Wiretap: Startup hopes to be mobile’s big Kahuna

Adam Marchick had a three-month cup of coffee at Facebook, but it apparently was enough to change the course of his life.

Marchick, a 33-year-old Stanford CS grad, spent a summer at the social network five years back, when its user base hit 100 million (it’s now 1.2 billion). A big key to that ever-expanding tally is the way Facebook’s “growth” team cooks up algorithms that do things like recommend whom you should friend. Pinterest and Dropbox are among those use who similar technology, Marchick said. And on Tuesday, he took his new startup, Mountain View-based Kahuna, out of the garage with the goal of giving anybody access to those kinds of tools.

Kahuna’s “customer engagement engine” keeps track of what you’re doing on the mobile Internet and what apps you’re using, then lets marketers automatically send you email messages tailored to your behavior. And, Marchick claims, the two-dozen odd companies that have participated in the closed beta – including mobile gift-card service Gyft – have seen an average 20 percent uptick in customer purchases.

The technology apparently works well enough to have garnered $2 million in seed funding from SoftTech VC, Chamath Palihapitiya and angels at Facebook and Pinterest. Palihapitiya, in fact, was Marchick’s boss at Facebook before becoming one of the valley’s most quietly influential young venture capitalists.

Marchick likewise has swung throughout his career between working at startups and investing in them; after leaving Facebook, he helped open the West Coast offices of Bain Capital Ventures, where he worked before launching Kahuna last year.

As for the startup’s name? It’s the Hawaiian word for a wise man or oracle. Marchick wanted something that conveyed the technology’s ability to guide users — but, he quips, “Oracle was taken.”

 

Marchick photo courtesy of Kahuna.

 

 

 

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