"I'm With Coco" propelled Conan O'Brien to viral stardom. Actor Rainn Wilson (Dwight from The Office) has had such success with his metaphysical social network, SoulPancake, that it's soon to be a book and a TV show.
The link between these celebrity-Internet embraces is Aviv Hadar, 25, and his Portland, Oregon-based Web-development studio called Think Brilliant. Mike Mitchell, a Think Brilliant employee, created Coco and released it online, and Hadar's the tech brains behind SoulPancake. "He's a visionary," Wilson says. "He wants to be the next Steve Jobs." Hadar isn't there yet, although he did turn down a job offer from Apple.
Hadar credits his success to his anti-Silicon Valley approach. "I don't want to gauge value by how much funding I get," he says, "but by the success of my products." And that means getting equity, rare for Web shops. He licensed the Coco image to O'Brien and American Express for Conan's live tour, keeping the merchandise rights. Think Brilliant made well into the six figures even before the tour started. He's partners with Wilson in SoulPancake. "We have no interest in selling out," Hadar says.
Up next is a Web service called Ziphook that's designed for organizations to leverage social media. He hopes to launch with the City of Portland as his partner. "We'll wait two years if we have to," he says. "You can't buy publicity like that."