Surfmark is a collaborative online research platform that enables users to add notes and highlight content directly onto exact copies of Web pages, which is automatically organized for easy reference and updating.
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Vivek, thank you for answering my questions. As a starter, tell us a little bit about you.
Vivek Agarwal: Hi Cendrine, Thanks for giving me the opportunity for this interview.
I have been in the technology industry all of my work life in various roles including being a founding architect of another startup and a technology consultant. I hate waste and think that every system can be made more efficient and purposeful. I believe that the most wasted resource right now is the knowledge that gets locked in our head and remains there. Unlocking this resource can unleash cross-pollination of ideas that Tim Berners-Lee must have dreamt of when he created the World Wide Web. Unlocking this resource is what consumes us at Surfmark.
CM: Surfmark is a start-up comprising of six people. How did you all meet and what gave you the idea of creating the platform?
VA: I came up with the initial idea when I found the existing options to save online research I routinely did as part of my investment-banking job, totally inadequate. I wanted to save not just the content I found but all the thoughts, ideas and perspectives I developed while consuming that content and to then be able to collaborate with my team on that research. I wanted to build an “adjunct” to my brain. Kapil Kumar was working at Yahoo and he knew a thing or two about contextual analysis, being the founding member of Yahoo’s Panama initiative. So we teamed up and Kapil brought in Simil Dutta, who also is from his Alma mater.
Cristina Tejeda and I met when she was a co-worker of my wife, and when Cristina joined us, she brought along Dano Alexander, whom she’s been friends with since they were housemates back in 2001.
CM: What makes Surfmark different from content curation tools like Storify, Scoop.it or Pinterest?
VA: Applications like Storify, Pinterest and Scoop.it allow you to curate content by collecting web pages or images very quickly and easily. What Surfmark empowers you to do is collaborate while conducting a deeper level of research.
Surfmark is a collaborative platform which enables users to add their thoughts directly onto exact copies of web pages they are viewing, rather than just adding comments like other platforms (though we have that ability too!). As a result, your research is an amalgamation of web content and personal thoughts and perspectives.
One of our newer features is the “Summary” function, which allows you to extract all of the highlights and notes, with the click of a button, so that you can easily email it or include it in another document. It’s also hosted on the cloud, which means – it’s accessible to edit, share or view from anywhere.
CM: Who can view and contribute to the surfmark collections?
VA: Users can add their insights and perspectives directly onto the web pages to produce a collaborative space – similar to a wiki.
We have an entire spectrum of privacy ranging from being completely public, where anyone who comes to our site can view, to having a walled garden for companies and academic institutions to being protected by a password, where you fully control who is able to see your surfmark collection.
CM: How many users does Surfmark have right now? And how do they usually leverage the platform?
VA: We have a small but growing user base. We’re continuously surprised by the different ways our users have leveraged the platform. Some have used it – exactly the way we intended it for – saving deep research in one place and building on it and collaborating on it. But others have used it to plan their vacation or activities, organize their job searches, create detailed instructions on anything or collaborate on shopping etc. The list really is endless.
The one use of Surfmark that has been very heart-warming for us is that of elementary school teachers using it to teach the process of Internet-based research to their students.
CM: What is next for the startup?
VA: We are focused on improving user-engagement. We don’t care if hundreds of thousands of users do not immediately start using the product. What we care about is that the people who do use it simply love using Surfmark. Once we have that, we know that we can expand to a broader user base quite easily. We are planning to extend the service to the mobile platform, across multiple operating systems and screens.
CM: Where can people find more information on Surfmark?
VA: On our website http://www.surfmark.com and our blog at http://www.blog.surfmark.net. Also, please email me at vivek at surfmark.net if you have any questions – I’m always happy to help out anyone!
CM: Any last words?
VA: We hope everyone will try out Surfmark and let us know what they think! We fully understand that everyone has a different style of researching, and we have built our tool to be as flexible as possible to meet different styles of research.