Correction to This Article
A Feb. 9 Business article incorrectly said that Riptopia Inc. transfers DVDs onto customers' computers. The service is available only for CDs.

Riptopia Trades on a Pragmatic Version of 'Digital Bliss'

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By Ellen McCarthy
Thursday, February 9, 2006

R iptopia , a District start-up that landed $3.2 million in angel funding last month, promises no less than to help the world "achieve digital bliss."

1999, anyone?

Despite its ethereal rhetoric -- the company urges customers to "Join the Revolution," rather than simply place an order -- Riptopia offers a pretty pragmatic service: transferring personal collections of CDs and DVDs onto a customer's computer or portable music player.

Through partnerships with audio-visual firms that wire homes with tricked-out digital entertainment systems, the two-year-old company is targeting an audience already proved to have money to spend and a certain dedication to their mass media.

Many of its more than 1,100 customers, who often turn out to be middle-aged, according to chief executive Kurt Beyer , send Riptopia boxes with hundreds or thousands of CDs they've been collecting for years. (The company is expecting a package next week from one man with 18,000.) For about $1 a disc, Riptopia will transfer the customer's media library onto a DVD, hard drive or a mobile music device -- and in the case of the man with 18,000 CDs, a special server with seven terabytes of space. Riptopia is an Apple reseller, so some of its money is made outfitting customers with new hardware.

The company has plenty of competition, including firms such as New York-based RipDigital and MusicShifter.com , of Northfield, Minn., and its market is certainly finite. Eventually most of the music and movies people buy will already be in a computerized format. But the company's partnership with installers such as Electronic Interiors Inc., of Addison, Tex., could give it an advantage over competitors, and it may have the right model at the right moment. For all the people in the world who pay to have their groceries delivered, dogs walked and laundry taken out, more than a few of them will probably pay to avoid the tedious task of converting their own CDs.

So in the end, Riptopia might be less revolution, more convenience.

Dumbfind's Moral Stance

If righteousness is the key to success in the search industry, then Dumbfind.com is well on its way. The fledgling company is not quite finished building its product, but it has issued two news releases in the past three weeks -- the latter taking on Google for filtering some content from the Chinese version of its search engine.

"Dumbfind to Google: Censorship is Evil," read the headline of the District-based start-up's second news release.

"We are in the business of informing all people what is available in the world, and I believe we have a duty to be consistent in this task," wrote Dumbfind Inc.'s 30-year-old founder, Chris Seline . "We challenge the Chinese authorities to block us and are confident that Chinese users will find their way around the firewalls."

Dumbfind, which refers to itself as "the most searchiest search engine on the web" and was one of 13 companies presented at the DC Tech Council's Early Stage Capital Forum, is Seline's second venture in the industry. Seline co-founded 2Wrongs.com Inc. , a company that failed to make money with its search offering, turned itself into a data-mining software firm and was sold in 2001 to Cyveillance Inc. , an Arlington firm now focused on Internet security.

Dumbfind's twist on search is that it allows users to enter terms into two search boxes instead of one. The second box provides a "context" term, Seline said, a method he thinks provides better results than combining the terms in the same box with an "and" operator that weights them equally.


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