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Ex-E*TRADE CEO Goes Social With MOLI

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Christos Cotsakos, former CEO of E*TRADE, the online brokerage firm that revolutionized stock trading in Web 1.0, will unveil his Web 2.0 company called MOLI tomorrow at DEMO. And surprise, surprise — it’s a social network! Yet Cotsakos is undetered by what is an arguably overcrowded space: In a briefing with GigaOM last week, he explained what distinguishes MOLI (the name stands for “money and living”) from others with market-leader advantages (Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn) — and why he believes users will gravitate to MOLI anyway.

“People say the market has already formed,” he said, “but the market never forms. It only forms and reforms. There is still room for a handful of unique brands in this space.” Cotsakos, who founded MOLI in 2003, has had plenty of time to refine the company’s business model to ensure it might be one of them. And although odds are usually stacked against late entrants, MOLI does offer some compelling features.

For starters, users can finally manage diverse personal profiles via one user identity and a single, customized home page. (Currently, you might have more than one profile on Facebook — one for work colleagues, say, and another for college friends — but you can’t manage both from one login.) If MOLI flies, consumers might see an advantage in no longer having to maintain their professional profile on LinkedIn, their music fan club on MySpace and their political-interest profile on LiveJournal.

christos-profile-screen-shot2.png MOLI sets no limit on your number of profiles, which are free with your first URL (additional URLs cost $1.99.) Cotsakos’ home page (seen left) hosts 13 profiles, among them one for the Greek-American association to which he belongs, another for the Japanese tea ceremony he’s studying, and a third dedicated to the 101st Army Airborne unit he fought with in the Vietnam War (where his income appears suspiciously low). Some of his profiles are public, others private, and some are actually “hidden” (MOLI’s highest security level). Users get to decide what they want to share, and to what to degree.

MOLI will also be a first social network to target small businesses. There are 25 million of these in the U.S. alone, so it’s ripe territory, and MOLI has a killer feature: MOLI-hosted web stores. For just $3.99 a month, users can build retail sites that are linked to their profiles. Think of it as a personalized eBay page, but where your prospects for revenue are higher because you’re already connected to an audience that has self-selected for its interest in what you’ve got to sell.

Say you own a custom-publishing business, but moonlight as an artist. You could have two MOLI profiles: one for your company, another for your life as an illustrator, and two MOLI stores: one to sell your drawings, another to hawk your company’s books. Simply choose billing by Google Checkout, or PayPal, and manage them from one place.

Of all of MOLI’s features, I am most impressed with CoVibe Live, MOLI’s live data analytics wiki, which finally lets users profile the traffic across their pages. CoVibe Live is beautifully designed: data floats across the frame in pastel-colored bubbles so whimsical, clicking on them feels like a reflex. Do so, and a fever chart of information pops up, such as the days or hours when your goods sell best, and whether they sell to men or women (the data is generic, not personalized).

Utilitarian, it is. But the real innovation here is that CoVibe Live will curb that nagging consumer dread over Big Web Brother amassing reams of data on us, simply by placing in consumers’ hands the financial benefits of collecting such data in the first place. Know when your books sell best, and you can market accordingly. (MOLI has filed patents on CoVibe Live.)

MOLI may be too focused on marketing, however. One of the few features I don’t care for is that MOLI will blend professional with user-generated content. This was described as a love pat to ad buyers, who crave the “safe harbor” of “quality, so they know what will be surrounding their ads,” as MOLI President Judy Balint put it. (You can pay $2.49 a month to make your experience ad-free.)

MOLI has a rich, and clearly expensive web design. Instead of the spare UIs that we’ve all grown so used to, the dashboard looks more like an enterprise software app gone hip. It may be too much. You can streamline your dashboard, of course, by limiting your features, but then you’d be muting the very purpose of MOLI.

MOLI has cost plenty. Cotsakos seeded the company with $20 million of his personal funds, plus $6 million from private investors. Today the West Palm Beach, Fla.-based company, which has 56 employees, including engineers in Ireland, Singapore, Germany, India and the UK, is announcing its second funding round: $29.6 million from another group of private investors including Home Depot founders Bernard Marcus and Kenneth G. Langone. The money will be used to grow the company internationally. Competing against Facebook, MOLI will need it.

“We’re not building a startup,” says Cotsakos. “We’re building a franchise and a large-scale sustainable brand.”

18 Responses to “Ex-E*TRADE CEO Goes Social With MOLI”

  1. Sounds as though there is a little animosity coming from a few jealous cynics. With the ingenuity and forward-thinking in which Christos pioneered E*TRADE into the forefront of the online banking and brokerage industry, I believe anyone who is in the “foxhole” with him when he comes out for the full attack, will be winners. Time will tell, so let’s give Christos and Moli some time.

  2. Nice shill coments Moli is a dog actually on wall street we call it a pig. These guys went through $20 mil and now raised another $20 mil I would be scared!!!!!! What idiot spends that type of money??? Dont they know its web 2.0 I am adding MOLI to the dead pool this time next year. I hope Costakos saved his money from etrade because when he gets sued on this he will need it to fight.

  3. MOLI certainly is “too focused on marketing” because they’re doing in part by using the very disreputable practice of astroturfing.

    After a less than flattering review of Moli (in which I called them out on, ironically, some privacy issues due to immediate spam) Moli got caught astroturfing in the comments.

    After a suspicious “MOLI is awesome!” comment, a reverse lookup revealed that the comment originated from Moli’s own network, as detailed in this post:

    Moral of the story: $30m will not buy you brains. Or integrity.

    The astroturfer Hawk5721 turns out to be none other than Moli’s Director of Customer Care, Daniel DiFiore:

    Awesome indeed.

  4. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for; as a designer I need to start selling myself and my designs and by having the ability to manage both in one place is ideal. It is light-years more advanced than Ning.

  5. Kudos to Cotsakos for coming up a business plan that generates income for NOT advertising. That plus the traditional ad revenue makes for a great way to make a profit while allowing users relief from the ad-driven web.

  6. I think it is a good idea. Fads come and go. People will drop facebook like a hot potato just as fast as they did myspace for the next thing. When that happens, it will be nice to have MOLI migrate/consolidate your info.