Hummer Winblad Partner Will Price Resigns To Head WidgetBox

It’s not often a partner at a successful venture capital fund leaves to do anything except retire (although there is some evidence to the contrary). But Will Price, a general partner at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, has resigned from his firm and, as of today, is the CEO of widget startup Widgetbox.

The company has raised $14.5 million from Hummer Winblad, Sequoia Capital and Northgate Capital. Hummer Winblad has been around since 1989 and has invested $620 million of so in startups. Price feels that Widgetbox is poised to take advantage of the huge surge in widget usage. And if the AOL acquisition of Goowy and the recent Slide valuation is any indication, there’s lots of room to grow for Widgetbox.

I asked Price to write a guest post telling us why he made the decision to leave a very safe and very lucrative job and enter the very unsafe and risky world of startups again. His post is below, although it can largely be summed up in this post, too. If you want to follow Price’s regular updates, his blog is here.

My name is Will Price and until yesterday I served as a General Partner at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, an early stage venture capital firm that was founded in 1989 (investments include TheKnot, Napster, HubPages, Omniture, Powersoft, Hyperion and others). While passionate about the firm and the venture industry, I am leaving Hummer Winblad today to take the CEO role at one of the startups I invested in – Widgetbox.

Michael Arrington kindly offered me the chance to explain my decision to leave venture capital and to join Widgetbox as the CEO. While the detail follows, in summary the combination of my personal aspirations to return to an operating role and my passion for the widget market and the company (which I helped seed fund) made this a no-brainer move for me.

My logic:

The best markets and the best companies ride the tide of history. Widgets are such a market.

The Web’s tide is open, distributed, standard, user-defined, and, in many ways, the most powerful force of the modern era. Widgets are not a fad, or web 2.0-hype, but fundamentally they are the unit by which users are assembling and defining their web experience.

Widgets are portable applications that are user-defined, user-assembled, and consumed independent of the source of the underlying content, commerce, and application functionality. The combination of user-control and decentralized interaction to important services represents an important paradigm shift in how users discover, select, and consume the best of the web.

In Nov 2007, Comscore reported that 650m global uniques, or 65% of the web universe, interacted with a widget. The growth in widget adoption and social media speaks to users’ unmet needs and frustrations with traditional web models. Today, brands, developers, media companies, and established Internet players are racing to understand the forces driving user behavior and the power of a more componentized and distributed web. While widget penetration is at 65% of Internet users and growing, spend in the widget category in 2007 was less than $20m, or 0.1% of the total online ad spend

The 650x differential between spend and the record growth in user adoption is very powerful to consider. Users are always ahead of the market, as evidenced by the systemic under-allocation of ad dollars on-line; 21% of media consumption is on-line vs. 7% of ad spend. However, this 3:1 imbalance is steadily eroding and the widget market will prove to be no different and no less transformative. Traditional portal models that aggregate users and resell that aggregation are fundamentally at odds with the emerging paradigm of user and community defined experience and distributed consumption.

Marketers need to fish where the fish are, however, in an early market there are often more questions than answers. While widgets are enjoying end-user success, the commercial relevance of widgets remains unclear to many. Are widgets a new marketing channel? If so, are they effective? How do you build them, buy them, track them? What is the unit of value; an impression, an install, an engagement…? What type of ecosystem will form around the phenomena? In order to move beyond fad status, an economic model for the widget ecosystem needs to be better developed and measurable value delivered to both end-users and marketers.

Widgetbox, along with Slide, Rockyou, Goowy, Clearspring, Gigya, and others, is working to enable users, developers, brands, media houses, and incumbents to ride the tidal wave of web componentization.

Widgetbox, backed by Hummer Winblad, Sequoia Capital, Northgate Capital, and Michael Dearing, is the web’s largest gallery of widgets. Widgetbox’s growth in the past year has been extraordinary, with a current monthly audience of 30m uniques, 400m monthly widgetviews, and widgets installed across 230,000 domains.

For those of you who read my blog, you know that I am passionate about the venture capital industry and its importance in supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. As a General Partner at Hummer Winblad, I enjoyed the exposure and access to some of the key innovators and drivers of the new economy; company’s like Omniture, Move Networks, Mulesource, Widgetbox, and many others. At 36, however, I felt a persisting and important pull to embark on a new journey of growth, discovery, and learning.

In my career to date, I have found that if you follow your heart, work tirelessly, and fish in good waters, good things will happen. For Widgetbox and our colleagues in the space, good things will continue to happen if we stay true to the web’s architecture of openness, distribution, and standardization and to users’ passion for empowerment, expression, and need for community.