Back in January I blogged about Mayfied and Bessemer funded Wize, a company which uses the wisdom of the crowds to alert consumers to products worthy of their attention. The company’s CEO, Tom Patterson, responded that he had spent the summer of 2006 as an EiR at Mayfield analyzing the really important uses of the Internet versus the current gaps in satisfaction.
For Tom the “what to buy” process (product research) kept coming up as a major opportunity.
I totally agree with Tom – there is hurt there. I recall my experience a few months later when I wanted to get a new mountain bike. The process of researching what bike to buy was painstaking. Besides trawling through product sites I wanted peer group validation. A friend had bought a Specialized and so this got me interested in them as a brand. I was still undecided and it was only when another colleague arrived at a breakfast meeting on his Specialized Stumpjumper that I was sold!
Not everyone has the time or motivation to trawl the web or wants to rely on serendipity to get their next bike or set of golf clubs.
Others have noticed this hurt spot in the way we buy products on the web. Looking to buy a new road bike, it dawned upon another entrepreneur, Aaron Mann, over the northern summer of 2007 that there has to be a better way.
I caught up with Aaron, CEO of Relevant Mind, for a chat about what his company does to reduce the pain in deciding what to buy. The self funded, San Fracisco start up launched on the 24th September and they liken their product to having a highly knowledgeable friend to ask advice of while going through the buying decision making process.
At a 45,000 foot level what Relevant Mind does is make it easy for people to connect to what’s going on in user communities related to products and services they are interested in.
Their starting point was crawling Internet forums because the data on these forums doesn’t move around much and so it is easier for them to index and organize it. Their focus has been on how do you make information that is out there more accessible to more people.
Essentially, Relevant Mind is trying to find the nexus point between research on a product and what it does and what your peer group feels about it.
In one of their verticals they are aggregating about 9 million posts from over 200,000 users. They then datamine all that information against the products that they have – organizing and making this information useful.
I asked Aaron to drill down into how their system works. He explained that they have raw posts sitting on one side, and products on the other. It is then an iterative process of generating the best set of results and the learning part of that is basically running a bunch of reports that come back with how many results they are getting per product. On the real outliers, the ones with zero or a hundred thousand they know their search term combinations aren’t correct so there will be some manual intervention.
He recognizes that one of the challenges moving forward will be mining other information sources. It’s relatively easy to mine user groups and blogs, but social networks like MySpace and networks of networks like Ning present a greater challenge.
Aaron assured me that they do have a Facebook strategy. The first part of it is to look at ways they can add value to users. He points to Visual Bookshelf as a really good model for them. Because Relevant Mind organizes around people’s special interests, their hobbies and their sports those are often the kind of things users might want to feature as part of their profile.
For example, if you do a lot of surfing, what boards do you have? What kind of mountain bike do you have? These are the kinds of things users want to share with other people that are interested in the same thing.
The second and deeper part of their Facebook strategy is to watch how the user interactions grow in terms of what they are discussing on Facebook. Right now he finds the groups very active in certain things but not around many of the special interests (personally I find Facebook groups to be one of their weakest points). He is really interested to see how places like Facebook develop a really cohesive user community.
I asked Aaron what his take was on microblogging and he sees tools like Twitter evolving around products and services mainly for things a user is trying to find out about quickly. If a person does not have the time to do a lot of research, reading and diving into what communities are saying, microblogging can be useful. This is because it enables a user to extract data quickly due to the fact that information is coming through in a constrained format.
Relevant Mind has initially launched in products that tap into the special interests of some of the six person management team, namely road bikes and golf. They intend to launch climbing in a fortnite, and have a range of other outdoor sports and interest areas, like cooking, that they will target. In total they have a list of forty high dollar item interest areas they will focus on.
Their revenue model is linked into affiliate programs. On product page there are links to all the places where people are talking about that product and then there is a tab called ‘buy now”. This tab features that product available new from multiple retailers as well as current eBay auctions.
Because they want to be as transparent as possible for users, Aaron is ambivalent about product sponsorship and advertising on their site.
Relevant Mind is planning a capital raising in the near future and they are also presenting at Chris Shipley’s DEMOfall this week in San Diego.
Another interesting company extracting value from the collective wisdom that is available on the web for web users.