Aardvark

Aardvark

Entrepreneur: Max Ventilla, 29

Funding: $7.5 million from August Capital, Baseline Ventures, Harrison Metal Capital, and angels who include Marc Andreesen, Rajeev Motwani, and Sean Fanning

For a video interview with Aardvark's co-founder, click here.

Online search is getting smarter. Microblogging site Twitter lets users send a query to groups of followers who sometimes number in the thousands. Aardvark tries to take personalized search to the next level—by letting users send questions to narrowly focused groups of people with related interests or expertise. Say a user wants a restaurant or travel recommendation. Aardvark's software breaks down the question into categories, then combs data from users' Facebook profiles, including their networks, interests, and comments, sending the question to a tightly focused group that's more likely to have a response. Ventilla calls the product "social search" and hopes to add information about users' Amazon.com (AMZN) purchase histories and Twitter activity to make the system even more relevant.

Lessons Learned: "Reduce risk as much as you can," Ventilla says. "That becomes doubly important in an economic downturn. Don't have long whiteboard sessions with your other smart co-founders. Instead, get users' feedback and pick the right thing to work on."