After 24 years of starting and running tech startups (successfully and otherwise), I do get the occasional feeling that there won’t be many new phenomena left for me to experience. It’s easy to feel like one has exhausted the spectrum of events and emotions after a lifetime of entrepreneurship.
And then a moment like this comes along, and I’m reminded of why I love this occupation so much.
I am excited to announce the launch of our flagship mobile app. There has been a lot of coverage today about the launch, but I wanted to add more personal color in this blog post.
The idea for Caden came from a simple thought that millions of people have probably had: the digital world is pretty awesome, but it’s also quite unfair for users.
Users are the “demand” side of the market. Enterprises supply digital services, and we pay with our wallets and eyeballs. If this was the entirety of the exchange, there wouldn’t be a problem. However, there is a third asset that users provide, but unlike engagement and money, most people don’t realize they are providing: their personal data.
There is an age-old saying in tech: “if a service is free, you are not a user, you’re the product”. This explains how Facebook can be “free” to use but also worth over a trillion dollars at one point. Their core revenue model is selling advertising to enterprises and showing it to their users. See above: there is nothing inherently bad about advertising as a business model (aside from it maybe being a bit annoying). However, for the enterprise, advertising is a brutally hard business model and always has been. Trying to figure out how to possibly show the right ad to the right user at the right time—good luck.
But what if I could “learn” more about the user? About their interests, hobbies, beliefs, purchases, schedule, brand affinities, etc.? That would certainly make it easier to target the right ad to the right user at the right time.
We are describing ancient history here. Mid-90s thinking. This is where companies like DoubleClick broke the mold and built a model to incorporate personal data into advertising strategies. The problem was: where do we get the personal data?
And this is also precisely the point in time where some fateful conversation in some Silicon Valley conference room missed the mark. Had our ad-tech forefathers/mothers resolved to this conclusion: “The most valuable data is inherent to each user, so we should give everyone the ability to control their own data, and then compensate them for giving it to us”, the internet and world-at-large would be in a FAR better place. What happened instead was this: “Let’s build high-value mousetraps all over the web (read: Google, Facebook) that siphons personal data from the user, without telling them we are doing it, and use that data to create complex profiles we can use to serve targeted advertising.”
This may have been pretty innocuous in the early years when the tech wasn’t very sophisticated and signal was murky. But once it became clear AdTech was going to become a multi-trillion-dollar industry, dollars and minds poured in, and it became more sophisticated than most people could ever imagine.
The bad practices have been thrust to light over the last years with scandals like Cambridge Analytica. These public wakeup calls invigorated decades-old calls for state and Federal governments to step in to give us rights to our personal data. Those laws in Europe and the US have been disruptive (in a good way!) and have forced multiple industries to rethink how they do business.
That was a lot, but that is what I found myself thinking about years ago when I first drummed up the vision for Caden. The internet was built unfairly for users. I wish those Silicon Valley vets had made different decisions. But now with the new privacy-awakening, maybe we can fix that problem.
Enter Caden. We want to—finally—put control back in the users hands and allow each and every online citizen to participate in and benefit from the personal data economy. Digital power to the people. Everyone should get their cut.
We did this by finding a group of industry veterans who have been experiencing this problem firsthand for decades. Maybe even contributing to the problem. And who were all convinced there was a better way to do things.
We came together about a year and a half ago with a technology-focused mindset. Can we build never-before-built technology that helps a user get their data into a place they can control it, make it fun and insightful, and then give them various ways to make money from it—only if they explicitly consent. We are built on one very simple but tech-taboo value: EVERYTHING we do must benefit YOU the user and preserve your privacy. Hard f*cking stop.
If there was a point in the past 18 months where it became clear we could not achieve that core value because of bad economics or technological barriers, I would have shut the company down or pivoted. That is how dedicated we are to doing this right.
Thankfully, we’ve now built the technology and business models to not only support this value, but to sustainably build an important and valuable company.
That brings us to today’s launch. Everyone (in the US) can now download the Caden App and begin to control your data and benefit from it. While we are very proud of what we are releasing, it only scratches the surface of what we intend to do over the coming months and years, to finally fix this decades-old problem.
This one feels different for me. This is important. This is positive change. This is a step towards making everything a bit better.
Thank you for being a part of our journey.