Ok Aaron and Paul- way cool. I just discovered this site this week via Hacker News and this is a killer
concept, basically the "music genome project" applied to literature. This is great in so many ways and has some other implications with speech-to-text transcriptions. It's no wonder the CEO at Pandora talked w/ you guys...
I haven't read the mountains of forums posts so excuse me if any of this has already been suggested but here are some random thoughts on usability, direction, etc. Btw, we're a small 4-person startup ourselves (jumpbox.com) and i remember the day when it was 2 of us and we decided to ditch our jobs to take a run at it; so kudos in taking the plunge to go full-time guys- it will change your life.
-The video is an awesome intro- 13min is pretty long but i watched the whole thing because it's such an interesting idea that you're pulling off. You might consider making it more benefit-focused rather than feature-focused. We fall into this same trap all the time ourselves coming from technical backgrounds- we get excited about explaining features. Given that you probably have a highly-technical audience right now that may be okay but ultimately people are interested in "what does this mean to me?" (ie. find more books that i might like vs. algorithms that match on six dimensions of pace, POV, etc).
-Design: you guys have the same issues we do in that you have an absolutely killer technology but the design of the site isn't representative. Frankly, it's the better problem to have than the reverse. We're in the same boat with JumpBox lacking on the marketing and design skills (i'm assuming you're engineers by background?). I would say consider applying some professional design work when you raise money.
-Usability: right now the book search interface being a drop down is really cumbersome. I would consider just making that one long page with a radio button by the titles so you can scan it quickly. And realistically some type-ahead AJAX search interface will be worth it to implement once you add any more books. I'm sure you guys have already contemplated redesign aspects so ignore this if you've already considered it.
-Facebook: as fadish is facebook apps may be, they drive a ton of traffic. I realize you guys are in beta so you probably don't want to turn on the firehose just yet but definitely consider creating a facebook conduit for this service. There's already a "favorite books" on every facebook profile and a really cool app would be one that a user could add and without giving it any extra info, it could reach into their favorite books section, populate their profile and return some recommendations based on the BookLamp engine.
-Everyzing: you should talk to those guys. They have a pretty incredible service where if you run a podcast, you can register your feed with them and their system will create an automated transcription which is surprisingly accurate. I set it up on our Grid7.com podcast and have found it to be about 90% accurate. They don't expose the full transcript of the audio but they allow you as a visitor to do full text search against the audio. A partnership with those guys could yield some really interesting profiles of different "genomes" for podcasts. You could essentially have this same service now extended to podcasting...
-Thoughts on VC: do you guys need it? You've made an incredible service with just you guys so far working part time- consider raising Angel or FFF money and running as far as you can before taking VC. We did the whole VC circuit back in November - that was after we had many paying customers already. There are tons of opinions on this and ultimately you guys have to decide the trajectory you want to take but my thinking is this:
it's like snowboarding or skiing in that by staying lean when you're still uncertain of the formula and biz model, you can pick a high line across the mountain and keep altitude (equity) that can be traded for speed (cash) later on. As soon as you start swooshing down the mountain w/ VC, you've chosen your path and you had better know the fall line you plan to take.
we ended up not doing VC but if you wanna read more on our VC experience, i posted a bunch of stuff here-> http://www.scrollinondubs.com/2007/12/12/lessons-from-vc-pitches/
Anyways, great job. This is the freshest thing I've seen this month and I'm stoked for you guys that you took the plunge to pursue it. I know the gamble I made to take a HELOC against my house and help fund JumpBox into existence was probably the best decision I've ever made and even if it were to go belly-up I would not regret it. Good luck and I look forward to following developments on your RSS feed.