Interview with Dave Rice, Dipiti

Seattle-based Dipiti ( recently launched a human-powered, online search site for life issues. To get some background into the firm and what it's trying to do, we spoke with Dave Rice, the firm's new CEO.

What's the idea behind Dipiti?

Dave Rice: The idea is to empower consumers to address serious life issues, by delivering trust to online communities. The reason we're focusing in on online community content, is that there's a growing amount of experience-based information online, but that information is often hard to find through traditional search engines. We've come up with a way to employ topic-specific search, which behaves differently depending on if you're searching for healthcare, legal, money, or even pet care information. We provide results and guidance to find that person-to-person interaction that online consumers are seeking.

How much of this is human powered versus technology powered?

Dave Rice: We have both factors working together. We have technology, hand in hand with human intervention as well. From a technology perspective, the first step is we've created topic specific search. By topic specific search, I mean we are looking at how people search using common language -- not the technical language used for in each category. We've looked at how people perform queries and searches, for example for a legal issue, and the conversational terms they use, rather than the technical terms used, and that's what we use to structure the data. On the human side, we go in and evaluate each site we're working with--the community forums or expert forums--and look at the forum activity, get a sense of the level of interaction a user can expect, and even evaluate the privacy policies on the site to make sure they're not looking to harvest marketing information and directly target users. Instead, we make sure it's a valuable site for our customers. Those, in combination with user ratings of the sites, gives us the ability to prioritize results for consumers doing searches through Dipiti.

How did idea for the company come about?

Dave Rice: It really started by the awareness of the growing frustration users have with search. For instance, well over 70 percent of online consumers search for healthcare issues in a given year, and they may search multiple times, four to six times a month for those issues. However, only 16 percent find what they need. There's been a proliferation of different kinds of content on the web, which has evolved from document-based, or marketing driven content to a huge new wealth of content based on person-to-person interaction. That, it turns out, is what people we are working with are seeking.

You recently joined Dipiti, how'd you get involved?

Dave Rice: I have a background that includes both public and private companies, where I've been a senior executive running development, and also as CEO of startups in the past, including startups focused on online advertising revenue streams. I had a connection with folks at Dipiti through some people I knew at my time in Oregon. I looked at what they were doing, and was excited both by opportunities they had identified, as well as my ability to bring direct experience to make the company successful.

You mentioned online advertising---is that the business model behind the site?

Dave Rice: Yes, online advertising is the ultimate business model. One of our objectives in that advertising, is to make sure that advertising is valuable to users coming to the site. Because we have lots of information on the types of information that people are seeking when they come to the site, we're able to very effectively target the advertising, so that it's helping them to address the challenges of the day--rather than something not directly related to what they're concerned with at the moment.

It looks like you've recently raised some capital, and have a couple of venture backers?

Dave Rice: That's right. Eric Anderson is the lead investor out of West River Capital, and Oki Development and Scott Oki is also backing us. It's great to have such high quality investors associated with an early stage company. They're an important part of the team.

Finally, what's on your plate for the next few months?

Dave Rice: Over the next few months we're going to continue to improve the user experience on the site. We have incredible plans to further personalize the search experience for our users, and make it more successful for them over time. We also have a feedback loop in our product, such that the more people that use us, the more effective the search becomes. That's very important. To that end, we want to drive lots of traffic to the site, to start reaping the benefits and to be able to deliver the benefits of that feedback loop to our customers. Also, we are actively hiring in Seattle, to build out our technical team, and we're also in the early stages for looking for our next round of financing.