Cooliris and its 2:1 intern-to-employee ratio

by phil on Monday Sep 22, 2008 12:54 PM

There's not a lot of major browser plug-ins that I can say I use regularly, especially any fancy ones. However, I just noticed there's one I seem to use everyday. It's Cooliris. Here's a snapshot result of a Google Images search for "Tina Fey Sarah Palin":

Cooliris is a visual browser that transforms collections of images into smooth, 3D, Minority Report-style image walls. It's just a faster, more fun, and intuitive way to browse images than the traditional scroll-down/"click-'Next'" cycle of plain web pages.

Turns out the company is based in Palo Alto and has an interesting, intern-heavy culture:

Last school year, it employed 40 student interns to join an 11-member staff.
The startup takes the opposite tack: The office has no toys, bright walls, funny posters or gimmicks. It is an airy, open former loft with a laundry facility and kitchen.
Perhaps because its interns are students returning to a dorm at the end of the day, there's no need to pretend the office is a dorm.
Shashi Seth, a former Google employee who headed monetization at YouTube after it was acquired by the tech titan, is now CoolIris' chief revenue officer. He was initially skeptical of the set-up, he recalled. "The first time I came here I said, 'This cannot be sustainable. You have 20 employees and 40 interns.""

The system heavily relies on meritocracy, but it does have some "drawbacks:"
"Students bring unconditioned energy. ... Fresh energy, fresh thoughts — there's no status quo," according to Soujanya Bhumkar, the chief executive officer at CoolIris.
There are drawbacks to relying heavily on college students, Bhumkar acknowledged. One is what he calls "the Cabo effect" — during spring break last year, there wasn't "a single soul" in the office.
But he insisted that the unplanned, organic intern culture is a genuine boon for the company. It puts innovation in CoolIris' DNA, he said.
The Discover feature was conceived, executed and is run by interns, the CEO said. Interns also reach out to bloggers, recruit new employees and test the site's user interface. The students can hope to earn at least $20 hourly — and perhaps much more — in what Bhumkar calls a pure meritocracy. Age doesn't matter, only ability. Several interns who graduated are now transitioning to full-time staff.

Read the Palo Alto online news article or visit Cooliris and download the plug-in.

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