BeenPod has two goals - to create a sociable bookmarking application for small groups to collaborate while enabling them to keep hold of online behavior data.
The startup is trying to create a "user-owned tracking cookie" so that people can choose which companies to share data collected on Been.
While suitable for all sorts of bookmarking, the team believes it will work well in travel planning. Users can store travel plans and share the data with travel companies who, in turn, can put together targeted offers and recommendations.
So far, co-founders Dave Yoon and Sang Shin have focused on creating the bookmarking app. Partnerships are also in place with different groups to work with Been on database and portal development, design and user experience
Been is self-funded and says it is sitting in two camps - social bookmarking, which it acknowledges is crowded and cookie alternatives, which it sees as:
"becoming more urgent, both for users who are concerned about privacy and ownership of their data as well as companies that are seeking a more viable alternative to tracking cookies and a better relationship with customers."
The startup says its biggest competitor is email but also mentions existing bookmarking services including symbaloo, Diigo, Evernote and pinboard.in.
There is also potential competition from data brokers including Handshake, Personal, Datacoup and CTRLiO.
Been is free for users and the revenue model is to charge companies a fee to 'purchase' data from users should they choose to share their data.
Q&A with co-founder Dave Yoon.
What problem does the business solve?
Been allows smaller groups of people (friends, family, colleagues, classmates, travel professionals/customers) to collaborate in real time to create and discuss collections of web pages. Existing alternatives are tailored for either broadcasting discoveries or more solitary collections.
Been will help people create a “tracking cookie alternative” that gives control and ownership of user data back to the user. Companies and users will benefit with higher quality data, more pertinent personalization, greater privacy, and cost savings.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
For our private beta release in August, Been was focused more on enabling users to collect clickstreams than bookmarks (or clicks). Though we have maintained the ability to record clickstreams (with necessary safeguards), we have simplified and expanded the bookmarking functions.
All it takes is a single click to add a page to a collection, bring up a comments window, organize your collections, and collaborate.
Why should people or companies use the business?
Been makes web research fun. It’s simple to use and uniquely beautiful to look at. When used within small groups, Been becomes a seriously useful communication tool.
The current use and treatment of user data is problematic. Companies need better data and users need greater control and privacy. A tracking cookie alternative that focuses on user control and more relevant data would be a better way.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Since our public release in December, we have achieved traction through word of mouth. This will continue to be a core engine for growth as users invite their closest friends, colleagues, family to use Been, initially for specific tasks such as vacation planning but also for less directed purposes (gathering and sharing interesting articles on a daily basis).
We have started getting attention from bloggers, in education and travel especially, but also in web design. We hope to engage them more and more.
We also plan on participating in conferences on travel technology and user data ownership.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In three years time, we see Been having both sides of the exchange network well in place: users and companies, with significant volumes of data exchanged between users and their preferred companies.
We hope to create a viable alternative to tracking cookies. The core challenge in the near term is to support and refine an application that is relied upon by users on its own, irrespective of the tracking cookie alternative component, which must initially remain a byproduct, though an important one.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
There is a mind-numbing number of sources for information on travel, and that number will only go up. As web resources for travellers proliferate, companies, perhaps much more so than in other industries, have the challenge of accurately understanding what travellers are looking for and what they would love. Even the best tracking cookies cannot hope to help companies consolidate all the options a traveler is researching.
If users can “tell” their preferred companies what they are looking for in a convenient way, personalized service can be made much more compelling and convenient for both travelers and service providers. We think Been can provide that service very soon.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
Since we are at the very beginning of our venture, we still have hope that we are sui generis (Latin - of its own kind) in terms of culture and style! But we have two words that guide us in what we do and what we want our users to experience at this early stage: “Wonder better.”
BeenPod mentions a few competitors in the space, there are others and it should also consider some of the Facebook trip sharing apps as rivals for attention, especially in travel. There are quite a few group planning/trip sharing/collaboration startups out there.
The more interesting element is the personal cookie factor. In some ways it's slightly reminiscent of discussions of a super PNR with travellers' profile details, likes and dislikes, stored in one place for the traveller to move from one place to the next when purchasing travel components.
This is much more tailored to one specific trip with preferred/selected companies allowed in to make relevant offers.
Been needs to crack this quickly to capture all options and be really useful to travel companies. It's particularly pertinent in light of discussions around data privacy as well as the annoyance of online targeting and re-targeting and the need for business intelligence.
But, how will it scale?
If you only take a main holiday and perhaps a weekend break every year then there might not be much to sell to companies. The fact that it works across many verticals will help here as well as the word of mouth factor which it says is already kicking in. It could also work well for collaboration on the business travel/conferences and meetings sector.
Bookmarking services have come and gone but hopefully with the cookie factor this one could make some headway. And so, to shamelessly rip off BeenPod's Vine (see below) - have you seen the Been?