A somewhat sudden re-org rattled Cambridge-based Microsoft Startup Labs yesterday. The group is charged with cultivating new concepts for the software giant that could eventually grow into products, and developing potential new features for existing Microsoft products.
Microsoft's chief software architect (and part-time Massachusetts resident) Ray Ozzie decreed on Wednesday that a new lab shall be created, FUSE Labs (Future Social Experiences). It'll "explore new social, real-time and media-rich applications and services that add value to existing products, or could be released on their own," according to an e-mail I just received from a Microsoft spokesperson. FUSE will incorporate Startup Labs, as well as two groups out at Microsoft headquarters in Washington state.
While the forty or so people who work for Microsoft Startup Labs in Kendall Square will keep their jobs, the big news is that managing director Reed Sturtevant (pictured at right) is leaving to pursue those ever-appealing "other interests."
Sturtevant spent the last few weeks attending the Burning Man festival in Nevada, and then in Paris, and my impression is that he was caught a bit off-guard by the re-org.
I called Sturtevant to ask about his plans.
Sturtevant was hired by Microsoft from Eons, Jeff Taylor's social network for baby boomers, back in 2007. Earlier in his career, Sturtevant worked at Lotus Development Corp. with Ray Ozzie. Ozzie and his brother Jack apparently were instrumental in bringing him to Microsoft, so his departure today is a bit of a stunner. (Running the new FUSE Labs is Lily Cheng.)
Reached on his mobile this morning, Sturtevant said "the last two years really were fun, challenging, and exciting, and I'm proud of being part of helping Microsoft get a foothold in the New England tech ecosystem -- and that's genuine and from the heart, not at all a corporate line. I'm proud of what we did."
Interestingly, Startup Labs had already chosen "social productivity" as its anchor theme, and had been working on code alongside Lily Cheng's group and several of Microsoft's product groups. But my read is that Sturtevant is not an aggressive player of corporate politics -- and Cambridge is far from the center of the action in Redmond -- so it's perhaps not surprising that someone out west will be running FUSE Labs.
Here's a bit of what FUSE will be thinking about, according to a memo written by Ozzie:
"For many years, technology-based 'social' innovations have been most commonly viewed through the lenses of communications and collaboration: messaging, chat, calls, meetings, conferences, co-editing, document sharing, collaboration, multiplayer gaming and the like. More recently, many factors have begun to transform all that which is 'social': the ever-present, high-bandwidth internet both wired and wireless; the ease of connecting people; the dramatic rise in digital cameras, camera phones and 'app-capable' phones; net-connected game consoles & TVs; and so on."
Sturtevant tells me that he has "a few ideas stacked up that didn't make sense within the context of Microsoft, and I'm gonna play with those. I don't know if there's a venture-sized business in them, but they could be fun ways to recharge my batteries."
Did the batteries run down at Microsoft, or at Burning Man, I wonder? I can't resist this link to Sturtevant's MySpace page, which describes him as a "clean living suburbanite...51 weeks of the year." Along with Monster & Eons founder Jeff Taylor (aka jeffrtale), he's part of the Root Society at Burning Man every August.