Jack Abraham: Milo
Milo’s mission is to bring every product, on every shelf, of every store in the physical world onto the internet. Milo was designed to help shoppers find products available at their local brick-and-mortar stores and compare prices with those from online retailers. According to Jack Abraham, founder and CEO of Milo, “We see ourselves as building a bridge between online and in-store commerce that empowers the consumer to access the best of both shopping worlds—all in one place.” Partnering with 140 different retail outlets, Milo offers prices for around three million products across 52,000 stores in the U.S. Its search results include more than 90 small- and medium-sized businesses. eBay saw the opportunity to open up new opportunities for buyers and sellers, and in December, 2010, they bought Milo for an undisclosed sum. However, several sites reported that the acquisition price was around $75 million.
Milo was named for the dog, because the company is about fetching things for people. I am not sure that Jack knew that Milo was Stanley’s Jack Russell terrier in “The Mask” (Jim Carrey film). But Jack sure knew what he was doing when he started the company. Like many newventurists™, Jack started when he was a kid, “When I was young I wanted to do something on the frontier. There are all these people who have done amazing things: presidents, astronauts, and scientists. I wanted to work on something new. I started by wanting to be a theoretical physicist, like Albert Einstein. He was an amazing person. So I really got into physics. I wanted to push the boundaries of science. That’s not where I ended up, however!”
You might say that Jack came from good entrepreneurial immigrant stock. He is the son of an immigrant father, Magrid Abraham, who grew up on a farm in southern Lebanon. Jack’s father became the best student in the small town; as a result he was invited to the best college in Lebanon, and then to the best engineering school in France (Ecole Polytechnique), and then went on to earn a PhD in operations research and an MBA from MIT. He got a lot of job offers but he wanted to start his own company. He recognized that creating a company from scratch helps people, provides jobs, and builds value and. His company was Paragren Technologies, which he built and then sold to Siebel Systems in 2000.
Around then, Magrid then had an idea for another company to track behavior on the internet. He founded comScore, which sells digital marketing intelligence. Jack was 13. And Jack got involved as a summer intern for the company. That’s where he learned to program. As Jack recalls, “I fell in love with data and what is possible with data.” comScore had about three employees when Jack joined, but had grown to 70 by the time he left (and now has several hundred employees). Jack met his Milo partner there, John Evans. Jack wraps up the story with, “That was a neat experience for me. I just was really inspired by that and wanted to do stuff on my own.” Magrid took this company public in 2007.
The entrepreneur was unleashed and Jack started several businesses in high school. He recounts the tale, “One business was like Dell. I created custom computers, not for consumers, but for businesses. I also started an SAT and AP tutoring service. I took the best students with 1600 SAT scores and hooked them up to do private tutoring. Both were pretty successful. But, I never meant those businesses to be big. I guess they just gave me a taste of what could be.”
In looking at colleges, Jack wanted to combine engineering, computer programming and business. He fell in love the Wharton program at the University of Pennsylvania. Jack in fact helped to create Wharton’s technology entrepreneurship major. Aged 24 now, Jack never finished his degree because he. is short his foreign language requirement. While in school, Jack took a lot of computer science classes and worked on entrepreneurial projects on the side. One project involved him using arbitrage to sell products without holding inventory. He wrote software that would find all the Xboxes for sale on eBay. His software enabled him to buy any Xbox that was trading at two standard deviations below the mean. Then he’d use the marketing from those that were selling at two deviations above the mean. As he tells it, “I bought the cheap ones and re-listed them using statistically better information and marketing.” He reflects, “It was a neat project. It got me interested in products and the internet, and it gave me great exposure to programming.” It’s ironic that this company was around eBay which acquired Milo!
Jack wanted to start something big, something that could really achieve something. He glimpsed an answer, “I saw that there was lot of innovation on the internet in social networking and online video. But commerce and shopping had been left in a web 1.0 world. There were some very successful companies and some huge public companies that occupied that part of the web. But I didn’t think that the game was over; there still seemed like a lot of opportunity and I wondered why was no one doing anything? So, I looked at where the crowd isn’t. I started pondering what could be developed? Where is shopping headed?”
Jack’s stream continues, “When the internet was first created people thought that the web and the real world would run in parallel. I didn’t agree with that. I thought that the internet would be pervasive and influence every facet of life in the real world. And that the real world would influence the internet. Stores will be influenced by the internet, and vice versa. I didn’t think about Milo at first. I was working on what became Red Laser. I used the photo technology on phones to scan barcodes to find information and a better price. But after prototyping it I realized that it would be hard to turn into a big business. Once people go into the store, they are holding a product in their hands, and it’s really difficult to have the self control to put that product down and wait five days to have it shipped to them. So it can’t be a big business on the internet unless it creates a lot of referrals.” Red Laser is now a free application that Jack released on the internet for comparison shopping and finding product information using a mobile device. It is now an eBay mobile application.
The Red Laser experience started Jack looking at things a bit differently. As he describes it, “I looked at it from the other side. What if you used the internet to drive sales? People loved to use the internet but they still wanted to touch and feel a product and buy today. I felt that was a compelling value proposition. The pain point was that it was difficult for the internet shopper to figure out in real-time what was in stock and available at their local store. And the solution was Milo.” That was 2008, and Jack was a senior in college, the academic year that he never finished.
How did it all happen so quickly, from 2008 to now, from founding to exit in 2010? Jack finishes the Milo story, “I think I was right in terms of predicting where the internet was going: online to offline and offline to online trends. I was the first one there. We out-executed it. We were focused on getting the data in real-time so that we could tell someone that at this moment the product is available. And this was really valuable to a lot of bigger companies. There were a lot of them looking at this space. And eventually they realized, wow, this is hard to do. A lot of public companies were looking at us. eBay worked because of PayPal and all the millions of businesses out there. There was just such opportunity there.”
Today, Jack is still with eBay. He finds is a very real adjustment to be working for a big, public company. He recounts, “It’s big. There are lots of people. To be successful at a big company you have to have all the skills that you need at a small company to sell the vision and get everyone on the same page.” The big company has its benefits too, as he continues, “It’s a great learning experience. I am reasonably certain that now I am 24 years old I am getting to learn things that I wouldn’t be able to learn otherwise. There is no way that I could have gotten this job through an interview process. It’s impossible. This is a unique opportunity for me.”
And what does the future hold for young Jack? He is a very entrepreneurial person so it’s hard to imagine that he won’t be back out there soon with another great idea. In the meantime, Jack is doing a bit of angel investing on the side and having fun at eBay. I can’t wait to see what is next!