A Silicon Valley Star Tries Out the Real World

June 16, 2010: 7:19 PM ET

Retro is a good bet in the fashion world. Witness the leathery wave of Sperry Topsiders and L.L. Bean moccasins a la the 1980s washing over hipster enclaves across the nation. But going retro in the software business? Seems like a step in the wrong direction. Still Xobni, a Silicon Valley darling of a startup that offers software that organizes and streamlines Microsoft's Outlook email program is doing just that.

Xobni (sounds like "zob-nee") is not abandoning the mouse for keyboard macros, or rendering everything in an amber color, nothing so dramatic, or bone-headed, rather it is for the first time selling its $29.95 premium version software in a box (a basic version is available free online). That's right, for all of you Web-heads who have never seen software arrive anyplace but from some button you pushed in your browser; as of this week Xobni's software can now be found burned on a CD, inside some folded cardboard, and get this, if you want, you can walk in and buy it in a store. About 3,500 stores including Fry's and OfficeMax (OMX) outlets as of Wednesday, says Xobni CEO Jeff Bonforte.

The idea of going retro – or more specifically retail - was not hatched within Xobni, Bonforte says kicking back in a bright green conference room in the startup's San Francisco offices. And how could it be? This is a software company with a Web 2.0-style confounding name, that although it built its business on top of a desktop application, Outlook, has relied on the Web for just about everything else including sales, marketing and distribution. "With the launch of Office 2010 coming up and a new version of Outlook, I had a friend with experience in the retail software business who said she figured she could get Xobni into a lot of stores," Bonforte says grinning.  "We, were like, go ahead, good luck with that."

A few weeks later, the friend came back and told Bonforte she had commitments from 3,000 stores, including some of the biggest chains in the nation. "Right then I told our engineers, 'looks like our next project is designing a box,' " Bonforte says. More

  • Staying ahead of the hackers

    As three suspected hackers face federal charges in connection with the largest identity theft case ever to reach America's courts, personal identity theft is once again thrown into sharp relief as a major challenge to businesses. The men, which include 28 year-old Miami resident Albert Gonzalez, are now are accused of hacking into the computer systems of five companies, including credit-card processing company Heartland Payment Systems Inc., Hannaford Bros. supermarkets, and 7-Eleven to steal more than 130 million credit and debit card numbers.

    Gonzalez's name may ring a bell because he has been affiliated with similar cases in the past: he has been tied to other large data theft cases including the theft of more than 40 million credit card numbers from TJX cos (TJ Maxx), OfficeMax, Barnes & Nobles and other companies last summer as well as the theft of thousands of cards from Dave & Busters in 2007. Gonzalez is currently in jail awaiting trial, according to news reports.

    This case may be far more massive than any that have come before it, but unfortunately for both businesses and consumers, it is not unusual in its charges.

    - Aug 18, 2009 2:10 PM ET
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