Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Interview with Gordon Gould, ThisNext
Santa Monica-based ThisNext (www.thisnext.com) debuted the firm's social wisdom/blogging product yesterday, to help users on the Internet find products recommended to them by others. We have been trying to get ThisNext to talk about the startup since last year, when they were working on their venture funding. Now that they've launched, we finally had the chance to talk with Gordon Gould, co-founder and CEO of the firm, on the record about his new company and what they're up to.
Ben Kuo: What's the idea behind ThisNext?
Gordon Gould: Product discovery: we help people find products they never knew were even of interest to them, in the same way that window shopping helps you find unexpected stuff. We do this by aggregating the wisdom of crowds (via blogger product pick lists) into a database that becomes a net-equivalent of asking your friends "what products do you use?"
Ben Kuo: Where'd the inspiration for the company come from, and why did you decide to start the company?
Gordon Gould: There are 60 million plus consumer products out there. How can you find stuff that is good for you? Google is great if you know what you want (ie search) but not great if you have only a general idea (ie discovery). So we wanted to enable guided discovery or, more colorfully, "guided serendipity."
Ben Kuo: What's your background, and that of your co-founder, Craig Ogg?
Gordon Gould: I have been an internet entrepreneur since 1993, mostly focused on consumer net and mobile. I was president of Silicon Alley Reporter, and founder of Upoc, the largest mobile community in North America. Craig Ogg has been a consumer software and internet entrepreneur/developer since around then too. Most recently, he was VP of R&D for Stamps.com. We are both old-school for the net.
Ben Kuo: I know you landed a stealth round of funding earlier this year, can you talk about your investors and funding?
Gordon Gould: Our investors are Anthem and Clearstone. They are both great firms with a strong understanding of the consumer net and transaction platforms. We raised $3.5 million.
Ben Kuo: Tell me a little bit about what you launched yesterday?
Gordon Gould: We will debut with shopcasting badges, which are mashable bits of code bloggers use to run their favorite picks on their blogs. Shopcast badges can be combined with other services (for example, you might list your favorite snow-boarding gear with Flickr photos of your latest snowboarding trip) or group badges where you can have multiple people creating the picks.
Ben Kuo: What's the value proposition for bloggers to contribute content to your site, instead of their own?
Gordon Gould: The value prop for bloggers is:
1. Syndicate your voice. Bloggers/writers write to be read. We give another forum for bloggers to reach their users in a specific context. Also, popular bloggers' lists might get picked up by third parties who want to run the bloggers list on their own site. Sort of like a long-tail, self-selected celeb endorsement network.
2. Social capital: bloggers are often influencers. Influencers like to influence so we help them express their recommendations to people who turn to the bloggers as go-to sources of product info. In other words, we enable users to ask the collective wisdom of crowds/bloggers, "what products do you use?" so that users can find new stuff.
3. Discoverability: the aforementioned wisdom of crowds database also enables users to find bloggers who reflect the readers interests. This is a big plus for bloggers since so much of the net is haphazard. We are enabling an easier, programmatic way to find people whose product interests reflect your lifestyle.
4. Lastly, all content on ThisNext can, if the bloggers wish, appear on their own site in their badge. Additionally, you can export from your blog to ThisNext and soon import from ThisNext to your blog. It is all the blogger's content: we are just enabling a new layer in their digital identity. Flickr handles photos, YouTube does video. We are doing products as a layer for self-expression.
Ben Kuo: Finally, how are you going to stand out from what seems like an awful lot of "social wisdom" and collaboration sites (including a bunch around shopping recommendations) out there?
Gordon Gould: I think our "layer in the digital identity" strategy is a useful disctinction. A lot of these wisdom sites are YASN (yet another social network) which ask you to recreate your network on their site. That is a failing strategy. Instead, we focus on further enabling bloggers to better flesh out their digital identity by augmenting their existing blogs. Also, really, at the end of the day, it boils down to execution: do you have better social architecture, is your community robust and usefully productive, does the site add real value? Obviously, we think we stand out in the crowd because we have spent a lot of time studying the market, user behavior, what discovery really means for consumers looking for products. We also have a really killer team of experienced consumer internet ninjas who kick serious ass.
Ben Kuo: Thanks for the interview!