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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on November 24,
1999. All rights reserved.
For Newcomers to the ‘Net The Money Is Still Flowing
by Melinda Sherwood
The parade of .com businesses may be thinning out, but
investor cash flow is not. The investment community is still looking
around for entrepreneurs with new ideas and, more importantly, new
technologies, says Michael Morell, CEO of Make Us An Offer Inc.
(http://www.makeusanoffer.com) at 684 Whitehead Road. "Just
up a site and saying I’m selling beach balls or whatever is not what’s
going to attract additional capital because most spots are crowded
online," he says. "I think you need to have good technology
and good people to implement that technology to really make a splash
in E-commerce these days."
Make Us An Offer, an online haggling site that sells everything from
technology to clothing, is a relative newcomer to the world of
It went live earlier this year — long after the big category
in the online auction market, like e-Bay and Priceline, were live.
Nonetheless, the company closed $750,000 in the first round of
drawing in angels like Michael Cooper, former CEO of Opinion
Research, and John Ason, a private investor, and is getting
ready to wrap up it’s second round — shooting for $3 to $5
But "Chester" — Make Us An Offer’s smart-mouthed mascot,
an animation that uses artificial intelligence to guide people through
the online bidding process — won the attention of the investment
community. More specifically, the technology behind Chester. Morell,
who holds a BS in economics from Harvard, Class of 1995, built it
himself when his wife, Kathy (Harvard, Class of ’94), decided
that she wanted to open her own business. "We’re basically the
haggling technology expert," says Morell. "I think that was
the most important."
The Morells join Ason and Mike Goldman of the Goldman Toy Group
and John Feldman of Xlibris to talk more about finding angels
at the New Jersey Entrepreneurial Network meeting on Wednesday,
1, at the Princeton Forrestal at noon. Call 609-279-0010. Cost: $45.
Before there was Chester, explains Kathy Morell, president of Make
Us an Offer, the site used forms to submit bids, but consumers did
not respond as well. "A lot of people were trying to offer more
bids and it was obvious people want more interactivity, but we had
to package it so that it would be more interesting," she says.
Using the offline bidding process as a model, they came up with the
idea of Chester. Michael, who had some experience in C programming,
left his job as vice president of Banker’s Trust in New York to work
on the online version full time.
Chester uses artificial intelligence to understand whether a bid is
reasonable or not, and makes wisecracks where appropriate. "If
the merchandise is $50, and someone offers $2, he’ll come back and
say come on, make me a serious bid," says Kathy. "But if it’s
a reasonable bid his tone get’s more serious."
On the backend, Chester is nothing more than a database that knows
what the lowest acceptable price for an item is, based on costs and
overhead, and what consumer buying habits are. He keeps a record of
each customer’s bids so when they log on again, he can point them
to products they might like. In some cases, says Kathy Morell, he
might even settle a bid beneath the break-even price to reward
for their service. "There are people who’ve given us really great
reviews and say they love Chester," she says.
"The success of E-Bay and Priceline has attracted a whole market
for people who like to bargain online," says Michael, "but
what makes Chester different from anything else out there is there’s
no waiting time. Chester comes right back and says `how about
The key is to have an idea that’s significantly different from what
anyone else is doing, says Michael, who even has such companies as
France TeleCom investing in his company. "There’s still plenty
of good ideas out there to be launched — I still have a few of
them every morning," he says. "In the context of the overall
E-commerce revolution, we’re still early."
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