OneTel co-founder Jodee Rich and his ambitious social media play: Kirby

Irrepressible, irreverent, some might say irredeemable: Jodee Rich, the man behind failed phone company OneTel Ltd and one-time computer sensation Imagineering Ltd is back for a third bite of the cherry.

And, in the same week as the Facebook float, it’s perfectly apt the business this time around involves social media.

For most Australians the last sight of the charismatic but drama prone entrepreneur was of him cycling to and from the courts back in 2009 when he won a significant victory against ASIC, which culminated in a $13.8 million legal costs payout.

But Rich has been busy since building a new company called PeopleBrowsr which competes in the high-growth area of advanced digital media analytics.

PeopleBrowsr is a private company headquartered in San Francisco with offices in London and Sydney and Rich told Business Spectator this week he is enjoying building a company away from the glare of the public eye.

But he did reveal the group now employs more than 40 people and is ‘just breaking even’ with annual revenues to the order of $5 million.

It’s a far cry from the enormous, but ultimately failed business Rich and fellow entrepreneurs James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch built at OneTel – the company burnt through almost $1 billion of investor money before it collapsed in 2001.

And the company failure was followed by a decade-long blizzard of lawsuits which many thought would severely damage the entire trio, widely dubbed at the time as ‘rich kids’.

But Rich, now 52, is back in business and in recent months PeopleBrowsr has launched a product which just might land him back in the limelight once more: Just four months ago the company released what’s known as a ‘social influence service’ called Kred – the product competes with a world leader called Klout, which is one of the ‘hottest’ companies in Silicon Valley.

Put simply, social influence products such as Kred rank the social media influence of people active on sites such as Facebook and Twitter through analytics and then on-sell this information to client companies who wish to reach this influential group – PeopleBrowr names a range of leading corporates on its site including Coca Cola, Samsung, HP and Australia’s Westfield group.

Rich is understandably cautious about hyping any new business, but he can’t help but talk big numbers: “We now have a database of over 100 billion public conversations indexed across community, location, influence and other variables,” he says. “It’s early days but we are happy with the progress.”

Asked what he had learnt from the past, Rich will only say he’s “enjoying” life in a private company – though he did not take the opportunity to rule out a public listing. Moreover, the charm and excitement which created a buzz unrivalled in Australia a decade ago remains in place, as you can see from this video.

This article first appeared on Business Spectator.


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