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Q&A: RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal on the EU Cookie Law and social media

Entrepreneurs dream of building at least one successful, multi-million dollar company in their lifetime.

Gurbaksh Chahal has already built three, and he’s still only 28.

He sold his first online advertising startup, ClickAgents, for $ 40m to ValueClick, followed by his second company, BlueLithium, for $ 300m to Yahoo.

His third venture, RadiumOne, has achieved huge success by using social data to target adverts across the web.

I’ve been asking Chahal for his views on how the EU Cookie Law will affect online advertising, and also how he sees social media evolving over the next few years.

In its current form, is the EU Cookie Law the best way to protect consumer privacy?

I think it’s still quite murky at the moment, particularly around how websites are supposed to get users to opt in.

I think it will be more subjective than objective, as there’s no clear way that people can enforce it. It is too extreme at the moment, everything has to be opt-in and everything has to be very overt.

We have had similar talks about this kind of law in the US and when it become too extreme it’s normally about politicians trying to regulate without know the reality of the situation.

I think ultimately it will come down to self-regulation and a compromise that satisfies both sides.

How would the cookie law affect social networks that rely on user data?

Looking at the law as it stands, the law would kill the internet and cause a recession.

Social networks wouldn’t be able to operate, and e-commerce would be seriously affected if it can’t offer personalisation.

But on the flip side, I doubt it will come into force as it is, there has to be a compromise.

What impact would it have on the ability of companies like RadiumOne to innovate and create new products?

It would stop innovation, because cookies are the most basic method of tracking and offering personalisation.

We would need something to substitute cookies, and at the moment we don’t have anything capable of doing that.

RadiumOne has produced a number of social networking tools, so you have an excellent grasp on the industry. In your opinion, is Instagram worth $ 1bn?

I can’t really comment as I don’t want to piss anyone off.

But in terms of overall strategy Instagram filled a gap in the market by providing an app for something that people used to do a lot on Facebook [sharing photos], but don’t do so much anymore.

They made it easier for people to flip through photos, and Facebook is still working out what to do with its mobile platform.

Going forward Facebook will have to decide whether it wants to keep the two services separate or somehow integrate them.

How important is mobile for social networks going forward?

In the next five years there will be a mobile first social network for sure.

Facebook isn’t great on mobile yet, and if it wants to continue its dominance it needs to work out what people use mobile for and find a better way of offering them that service.

There’s more than 2bn Android and iOS users in the world, which will soon overtake the number of people with internet access.

That’s a huge opportunity for someone to get mobile social networking right.

Will Google+ ever catch on with consumers?

The main problem with Google+ is that it doesn’t have a clear purpose. It needs to evolve and work out what its for as consumers don’t know why they should use it.

The second problem is there isn’t enough sound, and by that I mean social activity.

Facebook has so much sound that it becomes noise, it’s almost overwhelming how much content you see.

But with Google+ you don’t know what you get, as your stream has very little content from friends and family.

So while people might complain that there’s too much noise on Facebook, Google+ is just too quiet.

How will advertising on social networks evolve?

When people think about social advertising they always think about Facebook ‘likes’.

But for really effective advertising you have to take a flavour of the social graph and look at how you can bring those connections to the rest of the web.

A lot of the time spent online is browsing e-commerce sites and searching for things, but we can still use the power of social data when people aren’t logged in to social networks.

That’s the big opportunity and that’s the role we play.

The first thing we try to do is find out who you share the most with through social and email.

Then once we have created that social graph and we know that you share Nike content within your social circle, we try to deliver Nike ads to those people.

Finally, you sold your first two companies for more than $ 300m. What motivates you to keep working to build RadiumOne instead of just retiring?

Well, first of all I guess I am just one of those people who can never retire.

Second, I have had two companies that were a success, but RadiumOne is already bigger than BlueLithium.

My ambition is always to create a bigger challenge and opportunity, and I’ll always be looking to bridge that gap between existing technologies.

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