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This article was published on March 12, 2008

AnswerOil: product search and decision-making tool

AnswerOil: product search and decision-making tool
Ernst-Jan Pfauth
Story by

Ernst-Jan Pfauth

Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He a Ernst-Jan Pfauth is the former Editor in Chief of Internet at NRC Handelsblad, as well as an acclaimed technology author and columnist. He also served as The Next Web’s blog’s first blogger and Editor in Chief, back in 2008. At De Correspondent, Ernst-Jan serves as publisher, fostering the expansion of the platform.

Five Questions for Start-upsEvery week we publish an interview with a start-up. We ask five questions, hoping the answers will give you inspiration and new views. Well, actually six questions, since we also ask the start-up to who he or she is passing the mic to.

This week we’re interviewing Josh Tabin, founder of PrismaStar. That’s a Czech software company that uses a patent-pending consumer-profiling technology to help consumers find products and services, personalized to their own individual needs. Basically they want to save you the hassle of navigating through sea of mass market advertising and mega stores. Their site is rather overwhelming, due to truck loads of information. So I’m glad Josh took the time to participate in our weekly series to explain what his company is about and how he developed it.

How did you come up with the idea of Prismastar?

Question number“It’s really simple; I couldn’t find the products I wanted and searching for product information online was more frustrating and time-consuming than helpful. No results found, too many results, non-relevant results, too much scrolling, too many pages, bad data etcetera etcetera. And I wasn’t the only one having these problems. So, for more than three years we researched how people really make decisions and created AnswerOil™. Now people everywhere can make better and faster decisions when AnswerOil is deployed on their Websites, in-store kiosks, and even mobile applications.”

What was your biggest challenge during the development process?

Question number“I think there were two very large hurdles, one expected, the other not. Our patents focus on the interface, and while it was certainly challenging to get the interface right (both easy to use AND powerful, which required scalability and extensive user-testing), the real “hidden dragon” in our case was the data: Existing product specification data provided by manufacturers or companies like CNET only proved to be 80-85% accurate. Therefore we needed to build our own data collection and validation system; it was the 20% of the problem that ended-up taking 80% of our time. The good news is, we solved the problem and now believe we have the world’s most intelligent Natural Language Parsing Robotic Data Collection Engine which is providing 99% accuracy for datasets of any product (or service) approaching one million specifications; for example, our digital camera dataset now provides more than 575 data variables for every camera currently available! We also provide this immensely detailed and accurate product data to every AnswerOil client for no additional charge, so we hope all this work will pay-off by adding value to our clients beyond simply increasing their Sales Conversion Rates.”

Can you describe Czech start-up culture compared to Silicon Valley?

Question number“Many people assume our development center is here primarily to reduce costs, but more importantly we feel we produce a higher quality of work. Given that we are located in Central Europe, we have a true International flavor; PrismaStar has 25 employees from 10 nationalities. This is a great melting pot for ideas, interaction and creativity (sometimes called, “The Medici Effect”). We would never have this type of diversity in Silicon Valley.”

What will be the influence of your start-up on the next web?

Question number“We feel our search technology is paradigm-shifting: Our goal is to have the most widely used product search tool on the web – and it will even extend to decision-making outside of product selection. Not only can we make decision engines for product or service purchase decisions such as consumer electronics, tires, baby carriages, industrial products, or even financial services, but we also can (and will) build AnswerOil selectors for job-search, dating, and political races. The categories are nearly endless. We hope the words “Powered by AnswerOil” will one day be as ubiquitous as today’s “Powered by Google.”

You can make up this question yourself!

Question numberGoing toe-to-toe with giants such as Google in the Search Technology business seems like a non-trivial, less-than-humble goal. How can you state such an audacious goal without seeming arrogant?

“One of my favorite sayings is, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” When AnswerOil went live with our first Hotel Selector client, it was so effective at increasing their Click-Through-Rates that we won a first place award as the “Most Effective Internet Site” in our category, competing against name brand Websites from Vodafone, T-Mobile, and VW – and that was with our very first beta version! Our latest version is so much better that it literally catches people by surprise: At the Retail Business Show in London last month, an editor for a UK-based magazine walked up to our booth with a camera in his hands. I asked him one question: “What were the selection criteria that led you to purchase THAT camera?” He listed off three or four things and simultaneously I made SINGLE clicks on the AnswerOil Camera Selector for each criterion. Within FIVE seconds, that very same camera in his hands was showing-up as the number one result on the screen. His jaw dropped. I just smiled. “