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Start-Up

Monday, August 22, 2005

Name: Wondir

Location: Bethesda

Funding: The company has raised a total of $1.25 million from founders, angel investors and Active Angel Investors, an investment group managed by New Vantage Group.

Big idea: Wondir blends search engine technology with message boards to help people with questions find people with answers. "We're different than a search engine in that we're not recreating static documents," explained Matthew Koll, chairman, chief executive and founder. "We're trying to create conversations and tap into the live knowledge, experience and expertise of other people."

How it works: Users are presented with a search screen and a blank box where they type a detailed question. Once submitted, the question is posted on a message board and can be answered by anyone via the message board, instant messages or e-mail (for the 200,000 registered users). Simultaneously, the questioner is taken to a results page containing similar stored questions and answers. Users can either register or use the service anonymously. The content of registered users' profiles and the questions they answer help Wondir's algorithms identify them as good candidates to answer certain kinds of questions.

Where the idea was hatched: "We were looking at where search is still coming up short," Koll said. "The idea of connecting people, tapping into the knowledge that's in people's heads seemed like an area ripe for improvement. We took the search engine approach and applied it to the challenge of getting the right questions in front of the right person at the right time."

Customers: Two hundred thousand unique users have answered questions, Koll said, and 2 million questions and answers are available from previous searches. He estimated that Wondir fields about 8,000 questions and 11,000 answers a day.

Price: Free for users. The company derives revenue from sponsored search results.

Founded: Wondir officially launched a few months ago, but a beta version of the service has been accessible to the public since 2003.

Who's in charge: Koll; Laura Horn, vice chairman and co-founder; Cindy Couchman, vice president of operations; Larry Cynkin, vice president of engineering; Allen Searls, vice president of community; and Jon Brendsel, vice president of product marketing

Employees: Eight

Web site: http://www.wondir.com

Partners: Web sites Cartalk.com, Pregnancy.org, Ratemyteachers.com, Ichef.com and Soapoperafan.com integrate the functionality of Wondir's technology into their sites, Koll said.

What the name means: "I'm not sure it really means anything," Koll confessed. "It's pronounced 'wonder.' A lot of people pronounce it 'wondeer.' We were hoping that the 'i' would lend itself to a focus on information or interactivity. It's the user interaction that's the most important thing for us."

Quote : "It's a huge town square and these communities are clusters of people gathering in their own corner of the square," Koll said.

-- Andrea Caumont

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