Why don’t you guys [Hunch] go after a single problem and solve it instead of trying to be a generalized product?

A question we got about Hunch from an anonymous user on Formspring:

Question: It seems to me Hunch is a solution in search of a problem. It’s like ThePoint.com to Groupon.com. Why don’t you guys go after a single problem and solve it instead of trying to be a generalized product? It seems like you’re making such an obvious mistake.

My response: Great question.  

1) First, I don’t think Hunch is a solution in search of a problem.  We’ve talked to probably a hundred large websites about partnering and have found that personalization/recommendations is at the top of the priority list for almost all of them.  It has surprised us, for example, how many large sites are either a) building significant internal operations to add personalization/recommendations to their sites or b) have recently hired senior executives to be “head of personalization.”  For better or worse, our biggest problem hasn’t been what lots of startups face – indifference – but instead people seem to see personalization/recommendations as so important that they want to do it themselves.  So our take is that what we are focused on is going to be a central theme in technology over the next few years and we are very well positioned having been working on the problem for almost 3 years.

Meanwhile, in the search space, technology like what we’ve built at Hunch is becoming increasingly important.  Eric Schmidt (CEO of Google) recently said:

Ultimately, search is not just the web but literally all of your information – your email, the things you care about, with your permission – this is personal search, for you and only for you. The next step of search is doing this automatically. When I walk down the street, I want my smartphone to be doing searches constantly – ‘did you know?’, ‘did you know?’, ‘did you know?’, ‘did you know?’.This notion of autonomous search – to tell me things I didn’t know but am probably interested in, is the next great stage – in my view – of search.

So in addition to all the opportunity for Hunch to partner with commerce, media, local etc sites, we see what we are doing as highly relevant to the most important market on the web – search.

2) Your question about focus is a good one.  I don’t know the details of the history of ThePoint/Groupon, but I my guess what looks obvious in hindsight actually required a lot of experimentation. Experimentation does not mean lack of focus – it can be part of the process of testing various markets to find the best product-market fit. We see ourselves at the stage where we are pursuing about 3 promising angles and then once we figure out which one is most promising we will focus much more on that angle.  One of the great challenges of having a broadly useful technology is building enough functionality in enough areas to find the best area without spreading yourself to thin – something we wrestle with every day.





6 thoughts on “Why don’t you guys [Hunch] go after a single problem and solve it instead of trying to be a generalized product?

  1. Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie) says:

    @Chris Your points are dead on given that we are transitioning to the age of Relevance, Ambient & PredictiveWebs. Isn’t not ‘signaling’ exactly what Hunch is offering, hampering your opps for 3rd party partnerships? If I was looking for a personalization/recommendations provider, should I bet on Hunch to be there or is there a risk of Hunch pivoting out of my stack?

  2. chris dixon says:

    With existing partnerships, we’ve structured the deals so that there isn’t risk for the partners. If you are company who thinks they might partner with us in the future but are putting it off, then you do stand the risk of us deciding you aren’t strategic for us at some point.

  3. Rob says:

    This is a great question, and a better formed version of what I tried to ask – What’s hunch really for as a user? And I’m still not sure I really get it. I’ll definitely be back though, as it’s such an interesting subject area and it feels like when the “one thing” does emerge, it will be all the better for having explored around it.On the subject of personalisation, I agree that the big ecommerce guys are all over it. Having worked on this for one of the uk multi channel players, their issue might not be wanting to do the clever stuff that hunch does themselves,but having their own internal data in order to make good use of something like hunch. Their is a general struggle to align what is known about a customer across channels, and adding more on top is seen as trying to run before they can walk.

  4. Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock says:

    > I don’t know the details of the history of ThePoint/GrouponAndrew Mason talked about this last week at Startup School. It’s a good talk if you’ve got 30 minutes:http://www.justin.tv/startupschool/b/272180613

  5. Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie) says:

    @Chris That makes sense. BTW, Hunch & Siri would be a a great match, don’t you think? 😉

  6. Mojo Talantikite says:

    Quick comment on thepoint/groupon.When we (Engine Yard) first started working with them they were The Point, which was their attempt to use ‘the tipping point’ to get momentum behind social action. Example: If we can get 100000 people to support using renewable cups at Starbucks, we’ll write a group letter to Starbucks demanding that they take us seriously.Then they realized they were really effective in driving zero-upfront-cost promotional deals to local businesses, switched gears, and started printing money.

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