Interview with Rajesh Setty of Suggestica

Today marks the formal launch of startup, Suggestica, which offers a smart spin on suggestion sites by using identified thought leaders in each niche rather than just aggregate statistical data from large pools of undifferentiated users. Turns out that one of the founders is my friend and colleague Rajesh Setty, so I was delighted to interview him about the startup for my blog. Here’s his insight into the new firm:
Suggestica LogoQ: Suggestions from Trusted Authorities. Very interesting. How do you go about picking those authorities?
In the first round, it was purely based on market and internal research. We identified about 400 “Trusted Authorities” and brought it down to 200 after digging deeper. The key for us was the contributions that the “Trusted Authority” had made to that particular discipline. Of course, we will be adding to this list on a regular basis.
We are also expecting that the users will make suggestions on who they want to hear from. We will use that information, plus a lot of research to identify and validate Trusted Authorities. There will be a process of verification or approval to be invited to be a trusted authority.
Note: the trusted authorities list includes such luminaries as Oprah Winfrey, Anthony Robbins, Bill Gates, Tom Peters, Thomas Friedman and Seth Godin.

The driving force of Suggestica is anchored in our desire to create a platform that brings the right information and the right people together. It will prove to be a meeting ground of both content providers and users that need trusted content. We believe that this need for purposeful content will help us maintain a high level of integrity on the site. Vijay [Peduru] is in charge of this research and quality control.
We also want to be very careful how we move forward in areas that we do not have the expertise. One of the approaches we decided on was to find experts in those domains and have them monitor and manage this process for us.
Q: How does Suggestica differ from a site like Epinions or other “vox populi” review site?
Dave, great question. Let us think about how we make a purchasing decision in real life. We want to buy something, we try and find someone who knows something about that subject. We seek this person’s suggestion and most often, that’s all we need. If we know a “Trusted Authority” on a topic, we save TIME (as we can reach a decision quickly) and MONEY (as we can make a better decision) and both TIME and MONEY are important.
We extended the same model to the web. We identified the “Trusted Authorities” in variety of disciplines and started collecting their recommendations.
While the user opinions on other sites are VERY GOOD to read, it is hard to determine how much of “TRUST” we can extend to those opinions when an important decision is being made.
Q: If we imagine a scenario where an “authority” actually recommends books, video, or similar that aren’t well received by the general membership of Suggestica, is there a process documented to change authorities for a given subject area?
At this time we have accounted for this possibility in the design of Suggestica, but have not yet documented the process. Maintaining the integrity of the site is very important to us. Listening to the users and using the feedback to tweak the platform is very high on our list of things to watch for.
Dave, I have to say that we are EXTREMELY careful before we add someone as a “Trusted Authority.” However, your point is valid and things can happen that may make us re-visit our selection.
Q: I can see how your recommendation system differs from Amazon‘s system, which is based on your purchase history, but why is a trusted authority better than a large scale statistical analysis of purchases in a given genre?
This is a good question.
Short answer to the question is actually a question – “Why should one follow the crowd?”
Statistical analysis will definitely provide information on what everyone else is doing. So it offers one kind of shortcut. It is a shortcut based on the decisions of the crowd. Technologies like collaborative filtering take this to the next level providing recommendations such as “software engineers who are between 25 and 35 living in California are purchasing these books” There is value in it.
In our case, we are looking for a different kind of shortcuts based on TRUST. When you treat someone as a trusted authority, you have already put a very intelligent filter to eliminate the noise. The choices recommended will be of quality and not dependent on hype.
Q: Generally, a lot of different commerce sites have tried recommendation engines, with Netflix perhaps having the most success. Nonetheless, I’ve never found them compelling, so I’m definitely intrigued by Suggestica. Where did the idea for the company arise?
From a simple need to solve a problem – we found ourselves wanting to read and learn what we could in business. We went to the web and did our research on what people were saying and what these search engines and recommendation engines served us. We made numerous purchases and read most of the books. In doing so, we kept realizing that we were wasting a lot of money buying books and DVD’s that were NOT relevant to our interests. The titles seemed to be on track, but not the content.
Somewhere along this path of thinking, we realized that there was a lot of noise on the web – there is so much of information our there, but not much of it is relevant to us and our specific needs, whatever they might be at the moment. We then decided that it would be a cool idea to help people get the information they needed in a sensible, intelligent, refreshing manner. The idea of Suggestica was born. It has grown and keeps growing, because we believe there is no end to it. As it matures, it will keep getting stronger in its ability to serve up what we are calling “Purposeful Content” that is relevant to people.
Q: In Rajesh’s writeup a few days ago, he mentioned that Vijay approached him about this business idea just a few months ago, and here you are launching it. How long did it take to go from idea to specification to alpha test prototype to today’s launch?
The first meeting between me and Vijay happened about nine months ago. Although, I was only helping Vijay refine the idea in the initial days, a few months ago, the project started getting momentum from all kinds of people including potential investors and people who are interested in extending the platform to add new categories and disciplines. Yes, it seems like a long time now. But it has been a fun ride.
Q: What would you like Suggestica to grow into?
We believe that Suggestica has the ability to the a refreshing new experience for people to find the books, DVDs, Events and other information they need to solve or address their real life needs, interests and desires. We want to do this in a way that saves people two very basic things, TIME and MONEY. But more importantly we want to see Suggestica become this common ground that brings everyone together. From the users as we have mentioned, to the thought leaders and authors themselves, to the vendors who have valuable goods and services they want to sell, to trusted authorities that have the ability to share their ideas with people that care about them.
Imagine going to a site on the web that is not filled with the noise of infinite possibility. Imagine instead a site that is filled with relevant information that can be trusted, that is easy to navigate and one that speaks to you, to whatever is going on in your life at the moment, to whatever is important to you today. That is what we are here to do.
Q: Who would you like to see visit and use Suggestica?
Dave, we have a BIG dream.
Simply put – Everyone. We want to build something that is of use for everyone. We have started with a handful of subject areas at the moment, but we are ready to grow exponentially. We want to pick specific areas and expand on them, we encourage people to make suggestions for both areas of interest and information from specific trust authorities. We would like to offer this new, refreshing and exiting platform to everyone who can use it. We see it being a place of tremendous service as well – we would like people to come to Suggestica to get answers to real problems that they face.
We have now built a platform that can be easily customized to include new categories and disciplines. Very soon you will see expanded content to address different needs and concerns of people.

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