Advice site Keen ousts two top execs

The company's board fires the CEO and CFO. The new acting chief executive says directors want someone at the helm with "more experience managing a large company."

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The board of directors at Keen, an online advice site, has fired the company's chief executive and chief financial officer.

Chief Executive Karl Jacob and CFO Gary Iwatani were dismissed Wednesday, company representatives said. The board named Ebbe Altberg, the company's vice president of program management, as Keen's acting CEO on Thursday. Jacob will remain an "active" member of Keen's board, the representatives said.

Keen continues to do well financially and the management shake-up was not related to the company's financial performance, Altberg said. Altberg did not give details of the privately held company's financial performance.

"Karl's a great entrepreneur. He's done a great job of getting the company to a certain point," Altberg said. "The board thought it was time for somebody with more experience managing a large company to come in."

Altberg said he was not privy to the board's discussions regarding Jacob or Iwatani and didn't find out about the decision until Thursday. But Altberg said he and other members of the management team had met recently with the board to discuss potential changes.

Jacob and Keen board members Ken Harvey and Jeff Skoll did not return calls seeking comment.

The management shake-up was first reported by the Web site of magazine Red Herring.

Launched in 1999, Keen uses both its toll-free number and its Web site to connect advice seekers with advice givers via phone. The company charges a per-minute connection charge and a commission on each advice giver's per-minute rate. Although customers can seek advice on a variety of topics, including computing and financial planning, the service's most popular use has been as a new format for psychic hotline customers.

Seen as a spin on eBay's successful model of pairing people searching for physical products, Keen has drawn investments from the online auction giant, Benchmark Capital, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Banc Alex Brown, and CNET Networks, publisher of News.com.

Jacob founded Dimension X, one of the first Java start-ups, in 1995 and sold it to Microsoft two years later. After working as a top executive at Microsoft, Jacob became an entrepreneur in residence at Benchmark in 1999. Shortly thereafter, he joined and launched Keen.

Iwatani joined Keen from Liquid Audio, where he had also served as CFO.

Last fall, Keen laid off an undisclosed number of employees, including several from its marketing and communications departments.

Keen's board has begun a search to find a permanent CEO. Meanwhile, the company has not named a successor to Iwatani.