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Intelligent Machines

Kevin Laws, MBA '96

Entrepreneur helps consumers find bargains in online marketplaces

Entrepreneur Kevin Laws has taken on the task of taming the flood of Internet information—at least in some consumer searches. His company, Vast.com, helps shoppers find the most relevant information on cars, real estate, and vacation spots.

Laws, who grew up in Pennsylvania, first studied computer science at Dickinson College, where his parents teach physics. In 1993, while working at Computer Sciences Corporation in Germany, he helped create one of the first and largest intranets in the world, for a U.S. Army general who was running food aid operations to Somalia. The general needed to know which airports in Italy had runways long enough for cargo planes. Laws had fixed a few bugs in Mosaic, the browser that popularized the World Wide Web, so he plugged a simple Web interface into the army’s existing databases to make them all searchable from a single place. It worked.

This story is part of the July/August 2011 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
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While he was studying at Sloan, he learned how to start an Internet company, knowledge he would apply soon after graduation as an early hire at Epinions.com, a website for customer-generated reviews. He also discovered a deep and lasting affection for economics. After graduation, he traveled from his home in Silicon Valley to Sloan to teach the economics refresher course to incoming MBA students for the next three years. “That passion has pretty much defined my career since then,” Laws says. His subsequent work, which has included rising to vice president at Epinions and principal at the early-stage investment firm PacRim Venture Partners, “has involved applying what I learned about economics at MIT to online marketplaces.”

His company, Vast, founded in 2001, is a search and advertising platform that allows visitors to big sites such as Bing, AOL, and Southwest Airlines to access live inventory and third-party research as they search for used cars, real estate, and vacations. Vast uses information already collected in databases—like vehicle registrations and real-estate filings—to capture what people end up buying. This enables websites using the Vast platform to deliver more targeted search results to consumers.

“There’s a cost of having to think about your choices too much,” Laws says. “The economics term is ‘psychic cost.’ Vast reduces the psychic cost in a market with literally tens of thousands of sellers and millions of buyers.”

Laws, who earned a master’s in international relations from BU while in Germany, loves to travel. He and his wife, management consultant Hyun-Joo Bae, MBA ‘96, and their two young children just returned from seven months in a rural town of 200 people just north of Milan, where they lived while Laws consolidated Vast’s European offices.

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