Personal Receives pii2011 Innovator Spotlight Audience Choice Award

When you spend almost two years working on something, and you show it for the first time to a room full of 250 experts, you start to reconnect with long-forgotten anxieties from, say, your first day at a new school. And when the internet connection for the live demo fails, albeit momentarily, you are right back on your first date trying to remember even the most basic details about your life.

Thankfully, Personal’s debut at pii2011, the Privacy Identity Innovation conference, was well received by a patient and supportive audience, who selected us and PassTouch (a super cool visual touchscreen login app) for the Innovator Spotlight Audience Choice Award. Given all of the thoughtful people and companies in the room working on this historical shift towards a user-centric data ecosystem, we are thrilled to get this recognition.

I have a lot of competing reflections from the conference. At times I have complete confidence that the company-centric data ownership model will change quickly now that  public awareness is growing so fast and real alternatives are emerging. But I also appreciate how hard it will be to align all of the good intent from so many different players, some of whom are still thinking too incrementally, while the current model continues to accelerate wildly (I couldn’t help but notice LinkedIn’s meteoric IPO updates while listening to the speakers).

Finally, please check out Personal’s new web site and videos at www.personal.com to let me know what you think. We spent a lot of time and effort trying to make our product and vision accessible to people who are not experts. They are the ones who have to buy in to this model for it to ever have a chance of succeeding.

Personal Series A Financing

Personal (www.personal.com) just posted an announcement on our Series A financing round, which was led by Grotech Ventures and Steve Cases’s Revolution LLC, and joined by Allen & Company, Eric Semler of TCS Capital Management, and other angel investors we have known from our days at The Map Network. You can read the announcement at: http://www.personal.com/news

Raising money is never easy, especially for a big, disruptive idea. Making sure those investors truly believe in your idea — and have the passion and commitment to help you see it through — adds even more of a challenge. I think we found exactly the right financial partners, partners who welcome, rather than fear, the challenge of turning the current model upside down and doing right by consumers. I hope people will look back in a few years and have a hard time believing the idea of companies owning and controlling our data was ever seriously considered a viable model.

We had some truly amazing meetings during our fund raising process, including many who flat out opposed our vision or else thought the horses were already out of the barn on privacy and consumers controlling their data (some even had a hand in opening the barn doors). We also heard from a number of investors and senior executives who found the task of changing the current system daunting, but who readily acknowledged that our vision was generally how the world should work. We look forward to helping them be part of the solution.

S.

Getting Personal…With Your Data

Welcome to Getting Personal, my first public blog. I will share my views in their raw form around what I believe is a historical opportunity to empower individuals with one of the most precious new resources — their data. I’d like to invite you to add your voice in rich commentary, so please sign up to receive notifications whenever I post.

I’m passionate about building new technologies, business models and even social paradigms that are designed from the ground up to put the individual’s interests first when it comes to their data and their time (that other precious resource we don’t protect enough). If data, as companies exploiting it today are fond of saying, is the indeed the new oil, well it seems to me we are each sitting on top of our own massive, untapped reservoirs.

To help make some of these ideas a reality, I left Nokia subsidiary NAVTEQ with an entire team that has worked together for a decade in data, technology and media to start Personal, based in Washington, DC. We have been working for a year on what the Washington Business Journal recently called a “mystery personal service.”

We have not been trying to be mysterious on purpose — we just needed some time on our own to work through the multitude of technical and business model challenges required to bring our vision to life. We are, first and foremost, building a platform and a company for ourselves, our friends and our families to trust and use for the long term to own, organize and manage the rapidly expanding mass of data about each us – the Digital You and Me.

I am certainly not the first to think about many of these ideas. In the late 1990s, John Hagel III and Marc Singer defined the concept of an “information intermediary,” or “infomediary,” and predicted the revolutionary potential of such a company if enough individuals trusted it with their personal information.

A number of good faith (and not so good faith efforts) have been made since that time to build infomediaries, but none have succeeded. I’ve had the chance to learn from some of these early pioneers. Their failures, along with the growing success of companies whose only business model is collecting and selling data on each of us, have greatly informed my thinking about Personal and how to build a company worthy of such trust.

If we get this right, Personal and its community of Owners (we try not to use the enterprise-centric words “users” or “consumers”) can help ensure that the there will not be a John Rockefeller and Standard Oil that come to dominate this exciting new world of data. We can all be tycoons of our own data and time and enjoy the incredible, life changing benefits that we believe will result. (But more on that in subsequent posts.)

I look forward to hearing your candid thoughts and reactions, including your concerns and worries about the business. As convinced as I am in the ultimate rights and power of personal data belonging to individuals, I think we are entering a period every bit as messy, complex and challenging as the early days of our American experiment with democracy. No one has ever governed a society where the Digital You and Me exists alongside the real you and me. And certainly no one has ever dealt in a world where their digital self becomes the lifeblood and currency of how we live and interact with everything around us. Exciting? Yes! But also scary and entirely unknown.

For those who are interested, sign-upto receive and invitation going out later this fall to join our beta community.

S.