Monday, May 11, 2009
Interview with Ricardo Solar, LetSimonDecide.com
Last week, Ayax Systems launched LetSimonDecide.com, a new website targeted at helping people make major decisions. We caught up with Ricardo Solar, the firm's CEO, to learn more about the site.
What's the idea behind LetSimonDecide?
Ricardo Solar: The idea is to help people make decisions, any type of decision. The whole premise, is that the world is saturated with too many options, alternatives, and information. Many people find it difficult to figure out the best course of action, so they will use an Excel spreadsheet to measure out the pros and cons, use the Internet, and ask friends, and other research. The idea behind LetSimonDecide is there is now one place where you can structure your analysis process. It's best for people who have research two, three, four, or maybe five different alternatives to a decision, such as choosing a college or a career path, or deciding if you'd like to move out of Los Angeles--decision where you already have a couple of alternatives, and need to figure out which one is best for you.
LetSimonDecide asks specific questions, and takes you through the analytics process, step-by-step. It's intuitive, and makes it easy to analyze a decision from different perspectives. LetSimonDecide gives you the answer, based on your inputs, based on three tools--one is very analytical, the second more personal and intuitive and less fact based, and the third based on an overview from four different angels. You can use all of those together, or just one, and you can spend anywhere from five minutes to half an hour. Once you have a decision and results, you can save that decision and share it with others.
Why use your service, instead of just asking your family or friends?
Ricardo Solar: It will force you to really analyze your decision. Sometimes we like to make quick decisions, but if you want to think it through and take an introspective look at what the problem is, Simon will force you to do all of those things. For certain decisions, and for some users, it will not make sense to sign in, spend time to put in your information, and analyze it, that's why we believe Simon is for important decisions. When you're making life decisions, things that are critical, it's totally worth it. We're getting feedback that when people took the time, went through things, and saw the results, it made sense--that's the value of it.
Talk a little bit about the sharing features?
Ricardo Solar: Right now, you can post your decision as a public decision. There is an area on the web site, called the Simon Community, where the decisions you post are public. If you feel like it's not too sensitive of a decision, you can publish it--no personal information is published--and the idea is that others can see the factors you are considering, how you scored them. You can also email and save those decisions. Eventually, once we have a larger database, we want to start using that to feed into other decisions. The social networking and sharing will get richer. There's the collaborative aspect, which will enable users to comment on other users and search for decisions, for example, searching for decisions by specific zip codes and understanding what users were considering when making a particular decision.
What's the business model behind the site?
Ricardo Solar: That's what keeps me awake at night. Basically, it's going to be market research. The parent company of LetSimonDecide is a market research company. We are currently working with a couple of Fortune 500 companies, doing customized versions of this for market research. Instead of having a typical survey, users will go to the site, ask specific questions, and we'll aggregate the data from an analytical and statistical perspective, which we will provide to our customers. We're also working with college institutions, like Pepperdine, USF, and hopefully more, where we are helping counselors understand how students are selecting their internships, careers, majors, etc. We're aggregating those from a statistical perspective, and helping those career centers to improve their counseling services, marketing strategies, retention programs, etc. That will be the most important revenue model for us, and eventually others will come, such as lead generation, and live counseling--where you can contact a real person with help on a specific problem or decision. The one that is least interesting to us is advertising--we don't want to fill a new website with advertising. Making decision is stressful enough, we are trying to stay away from that one.
What's your background, and why did you start the site?
Ricardo Solar: I worked for thirteen years at Mattel, and have a marketing and sales background. My life has been spend around shopping research, retail development, business development, and understanding how people shop in stores, category management, and merchandising. A lot of the time, I had to do consumer research, and had to analyze how people buy in a category--whether that's by brand, by price, etc. That's where the consumer research background comes from. The analytical part also comes from business, and I also had a fixation for Excel spreadsheets to make my decisions. I wanted something automated, and something easy to use.
So you were doing this before with Excel spreadsheets?
Ricardo Solar: Exactly. I was also doing this with Excel spreadsheets, using macros, factors, and weights. Excel has its limitations, and I wanted something much more interactive. I also though others wouldn't want to use Excel, so I wanted to provide that tool online, for free, for everyone to use.
Finally, how is the site backed and supported, financially?
Ricardo Solar: It's family and friends and some private investors, for now. We're also funded by the research work of our parent company. Our customers are funding the laboratory we have, which lets us put LetSimonDemand on the web.