Chad Hurley Thinks Delicious’ Value Is Its Brand (Not Its Tech), Will Use It To ‘Restart Innovation’

Chad Hurley, the co-founder of YouTube who last year bought Delicious from Yahoo through AVOS, today said that the purchase represents an “interesting experiment” for him and Steve Chen, his partner both at YouTube and the new venture: they want to see if they can use a (still) strong brand as a vehicle for new innovation — beyond the aggregation and bookmarking services that are at the core of what Delicious is known for today.

Speaking earlier at the LeWeb conference in London, where he was on a panel with Kevin Rose of Google Ventures and Niklas Zennstrom from Atomico, Hurley said: “We are going to restart innovation on the Delicious brand.” So the idea is to use an existing one, rather than “creating a new brand from scratch” to push through new ideas — lots of little ones. “I know how hard it is to build a brand, so this is an interesting experiment.”

He didn’t elaborate on what, exactly, those new services might be, but another project he is working on, Zeen, may point to what he might mean. Zeen, which has yet to go live, will be a way for people to create their own “beautiful magazines,” according to its site — that sounds a little like Yahoo’s Livestand attempt and Flipboard. Hurley notes that his company’s 40 developers are currently spread across three places, China (Beijing), New Zealand and San Mateo.

This does not mean, though, that they are planning to scrap what Delicious is already doing: they have recently launched a Mandarin version of Delicious, for example.

The three entrepreneurs/investors, in a panel moderated by Michael Arrington, also talked about their goals for investing today, and some of the bigger trends they are watching in the tech space:

On the role of international expansion today. Niklas Zennstrom, who founded Skype and sold it, once to eBay and then to Microsoft, said “It’s important to expand internationally and really quickly, because the market for online is global and if you don’t call it fast you will have problems with copycats and other competitors.”

On backing copycats. Zennstrom again: “There is a difference between evolution and copying. Skype didn’t invent internet telephony but we made it a lot easier to use. But we had a lot of companies copying us.”

On transitioning from enterpreneur to investor. Kevin Rose says that he can get the same feeling of “fire” seeing other entrepreneurs pursuing ideas, and he’s had an amazing track record with the companies he’s backed, which include Zynga, Twitter, Foursqure, Chomp and Square — “a hit parade,” in the words of Arrington. “For me personally I’m a little burned out on the entrepreneurial side,” Rose admitted.

The next big thing? Rose: “I think there is a lot of oporutnity with the Apple TV,” and he says that since we know about the dimensions and other specs people can start thinking of solutions now. One area he believes will be a focus is e-commerce. “Look at QVC today, adding a gaming component on the application on the television and the being able to purchase things. “That’s a huge potential company. I don’t want to do it but I would like to invest in it.”

Zennstrom echoed a sentiment that others have also been noting lately, that we are in a quiet period for tech innovation and are more about enriching products today. “Ten years ago we were focused on technology, but now we’re focus on the product. Today people are focused on solving problems, not tech probs but problems around making things easier to use, in areas like healthcare and education, life sciences… those are interesting from the big data point of view.”

Hurley said the next big thing will be products that let people stay engaged but in a passive way: “Today technology asks too much of people,” he said. “I think in the next few years things will become much more passive, whether it’s collecting data for health applications or social networks…to make better sense of what I’m doing, not what my friends are doing.”

Rose also added a continuing focus on mobile to the list: “There is only a handful of apps we use everyday. What will they be in the future?” He notes that there is still space for a daily app replacing cash, for mobile transactions.

Among the must-have apps today, Zennstrom names email, calendar and address book are three. “But those are still things that are lacking innovation.”

[Image: Kmeron, Flickr]