The Tribe has spoken: Where Mark Pincus's company is going

Guest feature by Beth Gottfried

In a reality-show-stopping theatrical move worthy of Survivor, Mark Pincus, Founder of Tribe Networks, Inc., an online classified and social networking site (think "Craigslist meets Friendster") ousted former CEO Jan Gullet (a suit from Pepsi and Procter & Gamble), and the Board at Tribe this past week and announced his reclamation of his post via blog. Originally the post was thought to be a hoax, as reported by TechCrunch, but it's since been confirmed that "The Ants (or Mark) Took Over" and everyone is euphoric, with the exception of Jan, the Board, and possibly alleged Tribe's would-be buyer, NBC who may or may not be shitting bricks, or anthills as the analogy goes. Anyway, Mark is the sole queen of said anthill now.

While little is known about the new and improved business plan, Pincus seems eager to get Tribe's focus back to grown-up communities. And yes, most likely the aging Baby Boomer demographic. Insiders say, "Mark is holding his cards close to his chest. He and six engineers have worked on a business plan since May. He doesn't have any marketing, sales, or administration folks." We all know that adage about too many cooks in the kitchen. As to whom Mark might be working with, speculation also points to Elliot, Tribe's former designer under Marc, who had the following to leak: "I predict it's going to feel like everything old is new again around here." Something tells us he knows a bit more than he's letting on.

Sharing in Elliot's enthusiasm for the return of Mark (and his faithful canine companion Zinga) are a good many of Tribe users who have shown bucketloads of love for the man who brought the concept of Free lovin' and Meet-Ups into harmony. Hey, it beats Jan Gullet's corporate Tribe mission statement rhetoric: "Personal satisfaction from high-touch human relationships."

Warm fuzzy feelings aside, Pincus has his work cut out for him, not unlike Steve Jobs when he had to resume his duties with Apple after a disastrous hiatus involving CEO John Sculley. The takeaway for Jobs and Pincus: Never hire a Pepsi Exec to do a visionary's work.

The major concern in Mark's return is the viability of Tribe as a social networking site and whether it can exist and thrive on a global level. Tribe power-userEran Globen asserts that the allure of the site as a community gathering device is mostly a San Francisco/West Coast Neo-Hippie fad that never really took off elsewhere, perhaps largely because the site is dependent on the intimate relationship between Pincus and his community of users, which includes attending events and bonding with Tribesters personally.

Globen also contends that Tribe's best option is to go the way of technology platform as an outsourced community tool and to work on improving upon existing platforms, such as modular user profiles (users can already embed profiles from sites like Flickr) with inherent feeds to weed out useless info, synchronized calendars with Google and Outlook, and broader syndication for events. Tribe insiders say Globen may as well have read their internal plan — they're about to do all he said.

Globen's insights also shed light on the the Tribe Called Quest for Money, namely the impending NBC deal. How will this new corporate make-over effect the standstill (sorry, the "Due Diligence process")? NBC previously bought iVillage and stated that they were after Tribe's platform. With Pincus back at the helm and more Tribe confidence weighing in, it's conceivable that there will be more money by way of investments and that Pincus will work on improving upon Tribe's existing technologies (and that $5 million rumored valuation).

Given who he is and what he stands for, we think it safe to say that Pincus will nurture his Tribal conquest a bit longer before selling out to the highest bidder, which will most likely not be NBC.

Where Could Tribe Go? [Eran Globen's blog]
Earlier: Holy shit, Mark Pincus saves Tribe! [Valleywag]
Photo by JD Lasica, Creative Commons license [New Media Musings]