After 15 years in high-profile roles at eBay (EBAY), Yahoo (YHOO) and Move.com, Lorna Borenstein thought she'd retired from tech. She headed off for a Hawaiian vacation, where she hoped to unwind with a little yoga.
But while trolling YouTube, Vimeo and other video sites for hours, she couldn't find the kind of high-quality yoga instruction she wanted. And she reckoned other hobbyists must share her frustration.
So Borenstein, 45, got to work building Grokker, where high-definition videos now teach users dozens of yoga techniques -- as well as how to cook and get in better shape. The site launched in November and, unlike most other video-learning services, includes no user-generated content: It's all shot by professional videographers.
Though the content is free for now, users have to sign up to access most of it. Borenstein says a future "premium" membership and e-commerce opportunities are in the works. She recently sat with this newspaper to discuss the project; here's an edited transcript.
Q So did you fail at retirement, or what?
A Hmm, I guess I did (laughs). Although in my defense, I came up with the idea for Grokker while on vacation in Maui, so maybe I deserve partial credit?
Q Video instruction is a very hot space; it's also very crowded. What sets your approach apart from other sites?
A It comes down to three things: experts, community and premium, long-form video at disruptively low cost.
Grokker isn't merely a video app or site, it's an expert network. We don't aggregate videos, we create content -- breathtaking, on-demand HD content. We handpick our experts from all over the world, and they convey insights that transform how you cook, train or practice yoga.
Another key difference is our global community of passionate hobbyists. Enthusiasts can ask the experts questions, share their "I Did This" accomplishments and discover new videos loved by other members who share their interests. We like to call this "discovery through community."
Q Can you talk about user response?
A Enthusiasts have been very excited since we launched, and generous with their time and feedback. We're seeing enthusiasts introduce their friends to Grokker and spread the word virally.
What's impressed users the most is the quality of the videos; they often remark that they can't believe this is on the Web, because it looks better than TV.
One of my favorite anecdotes is from a yoga enthusiast who hugged me during a user feedback session because she was so thrilled she could now do yoga from home in her jammies.
A Not at all. Online video is such an enormous and quickly expanding space that there's plenty of room for many winners. That said, we don't really see YouTube as being in the same space, because while they are masterful at aggregating user-generated content, we don't do UGC. We're a creator of premium, long-form video.
A I'm very fortunate to have made so many friends in the digital media/Internet/tech business over the past 15 years. It pays to be nice to everyone, know that there is always something to learn and that maybe your own voice is not the most interesting one in the room. In a room with Ron, Josh, and Vinod, all I want to do is listen.
Q You were a vice president at both eBay and Yahoo, where, among other things, you helped oversee the latter's e-commerce efforts. How did those experiences shape the way you approach a CEO's job?
A Out of necessity, I learned how to be frugal yet effective. When I was hired to launch eBay in Canada, my guest room was our first HQ. I had high expectations and a tiny marketing budget, so I had to drum up PR constantly to get any coverage.
Every time a professional hockey player listed a skate to raise money for a charity auction, I called the media. I took six of my blouses to a seamstress who embroidered bright "eBay.ca" logos on them, so every time I was interviewed, the Web address was clearly displayed. I became a walking billboard.
Big things start small, I learned that. I also learned that with limited resources, every single person you hire can make the difference between success and failure. So you'd better hire an outstanding team that shares a vision and, above all else, values.
Q According to your LinkedIn profile, you spent the two years before launching Grokker as "chief family travel officer." How do I get a gig like that?
A First, you need to have a wonderful family who puts up with you waking up at 5:15 every morning for 15 years. Then one day, you wake up and realize you'd really like to be hanging out with them a whole lot more, for as long as they still want you around.
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638. Follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.
Birthplace: Montreal, Canada
Career: Attorney, Peterson & Ross; associate counsel, Hewlett-Packard; vice president, eBay; vice president, Yahoo; president, Move; founder and CEO, Grokker
Education: Bachelor's degree, American College in London; bachelor's and doctorate, McGill University, faculty of law, Montreal.
Home: Los Gatos
Family: Married to David Lawee, managing director of Google Capital; three children
FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT LORNA BORENSTEIN
1. Is Canadian, eh? (But recently became a U.S. citizen.)
2. Introduced to gastronomy as a child by her Parisian mother.
3. Is on a lifelong quest for the perfect ginger cookie.
4. Became a devoted yogi after sustaining a severe knee injury in a half-ironman triathlon.
5. Studies quantum mechanics and string theory for fun.