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Re-org at Microsoft Startup Labs in Cambridge; Sturtevant cut loose

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 8, 2009 11:13 AM

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reedsturtevant_200810.jpgA 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.

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4 comments so far...
  1. "Other interests" are the itches of entrepreneurs. Lotus Notes and Compete are previous itches Reed has scratched. It seems to me that scratching is better done in private than in a big, full room - be good to keep track of Reed.

    Posted by Don McLagan October 9, 09 06:59 AM
  1. Reed is one of the most interesting, understated geniuses i have ever met.

    i am part of the Root Society too, and would have never become his friend if it were not for Burning Man and the random meeting on the playa in 2005.

    i am quite certain, whatever he pursues will be beyond the scope of how we currently think.

    out of the box and brilliant and a genuinely good guy.

    Posted by simon goldfeder October 9, 09 09:11 PM
  1. In September, 2009, IBM celebrated its 1-year anniversary of the IBM Reseach Center for Social Software, located in Cambridge, MA, so Microsoft's announcement one year later is a testament to IBM's vision. The IBM Center for Social Software works closely with corporate residents, university students and faculty, so it is not just an internal incubator for research, development, and testing of social software, but reaches out to various communities. It's web site - - lists projects, news and events of interest.

    Posted by Don October 14, 09 05:23 PM
  1. As a friend and fellow playa associate of Reed, I can guarantee the batteries did not run down at Burning Man, if anything they are now of the fully charged hyper-efficient lithium-ion version. For those who aren't aware, this 1-week break from the default^1 world, this experience like none other on earth, at a place we call home is saturated with creativity, idea generation, and the overall inherent inspiration to innovate (it is unfortunate the word alliteration doesn’t start with the letter ‘I’, if so I somehow would have added it). From personal experience I can understand and appreciate how Burning Man has the power to open up doors, the ability to set and reach goals that were previously thought to be unattainable. I can only imagine what Reed has up his sleeve(s), and certainly look forward to when 'it' becomes a successful reality. An intelligent, overly polite, motivated, and unselfish person/thinker/organizer/creator, Reed will take his ideas to the next level, it is only a matter of time. Good luck Reed. Side note: only one F in JefrTale.

    ^1. Default - someone, somewhere, sometime utilized the term ‘default’ when referring to the reality we all live in compared to BM, would like to give credit where it is due.

    Posted by Mike T. October 27, 09 05:32 PM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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