Chances are, the employees at StumbleUpon have more fun at work than you do. From throwing dinner parties for its users to transforming its San Francisco office into an art gallery every few months, the discovery aggregator continues to embrace its whimsical roots, even as its user base balloons past 25 million. That freewheeling culture is a big reason why it's able to attract top executive talent, like former Yahoo VP Cody Simms who has decided to leave the Internet giant behind after seven years to become StumbleUpon’s new Vice President of Product, officially starting today.
"The service is based on discovery and curiosity, and that permeates the whole company culture," says Simms who, despite his track record at older, larger media and technology companies like Yahoo, NBC and Sprint, is a small-scale entrepreneur and innovator at heart. He’s also a surfing enthusiast, both on water and on the web, who loves to see the spirit of exploration manifest itself throughout StumbleUpon’s offices. "The rooms are all named after famous explorers and discoverers," Simms told me, speaking from the company's Goodall Room. "There are books and objects throughout the office like The Origin of Species that showcase that attention toward finding new stuff."
This may be Simms’ first full-time startup gig in more than 10 years, but that doesn’t make him unprepared for the entrepreneurial, community-first hustle of the social web. For four years, Simms taught a Master’s thesis course at USC’s Annenberg School of Communication requiring students to build and launch their own online community websites. "We went through the full product development process, everything from coming up with a product statement to defining the scope of their community site to the actual high level features. The Annenberg Foundation paid each group $10,000 to hire designers and developers. Over the four years that I taught that, we probably launched about 20 services into a product, each one a mini-startup." Platforms developed by Simms’ students include MingleBird, an iPhone app that helps people make new friends at conferences, and Stroome, a collaborative video editing tool that won a Knight News Challenge award in 2010.
Describing his new role at StumbleUpon, Simms says, "I'll be overseeing all product and design," including consumer products, publisher tools, and the company’s Paid Discovery platform which helps advertisers insert promoted content into users’ Stumble sessions. "At Yahoo, I worked on publisher products, developer products, social products, and consumer media products. But each of those were in different roles and different tenures of my career. I think what’s exciting about my new opportunity is to work on each of those, but all in one role." Simms will also work to expand StumbleUpon's global presence—yesterday the company launched new features tailored to audiences in the United Kingdom.
Simms is the second new addition to StumbleUpon’s executive team this year. Last April, the company introduced Digitas’ Teal Newland as its first-ever Vice President of Sales.
[Image: Flickr user Freshelectrons]