No Idealab company has grown further or faster than CitySearch
(http://www.citysearch.com), an online information service that sorts and retrieves information about local merchants, services, and events in major cities. Its brief history underscores the fast-paced realities of business on the Internet.
CitySearch competes on speed. In 1995, over the July 4th holiday, Bill Gross was in New York City for a wedding. He needed a haircut and didn't know where to find a good barber. His problem triggered an idea: a collection of city-specific Web sites full of local information and reviews. Within a few weeks Gross had a business plan. By August he had a topflight CEO. The first CitySearch site (in North Carolina's Research Triangle area) went online the following spring. Today the service is up and running in Pasadena and San Francisco, and the company plans to be in 20 to 30 more cities by the end of 1997. It already employs 240 people.
Charles Conn left McKinsey and Co. to become CitySearch's CEO. He says Idealab's business model has enabled the company's fast growth: "It's a lot like McKinsey. Idealab is a group of smart people who form into teams to solve problems. Setting up a stand-alone Internet company is absurd."
Of course, the first byproduct of commercial success on the Net is aggressive competition. America Online has announced plans to roll out a collection of "Digital Cities" by the end of 1997; Microsoft has earmarked as much as $500 million for its new online information service, code-named Cityscape.
Gross is ready for the fight. "There are only two ways to beat companies like Microsoft and AOL," he says. "The first is to outrun them, which we are doing. The second is to focus. It is incredible what strategic focus can do. That's why Intuit keeps beating Microsoft. CitySearch is unbelievably focused."
A version of this article appeared in the Dec 1996/Jan 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.