The latest crop of TechStars companies are just now filtering into New York, and the full list of companies won’t be public for a week. Normally, during this moving-in period, TechStars startups are as quiet as mice. We’re not quite sure why; perhaps they’re cowed by the big city, worried about stepping on the toes of their new mentors, or self-conscious about the fact that they may barely have a product. For whatever reason, they don’t usually take our calls.
But not Craig Danuloff, a dot-com veteran who sold one of the first e-commerce platforms, iCat, to Intel in ’98 (and wow, here’s the CNET post), who was more than happy to get the press. No, it’s not because his startup Rewind is raising money, although they’re “having discussions” about that, he said. It’s just that the product is pretty far along and he thought it was time to start talking about it, he told Betabeat.
“What we’re trying to do is put the first version of the app out early as close to the start of [TechStars] as possible,” he said, in order to have a live product to play with as the session progresses. The formerly Philly-based entrepreneur spoke to Betabeat by iPhone (AT&T, drop count: 1) as he headed home from signing a lease in Manhattan.
So, what is the product? It’s a personal history aggregator, Mr. Danuloff explained, designed to capture something meaningful from all the old Foursquare check-ins, Instagram photos, tweets and even RunKeeper logs, those bits of data that fall out of mind as they recede down their respective reverse-chronological feeds. Social networks are concerned with the present and perhaps the time immediately around it: The pictures from last night. The frustration you’re feeling as you wait for your delayed Delta flight. What is it Twitter asks us? What’s happening?*
There’s a market for this “digital exhaust,” Mr. Danuloff said, as you can actually get a lot of value from old data. An important moment in the origin of Rewind, he told us, came when he was standing on the corner of 53rd and Lexington, trying to remember where that really good Italian restaurant was. He recalled that he knew it was “in that direction somewhere” but had “no idea where it was or what it’s called” and having one of those monetizable-first-world-problem moments. “Shouldn’t you be able to look down at your phone and remember what that was?” He bought the domain last year.
Rewind will debut in April as an iPhone app that aggregates your personal location data, he said, from all the most common apps we give it to. “The central premise is that your history is an asset and there’s a lot of interesting things in that data that people don’t get to take advantage of now,” he said. “All the data you’re putting into all these systems, the benefit is sort of short term. The buildup of history is sort of floating away.”
There is a market for saving old personal data, he said, as evidenced by startups like Timehop, which reminds users every day of where they were exactly a year ago, and personal data lockers like The Locker Project. Rewind will also allow users to check in privately and register other data without sharing it with friends.
Are people ready for that level of personal data tracking? we wondered. As far as we can tell, it’s still Type A people and geeks who get really into tracking their spending through Mint or registering their runs with Runkeeper. “There’s a progression of who participates in all these things over time,” he said, citing the evolution of oversharing (ed. note: our term, not his) from blogging to Twitter to Foursquare. “We’re early in the idea of aggregating your personal data.”
Still, he quoted Esther Dyson, “People find themselves fascinating.”
Rewind has three full-time and three part-time employees as well as two contractors, he said, and will be up to five full-timers during the TechStars session (hiring was delayed, he noted ruefully, because of an issue with an HB1 visa that couldn’t be resolved). Mr. Danuloff has both entrepreneurial and venture-side experience—we won’t run down the whole impressive list, but it’s on his LinkedIn—as well as knowledge of the advertising space. As he’s just “technical enough to cause a lot of trouble,” he hired a CTO, Leon Stankowski, whose coding experience runs from Wall Street to gaming.
“Very excited to work with Craig and Leon,” TechStars managing director David Tisch said in an email. “The vision they have of connecting the online world and the offline world has been a space ripe for solutions. I think they have a good chance to be a big part of that very soon.”
Eventually, Mr. Danuloff said, Rewind will pay its users back for their data entry with something he calls “category-based loyalty.” Basically, he wants to empower users to monetize their own data without being shady or creepy—less like Facebook’s database of faces and more like Foursquare’s coupons for check-ins. While the “cookie economy,” for example, is arguably a bit unethical—”the world does not understand how they’re being tracked with cookies”—Rewind’s data-for-rewards mechanism will make users happy without creeping them out. “I’m a skier,” he said by way of example. “I’ll get in 15, maybe 20 days a year… if I want a condo for five nights somewhere, when I start that process now, I’m just another guy that wants to go skiing. The fact that I’ve done it for 15 years—no one is trying harder to get my business because of my past… I should be a little different from someone who wants to take their family skiing for three days for the first time.”
Rewind has raised no money outside the TechStars investment. “It’s not an urgency right now,” said Mr. Danuloff, who raised $33 million for iCat back in the heady dot-com days.
*Actually, now the Twitter prompt says “compose new tweet,” which is lovely. It’s a composition, and you—a composer.