The Big Idea at Springpad
Quite a few tasks in life require investigation and planning. Cooking dinner tonight? First you need to find a recipe, then you need to make a shopping list. Going on vacation? Before you can even begin to finalize your itinerary, you’ll probably collect reams of information on plane fares, local attractions, and places to stay.
The Internet obviously makes these types of research easier. But unfortunately, Web browsers don’t come with handy organizers where you can store and personalize all this information. Or at least, they didn’t until Springpad, the creation of Boston-based Spring Partners, came along. Springpad is a free online organizer that automatically files away the kinds of electronic information involved in planning many everyday tasks, from recipes to restaurant listings, then makes it easy for you to find that information and use it when you really need it.
But while the guys at Spring Partners are really nice (I’ve met them), they aren’t providing this service wholly out of the goodness of their hearts. The big idea behind Springpad is that giving consumers a free platform for organizing their lives can be a profitable business, if it also gives publishers and brands new ways to reach potential customers.
[Editor's Note: Every startup has a "big idea" that it thinks will catapult it to success. With this story, we inaugurate an occasional column highlighting the big ideas---and the resulting challenges---at companies in Xconomy's home cities.]
The 12-employee startup is out to prove its big idea by bringing consumers and advertisers together in two specific realms: cooking and parenting. Of course, as I detailed in a column published shortly after Springpad’s launch last November, you can collect many more types of information than that in a customized Springpad notebook, from holiday gift ideas to date-night plans to “Getting Things Done”-style to-do lists. But when it came to demonstrating how the platform can connect consumers and advertisers, explains co-founder and CEO Jeff Janer, the company had to start somewhere.
“The notion of focusing on food and moms first is that from a monetization standpoint, consumer product companies are keenly interested in moms who are running the household,” says Janer. “And food is a huge category. So if we can essentially build a beachhead in these two verticals, people will then discover that they can use this for a lot of other things as well.”
Last week, Janer walked me through Springpad’s latest features—there are quite a few new ones since I last wrote about the company—as well as the monetization mechanisms, which weren’t yet in place last November. You might think that that seeing marketing messages pop up amidst your personal data would be intrusive and annoying, but from the examples Janer showed me, Spring Partners has come up with tasteful ways to integrate brand messages that actually make the site more useful.
Say you’re planning dinner, and you find a lasagna recipe that sounds good at a cooking site like Epicurious, FoodNetwork.com, or MyRecipes.com. If the site’s publisher is a Springpad partner, you might see a “Spring It” button right alongside the recipe, allowing you to clip it into your Springpad account in one step. If the site isn’t a partner, you can do the same thing using a special browser bookmarklet. In either case, the Springpad software is smart enough to recognize that you’re saving a recipe and to grab the ingredient list, the source URL, and any images that went along with the recipe. It assembles all of this into a convenient little file, a lot like the old-fashioned 3-by-5 index cards that my mom uses to keep track of all her recipes.
But here’s the first marketing twist: say the lasagna recipe calls for Parmesan cheese. Springpad’s software will reason that you’re probably going cheese-shopping soon, so it might show … Next Page »