We just interviewed Dan Cohen, CEO of the start page company Pageflakes. I'll be honest: While I like the product a great deal, I don't love the business. The personal home page market is dominated by Yahoo and Google, and to some extent Microsoft. As good as their products are, the upstarts Pageflakes and Netvibes (which is what I use) have less than a 4 percent share of the market, according to TechCrunch.
Cohen makes the point that Pageflakes is easy to set up, making it a great product for the general consumer. I'll give him that. The product is a snap to use. But unless his backers are going to be comfortable with Pageflakes running a distant fourth or fifth in this market, Cohen's going to have to do some clever maneuvering to pop this company ahead of the leaders.
Unless, of course, the goal isn't to actually build an ongoing business, but to get it acquired before the funding runs out. Few CEOs will admit to that strategy, but from the funder's perspective it's usually the desired outcome. On that front, Pageflakes has good--but not unique--technology, and a focus on usability that the big companies would do well to emulate or acquire. The value of the Pageflakes audience, if the goal is to be acquired by a much larger company that already has large consumer user base already, is limited.
Cohen worked on both Yahoo's and Google's start-page projects, which means he knows this market and knows what he's up against. He feels his start-up can innovate more quickly than the big companies. But will that be enough? I don't care how good this product is, this venture is a big, big gamble.