Rotten Tomatoes and other startups from Patrick Lee
by Priyanka Gokhale '08
Today, before seeing a movie, we log onto RottenTomatoes.com and see what kind of a rating the film has received. One of the brainchildren behind this user-driven movie rating service is Magnet alum Patrick Lee, the current CEO of alivenotdead.com, an online forum for artists and their fans.
Lee, who graduated from the Magnet in 1992, has had a varied trajectory since he left Silver Spring for the West Coast and later Hong Kong. But it was in the magnet that his entrepreneurial spirit and interest in the entertainment industry were cultivated.
From a second phone line at his home, teenage Lee started a bulletin board system that allowed multiple people to log on, chat in forums, and play video games. Though many of the participants were fellow Magnet students, strangers also joined in and Lee coordinated member meet-ups as well.
Lee characterizes his Magnet education as amazing, crediting much of it to “wonderful, smart teachers who loved what they were doing.” He even believes that he received a better education at Blair than he did at Berkeley, where class sizes were much bigger. However, being at a University did have perks because it gave his various start-up companies a pool of potential interns.
Start-ups took much of Lee’s time while in college. Besides Rotten Tomatoes, he focused on so many other projects that his coursework was often interrupted. Many times, he says, he “could only take classes part-time or in the summer” and even had to take a few semesters off. As a result, his undergraduate education was extended for several years.
But taking the extra time paid off. One of the Lee’s biggest projects was Design Reactor, co-founded with his friend Stephen Wang at Berkeley. Design Reactor provided interactive design services to entertainment giants like Disney Channel and Warner Brothers, including creating the Flash game to accompany “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” at the show’s peak – in 2000-2001.
While Design Reactor was still running, the company’s Creative Director Senh Duong, another Berkeley student, had the idea for Rotten Tomatoes and began working on it in his spare time. Rotten Tomatoes went online in August 1998, and within days, it was receiving a thousand hits a day. The idea for Rotten Tomatoes was simple: The website would gather movie reviews from many different internet sites and newspapers. A movie with enough positive reviews would be certified fresh, while a movie with too many negative reviews would be rotten. By summer 2000, Lee, Wang, and Duong had transferred all of their efforts to Rotten Tomatoes. They built Rotten Tomatoes into a profitable business, and Lee was the CEO until 2004, when it was purchased by IGN entertainment. It was only after the sale of the company that Lee finally had the time to complete his undergraduate career at UC Berkeley with a degree in Cognitive Science.
Lee continues to stay in touch with the entertainment industry today. He is currently based in Hong Kong as the CEO of alivenotdead.com, which “allows artists to connect with their fans as well as each other, he says. Though competitors like Facebook and Twitter have limited alivenotdead’s ability to serve as a forum for social networking, Lee is currently working on major changes to make the website more similar to Rotten Tomatoes.
But that’s not all – Lee has even helped to fund five movies since moving out to Asia. And he hasn’t lost touch with his roots in the Blair Magnet. One of his friends from high school, Raffi Kamalian, is also based in Hong Kong working with Lee on alivenotdead.com.
Today, Lee’s willingness to pursue different paths has allowed him to shape his career in the technology and entertainment industries. His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to not be afraid to follow their dreams, he says. “Take risks with your career while you are young and don’t have anything to lose.”
Priyanka Gokhale '08 is looking for Magnet students who have taken the program's independent-thinking spirit and applied it in unique and interesting ways. From day one in Research and Experimentation, we're thrust into new situations and asked to think outside the box - and if you think you know of alumni that embody this spirit, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or make a suggestion online.