 companies need to leverage the power of social networking to build their brands and their business." It's a niche market to be sure, but certainly a growing niche, as demonstrated by the likes of Facebook. Speaking of which, last month LiveWorld launched a suite of applications and services "to help brands ensure that their customers have a positive experience on the brand’s Facebook page."

It remains to be seen how successful this new product will become and indeed whether LiveWorld Inc., will ever make real money in any business. (They just barely break even these days.) Speaking for its staying power, is the against all odds 13.5 year history under the leadership of Peter Friedman, a Harvard MBA educated, Aspen skiing socialite, who would have no trouble competing for the title of the most charming and sweat talking CEO on the planet. Peter is also a well liked and respected industry maven, whose integrity prevented him from taking the company private and filing for bankruptcy at opportune times.

The LVWD stock you can trade in today, is exactly the same share-for-share as the stock you would have owned when the company first IPOed. When I saw it changing hands for under a penny yesterday, in effect valuing the entire company with solid contracts, reasonable future prospects and over $10M in annual revenues at a little over $100,000, I could not resist and plunked down my $100 to pick up 10,000 shares. I am thinking of it as having bought a very long term option with no definite expiration date on Peter's eventual success.



Disclosure: Long LVWD