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tv   Press Here  NBC  July 8, 2012 9:00am-9:30am PDT

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this week, two men changing the way you shop and rock. charting the future of wal-mart and shawn mohler using the internet to draw the biggest fans to small town, illinois. our reporters, wired. that's this week on "press: here." well, good morning, everyone. the word wal-mart conjures up any number of images. it can mean low prices or a certain socioeconomic position. what wal-mart is behind the scenes anyway is one of the most innovative companies in america. it's this man who's doing the
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innovating. the head of wal-mart labs. now, his office in silicon valley look nothing like a wal-mart. in fact, the closest wal-mart retail store is 17 miles away, across the san francisco bay in oakland. but it's here where roger rahman thinks of the future of retailing, particularly online. now, he has his work cut out for him. wal-mart may be the biggest retailer in the real world, but amazon is the biggest retailer online. amazon's success thanks in large part to roger hman. he's a former amazon executive. his ideas are behind much of that company's success. rahman sold his latest company to wal-mart which is how he finds himself in the latest position. he's one of the earliest investors in facebook and had
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the opportunity to buy google. we could start in so many places, but let's start with the conflict or the competition between you and amazon. you were a key figure at amazon that helped amazon grow into what it is today. >> well, you know, it was a little bit of an exaggeration to say i was a key figure. >> it's all a team effort. we have heard it all before. you were a key figure in amazon. so much of what you're doing is competing with something that you yourself had helped set up. >> in a way, that's true. you know, my first company that i started back in 1998 acquired amazon. i worked at amazon for a couple of years from '90 to 2000. helping to make it from a retailer into the retail platform. >> a third party retailer. >> that's right.
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yes. >> so other things as well. is it true you were one of the brains behind the mechanical turf project, is that right? >> yeah. that was something that i helped coin, and held a patent to. >> why don't you explain it to the viewer. >> it's a fascinating thing. if you're a programmer and you have a task and a computer can't complete that task for you, you basically reach out to the world of real people online that might be able to help you solve this particular task. >> that's right. the idea is that people are really good at some tasks and computers can good at some tasks. to put people together, to create a hybrid man-made computing, and then the name was come up with. >> i did not know. >> historic reference. >> it's a great story about the chess-playing turk. >> well, i don't know exactly
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when, they had all the cafes and there would be chess competitions in the cafes. there was a chess-playing robot which could beat anybody at chess. that was called the mechanical chess turk. eventually, there was a human side to it. >> you know, which is very different from the other stuff you have done, right? most of the other stuff is automated, like in the google sense. you're building search engines, shopping and searching, for instance, that are analyzing data and then automatically producing information which is very different from the mechanical turk. i mean, does the mechanical turk idea still play into your work? >> you know, there's been success which involves combining humans and algorithms. there's still some things that
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algorithms are really poor at. and there are some things that humans are really poor at. it's a matter of putting them together. >> what does it mean for wal-mart, what do you bring to what is traditionally -- the logistics of what wal-mart does. what can you bring that's new and forward thinking to wal-mart? >> so to tell the story, the way people shop changes once in a while, right. 15 years ago there was a reflection point of e commerce being cemented. we now can buy online. right now we are in the midst of the inflection point. more and more, you know, 41% of americans carry the smartphones into shopping malls. and almost everybody is on facebook. so people spend and more on mobile.
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>> you aren't really focused on retail in cosmic which was acquired by wal-mart. what were you guys doing? >> so at cosmic, we were working in the space of social media and analyzing what people are saying on facebook and twitter and using that for interesting things. what's the story right now? what's the news event happening right now? is somebody into hiking or biking or adventure sports, based on what -- >> what does that knowledge bring into the retail space? what can you do with the fact that i like hiking, but hate biking. >> there were recent reports about target, right? >> i won't comment on target. >> is she pregnant? >> i had to have been buying lotions and supplements according to the latest article coming out about target. certain consumer behavior, you
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can know a month before the baby arrives at least, that the baby is on the way and you can send out coupons for diapers and formula. >> that's the target theory. >> so we're not doing exactly that. so to get back to your previous question about the interest in social media, if you step back and think of retail. retail is about connecting customers and they have a lot of information on the products. and we make the best connection. it's always what it has been about. and which think it's going to be that. what social media gives us is a new source of information about people. so to give you an example for the holiday season we launched a product on facebook. if you're on facebook, you can download the app and you can make better gift purchases for your friend. if you have a friend and don't know what to buy for them, it
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has information that you have on facebook. it looks at the information. like a biker, you might want to get him this. >> so looking at my profile, a man of a certain age, a man of a certain zip code would like this particular band or gift shop, this might be a helpful gift? >> it's actually more. you might have -- you may have said, look, you can use it for the mountain biking. might like some kind of gear. >> do you have any numbers yet on how many people have used shoppy cat to transfer into real purchases? i have tried out shoppy cat. it is kind of cool. you can see your friends that aren't on it. you can get recommendations for everybody basically. but how many -- yeah, for your friends on your network. but how many people are actually
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then taking that and making purchase on >> so there's two parts to that question. how many people are actually using it? we have 130,000 installed so far of shoppy cat, which is a significant number and we find that people come to shoppy cat, they spend 15 minutes on shoppy cat looking at their friend's interests and what new gift ideas are for their friends. and one of the interesting things about shoppy cat is that the gift that we recommend are not necessarily from wal-mart. this is also an innovation that we have done with shoppy cat. >> can you get past wal-mart? >> what we did is we explained to the customer, that it comes down to how we make the gift-giving experience. it is a pattern where wal-mart is a huge product, there are specific indicators for which we may not have the best gift. >> sure. >> we need to open this up to other retailers.
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so we recommend gift master from wal-mart. but many other retailers as well. >> and we'll take a quick break for a commercial. we'll be back in a moment.
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welcome back to "press: here." we are here with rahman from wal-mart. >> scott mentioned you had not one, but two opportunities to buy google. you were at stanford with larry page, are you guys close? >> well, we came in in the same year in 1993. there were a time when graduate students would come to stanford and we'd share an office. we were sitting next to each other. >> he came to you and offered to
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sell, is that right? how did that work? >> this is ancient history. >> sure. >> at this point. >> it's google that we're talking about. >> ancient history. >> you know, the learning curve of working on google it wasn't clear the way that it was. and they discussed possible ways of exiting the company and i was part of -- >> what was the price tag? what was discussed? >> it was something like $1 million or something. >> any regrets there? >> you know -- >> he invested in facebook. >> there you go. >> got to look forward, not back. >> to the viewers who just joined us, he had a chance to join google for $1 million. you have been very successful in your own right. >> thank you. yes. >> why do you work? honest question. was it drudgery for $250,000?
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you don't have to get up in the morning to go to wal-mart. but you still do. >> yeah. it's a dream of technology. the dream of new technology, what they do impacts millions of people and millions of people use -- that's what we all dream of. that gets me up in the morning and going into work. the ability to make an impact on people well. >> are you able to recruit well? wal-mart, it's not twitter. are you able to recruit and say, hey, seriously, wal-mart it's really cool and we're doing neat stuff? >> one of the nice things about wal-mart labs, we are a small organization. 200 people or less. we work like a start-up. because it's a small organization, everybody knows everybody else. we have good time lines. we launched shoppy cat in less than six months so we work like a start-up. plus we have the resources of
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the big organization, wal-mart, including access to millions and millions of the customers. we have a big -- you're ready to make an impact on people. that's what -- you know, that's been a big draw. it's helped us to attract people from many, many different companies including google. every person we hire, a lot of the big data, we have to compete with. because of the alignment that we have, but really combines the best aspects of the targets of the large companies. >> what's on the way? what are you working on today? >> you don't tell anybody. >> no, one of the things i'm excited about and i mentioned shoppy cat. and another one is get on the shelf. this is an idea that a developer at wal-mart labs came up with a few months ago. a single developer. he came out of the blue and we encouraged him to take it public. we launched it a couple of months ago.
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we carry many, many products at wal-mart but there are thousands of americans who might have interesting product ideas and they have products but don't know how to get it on the shelves at wal-mart. what get it is on the shelf is, you can make a video of your product and upload it and let people vote on it. and we guarantee that the winner will get on the wal-mart shelves. >> it seems like, you know, a brick and mortar version almost of what you did at amazon with third party retailers. >> that's right. you know, brick and mortar, there's limited shelf space to compete. but at least it's open to the entire public. it helps us discover unique products. and voting starts march 17. >>
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up next, rock island and rock 'n' roll when "press: here" continues.
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welcome back to "press: here." if there's one thing the internet has proven it's that place is no longer important. for instance, some of the hottest music online is born in a small small town on the border of illinois and iowa. "rolling stone" magazine points out rock island, illinois, may not be an island, but it definitely rocks. ♪ the town of 40,000 right on the mississippi river is home to horshak studios and the day trotters. bands flock to the small studio because this is the hot place to
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get noticed. as many as seven bands a week pass through, offering their music to shawn moehler. no contracts are signed, they don't get to choose their own artwork. the music is posted online in raw form for anyone to download. now, the intention is to find new music, though lately, big names have tried their best to get through the door. shawn moehler grew up on farm. he used to watch the tour buses pass his town by on i-80. wished there was a way to get them to stop. so you got them to stop. you are now so successful, aren't you, that the danger is that somebody else needs to make another day trotter for the bands who don't get to get into day trotter. >> we don't want anyone to do that. >> the film festival started as an alternative. at some point, it got so big
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that somebody said we need a sundance for sundance. >> right. >> do they need a day trotter for day trotter? >> probably not. we had some other branches as far as the studios that we work on. places that we have gone to record in the past that we have gotten to like the people and we think it's a bit of a sound -- as good of a sound as we get back home. there are places where we started the london studio a couple of weeks ago. we do things out here frequently. we have a studio in austin, studio in asheville. and a place that we use every once in a while in montreal. >> how did you start doing this? >> well, it started off, back home, you know, i went to -- with the university of iowa for journalism. and started -- >> yeah. exactly. i did it for a long time. i started in high school, answering phones. kind of like how people get started in the newspaper business. i worked in the sports department for a long time.
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i'd come back from school in the summer, winter breaks, whatever, christmas and, you know, write and, you know, i worked there for 12 years. you know, it was just something that i wanted. you know, i kept trying to weasel into the entertainment, trying to write more about music and do the things that i wanted to do. >> and you weaseled in from rock island, illinois. it's one thing to pack up from hollywood, but another thing to have hollywood and nashville come to you. >> right. >> but as you said, you saw the tour buses passing you by. there's a thoroughfare, how did you get them to stop? the studio first or the website? >> the studio first. it was -- you know, i always think about it, talk about it where, you know, when we started six years ago, the internet, you know, obviously the internet has been around for a long time at that point. but what we do was still kind f of -- there's radio sections.
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people play a couple of songs to get people out to shows that night. there's always been that sort of thing. but kind of like when we started doing this, it was a novel. you know, now, there's all kinds of sessions. most are video and a lot of people are doing the video sessions now. when we started this, it was a new idea for the most part. and, you know, we are right in the middle of the big midwestern cities. people say we're in chicago, we're three hours away, but when you're in the midwest we're a pretty ea pretty easy drivable distance. they weren't getting bombarded with all these inquiries about stopping. like now it's a pretty regular thing for somebody, you know, a band to get asked to do dozens and dozens of sessions.
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>> anyone that we would recognize? >> all kinds of people. kris kristofferson. and deaf cab for cutie. >> tokyo police club. will coe. are there -- are there bands you said no to? >> yeah. >> they're just too big? >> no, i mean, it's not saying to bands that are pretty big. i had a pretty specific ear. i feel like i have an eclectic ear. >> it's about what you like. >> it's about what i like. everybody that's done a session has been hand chosen by me. you know, i guess people trust my ear at this point. and, you know, you say no -- you mostly no to bands that i feel we can't do a good job with. or, you know, bands that maybe just a little bit more time. there's certainly bands that we have recorded that i've said no to a few times because i didn't
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think they were good enough. >> did you ever in your whole think you'd be saying, you know, bands have to mature? you were so powerful in the music industry you get to say that. it's serious. >> it's for real though. >> absolutely. yes. >> i get e-mails from somebody saying, just started a band, we play a few shows. will, obviously, you know, you might be fans of the site. that doesn't work yet. i don't think i can help you yet. >> but a young shawn moehler would have never have dreamed when he was answering phones at the quad city herald -- >> quad city times. >> that i would crush the bands' spirits. >> i don't crush spirits. you know, it's weird how things happen. >> this was very much a new thing, but a lot of people compare it to the bbc. >> not really.
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i didn't start reading about john until after people started making the comparisons. i knew what he did. you know, who hasn't? >> explain what he did and do you do see the similarities? >> there are similarities. what he used to do, he used to take a lot of time. obviously, the sessions at the studio at the bbc, but then he had a studio at his homeo where he'll kind of invite his favori favorite bands to do a couple of day sessions. these are essentially the length of ours. four or five songs that, you know, they would take a long time to do. it was more like making a record. but the spirit of it, the kind of, you know, this is what happened that day sort of essence of it is, you know, essentially what we try to capture every day. >> do you think the internet is good for indie artists? hasn't been that good for the large record labels? >> i think it's an incredible thing. you know, we talk about it a lot. in interviews and things like that, people ask how i see the
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music industry. you know, like what do you think about the health of it? i mean, there is plenty of people who want to do the doomsday thing. but the fact of the matter is, there's so many more opportunities for you if you're a musician, than there ever had been before. >> you get exposure definitely, but to make money also? >> exposure and even looking at a kick starter thing right now. a band can ask their fans to help them, you know, in a very direct way ask them to fund making a record. fund going on tour. you know, those moans of letting the people that like what you do support you in other ways other than buying a record and coming to see you play, there are so many more of those now. i think -- >> anybody that you have discovered actually made it really big? >> yeah. a whole bunch of people. we took the flea foxes before -- we took them before they played
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noise pop and it was the first one they ever played outside of seattle. we taped them on the day. >> and bony baron, they won a grammy. >> won a grammy. >> about 30 seconds left. i tweeted, hey, shawn moehler will be on the show. pick your band. so the state lines are ft. worth would like to be heard by you. and the hard stick groans, they're swedish pop, they would like to get your attention as well. shawn mohler, thank you for being with us. we'll be back in a minute.
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that's our show for this week. if you missed the top of the show, we post all our episodes to the internet. all complete and all for free. do check out day trotter, look up elliott witmore.
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a ban go player from iowa. trust me, it's better than you think. i'm scott mcgrew. thank you for making us part of your sunday morning.
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