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Q&A: Ask Jeeves CEO Robert Wrubel

Here's a question for Ask Jeeves:

How does a company with scarcely $1 million in quarterly revenue post the third best stock debut of all time?

According to Securities Data, only theglobe.com and Marketwatch.com have ever surpassed the 363 percent first day gain posted by Ask Jeeves Inc. (Nasdaq: ASKJ), which went public Thursday. CEO Robert Wrubel now finds himself in charge of a company worth almost $1.6 billion, or roughly 1,500 times revenue -- an impressive valuation for a company whose main selling point is a search engine, albeit one that lets users frame queries as questions in naturally phrased sentences.

ZDII briefly spoke to Wrubel shortly after his company went public. Excerpts from the telephone interview:

ZDII: How do you account for your stock's first day performance?

Wrubel: I think people are excited about what Ask Jeeves does. I think they like the first part, with our website's natural language query -- I think fundamentally that that is really a direction in which the Web has to move. It's something that people can touch and experience for themselves, and see that it works.

And the second part is, we help corporations answer question from their customers. We're taking our tools and our technology approach that enables a corporation's customers to ask a question and engage in the same kind of dialogue that you have on our website.

ZDII: When did you realize that this was going to be a huge success?

Wrubel: It's hard to say. The market's got so many uncertainties, with Fed and interest rates and all that. The main job that we have is just telling our story and trusting the market to feed off that.

ZDII: Surely you must have had some expectations for today?

Wrubel: As an entrepreneur, I always think big, but try to temper my expectations, I always live a paranoid life. It (Thursday's stock performance) is great -- but now, it's back to business.

ZDII: Some critics, including my boss here at ZDII, have said Ask Jeeves is a company that's "too green to go public." How do you respond to that?

Wrubel: We always carefully look at the timing of these kinds of financial events. Our company has great momentum and a great management team, and the public market really has a desire to help companies with great, powerful services, (that) have the tools and the currency to invest in growing.

It's always in the eyes of the beholder, but from our perspective, we're very excited about what we'll able to do and how quickly we'll be able to grow.

Just let your boss know he can just watch the company grow and see what happens.

ZDII: What kind of criteria should a company be using in determining when to go public? What was your defining moment in deciding to do it?

Wrubel: I think when you feel confident about your ability to execute on your plans, and to manage expectations. That's really the key criteria.

ZDII: What type of services are you looking to add? Most portals try to add things around the basic query engine.

Wrubel: There's a lot of things we could do, and we're listening to what the customers want from out site all the time. So we'll really let customers kind of guide us, as to the things that they're most interested in. So you'll see those kinds of plans unfold.

And then we have our corporate service customers, and they are looking for great new enhancements with what we can do to help them improve their relationships with online customers.

So we'll let the customers kind of point the way in that direction.

ZDII: So nothing specific yet then?>

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