Make Us an Offer Inc.

Kathy Morell

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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

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Make Us an Offer Inc.

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

putting

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

dotcoms.

It went live earlier this year — long after the big category

killers

in the online auction market, like e-Bay and Priceline, were live.

Nonetheless, the company closed $750,000 in the first round of

investing,

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

million.

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,

December

1, at the Princeton Forrestal at noon. Call 609-279-0010. Cost: $45.

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Kathy Morell

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

customers

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

$35?’"

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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