Summary:

Sun Microsystems founder Scott McNealy has a new venture, but surprisingly enough, it’s not about building big hardware or enterprise software. It’s a new social startup called WayIn that’s focused on building a community of users that can vote and comment on pretty much anything.

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photo: Yuichi.Sakuraba

Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy has a new venture, but surprisingly, it’s not about building big hardware or enterprise software. It’s a new social startup called WayIn that’s focused on building a community of users that can vote and comment on pretty much anything.

WayIn launched with a consumer-facing website and mobile applications with a super-simple login process, and the ability to create and vote on polls, follow other users and share opinions both on the service and other social networks. Once you’ve connected with a couple of other users, you can see questions and polls that they have suggested in your stream, and you can also see suggested polls based upon popularity, live events or topics of interest. In true gamification fashion, users get points for creating and voting on those polls, and there’s the promise of rewards — real and virtual — for the most active users.

The ultimate goal is to be ubiquitous: WayIn has applications for the iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices. It will also hook into social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and it will have an app on Facebook. But WayIn’s plans to be everywhere don’t stop there; it also hopes to have its own set of widgets and the same type of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn sharing buttons that have become common on publisher sites around the world.

But make no mistake: While the app is being offered to consumers, the real customers here are marketers, brands and Fortune 500 companies to which WayIn will be able to provide invaluable sentiment data. What McNealy & Co. is actually selling is big data about consumer interests. So far, the pitch is resonating: WayIn is launching with partners like the Republican National Convention, the NHL’s L.A. Kings and Playboy. McNealy promises another 20 or so partners that will be announced soon.

McNealy is chairman of the venture, but it’s being run by CEO Tom Jessiman, who has been working on sports portals like Sportsline (prior to being acquired by CBS) and recently PicksPal. Still, while others run the day-to-day operations, McNealy is happy to help open doors for the fledgling startup, in which he is also the largest investor. That means making phone calls to some senior execs at old Sun customers, and telling them he has a way to find out more about their customers.

The board is also made up of some big players, like Greg Jamison, president and CEO of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, who McNealy says knows pretty much every franchise owner in sports. TV producer Burt Sugarman, who was behind iconic shows like The Newlywed Game, is also involved and making connections in Hollywood.

WayIn has raised a total of $6.3 million, including a $5 million Series A round in June. The company is based in Colorado and has more than 35 employees, made up mostly of engineers, according to McNealy. That includes a number of former Sun execs and engineers, like Vasa Dasan, distinguished engineer at Sun, who is the startup’s CTO.

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