Natural-language search startup Powerset is going through some growing pains. Barney Pell is stepping down from the CEO spot. He will now become the CTO, and he and Powerset’s board will conduct a search for a new CEO. Powerset’s other founder and COO, Steve Newcomb, is not in the running for the top job. He has left the company.
At the Web 2.0 conference, Pell gave an impressive demonstration of Powerset’s search technology, although it was restricted to a limited data set. How the search engine will do against the entire Web, which is a much bigger technical challenge, has yet to be seen.
But this shakeup does raise a big question. Why step down as CEO and leave a huge leadership gap (with no COO either) before you find a new CEO to take things over? Perhaps this was done more for internal reasons. Announcing everything all at once sends a signal to employees about the direction of the company, and minimizes future surprises. The CEO search also indicates that Powerset may finally be ready to open up its search engine to the general public sometime next year. Or perhaps Powerset’s board has become impatient with the company’s progress and wants new leadership. You can read Pell’s explanation about the transition here. (You can read our previous coverage here).