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peHUB Second Opinion

In Second Opinion, Amazon enters the streaming video set-top box competition with its Fire TV product, the most popular jobs in every state, Microsoft is bringing back the start menu to the Windows desktop and the reorganization of Energy Future Holdings Corp. will likely nearly wipe out owners KKR, TPG and Goldman.

5 Questions for Norman Winarsky on Siri and What’s Next from SRI

Apple yesterday acquired Siri, a virtual personal assistant for the iPhone. No financial terms were disclosed, but a source tells peHUB that it was in the ballpark of $200 million.

Siri was a VC-backed spinout of SRI International, a non-profit R&D lab whose past hits include Nuance Communications and Intuitive Surgical. The person in charge of the group’s ventures, licensing and strategic programs is Norman Winarsky, who also sat on the board of Siri. So we’ve got five questions for him:

1. Siri was borne of the much-larger CALO project. What convinced you that this sliver was right for spinout and commercialization?

Our venture process innovates constantly not simple of technology, but on what are the disruptive technological solutions we can help provide. And, typical of any tech solution, you must have a market vertical that makes sense and where there is a terribly important need.

In the information technology space it was clear, even during CALO, that the concept of a virtual personal assistant was a great market opportunity. We originally wondered if we should go into the mobile phone or PC space, but we had one very telling offsite where we decided mobile because of the market pain. It’s so difficult to ask for Web services when on a phone – particularly if you’re in motion — whereas on a PC you can just type.

Apple/Siri Notes: Scoble “Is A Very Smart Guy”

Earlier today, iPhone assistant maker Siri confirmed that it has been acquired by Apple. No financial terms were disclosed by the startup, which had raised $24 million in VC funding from Menlo Ventures, Morgenthaler Ventures and SRI International (from which it spun out in 2008). Some notes:

1. Robert Scoble first spotted the deal, based on an early termination of Hart-Scott-Rodino by the SEC. Good eyes, although it saddens me that this could prompt other reporters to regularly begin sifting through FTC notices (saddens me more that I hadn’t done my own regular sweep).

2. Scoble also wrote the following, vis-a-vis price:

If previous acquisitions by Apple are an indicator this would have gone for 8x to 10x investments, which would have put the price at about $200 million. Since this company/product just came out this year (I named it one of the startups to watch in 2010) it would have had to go for that amount or more to get the investors interested in selling so soon.

I’ve spoken to a source familiar with the deal, who says that Scoble “is a very smart guy.” It’s not $200 million on the nose, but it’s very, very close.

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