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Enliken co-founders Marc Guldimann and Avniel Dravid

Advertisers are getting to know more about each and every one of us, especially as behavioral targeting technologies allow big brands to more directly target messages to individuals with specific interests and Internet browsing patterns.

But what if the consumer had more control of that data? And what if you could earn value from marketing your personal information to advertisers, rather than having them try to figure out (largely inaccurately) what you want?

That’s the idea behind Enliken, a Seattle and New York startup founded in 2011 by old-time college friends from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Enliken allows consumers to decide how their personal data is used, and then use accumulated points to pay for digital content without cash. In other words, the service allows consumers to exchange data about interests in exchange for premium content from Web sites.

It’s an interesting concept, but The New York Times points out that “people remain wary of anything related to online surveillance” and the ultimate value might not be that great to end users.  Nonetheless, there’s a movement afoot whereby consumers are attempting to gain more control of their personal data, as evidenced by Microsoft’s decision to make the “Do Not Track” option the default setting in Internet Explorer 10.

We caught up with 34-year-old Enliken co-founder Avniel Dravid, who is based in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, for the latest installment of Startup Spotlight.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Enliken helps consumers and businesses transact with personal online preferences, what we call “first party data.”

Inspiration hit us when: “We built our first product in Europe over a summer of living out of AirBnb apartments (Berlin, Paris, Cannes, Reykjavik). The first iteration tracked all online activity, and we quickly realized the power and sensitivity of what we were doing. Today, we are a very privacy-aware product, with an ever-growing focus on transparency and human filtering.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Currently we have raised $250,000 in angel money, and plan on raising another $250,000 to help us reach our milestones. We will continue to be efficient with our funds, drive revenue and raise funding from a diverse range of partners.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Enliken is built on the understanding that there is little overlap between the data that advertisers are interested in and the data that consumers consider sensitive. Enliken helps people create value from a limited slice of their data, without asking them to share sensitive or personal information.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Building a nimble, efficient team of employees, advisors and investors who are responsive and often working from 4-5 different cities across the world. Being a truly global team makes us productive around the clock, as well as find talent in any city on the planet.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We’ve evolved to a point where we understand that our best partners are those businesses who understand the power of first party data — clean and transparent data can produce better marketing outcomes.”

bezosWould you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos. All of his work, including his investments and philanthropy, lead me to believe he is the most innovative founder today. Much of our software sits on the Amazon stack, so his strategic advice and direction would be priceless.”

Our world domination strategy starts when: “Consumers understand that personal data is valuable to businesses. We want to help consumers have a voice in the data marketplace.”

Rivals should fear us because: “Enliken represents a movement of privacy-aware consumers who want to take back control of our data.”

We are truly unique because: “We believe a small amount of information shared willingly is worth more than a mountain of data gathered surreptitiously. We believe that people should have the right to decide what data is collected, who can access it, and who benefits. This is our vision for the future of the data economy.”

The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Keeping our core product and engineering teams together for 15+ months now. Momentum and morale are important metrics for a young startup.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Team, Team, Team. Find mission-driven co-founders, then iterate and execute. Don’t be afraid to throw away things: ideas, branding, code, business plans.”

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