A few weeks ago I was genuinely thunderstruck. My co-editor at P&G Signal (thanks Stan!) introduced me to a new company — one that promised to give consumers control over their personal data in new and innovative ways. At first I was skeptical — I’d seen quite a few “personal data lockers” come and go over the past decade or so. I even invested in one way back in 2012. Alas, that didn’t work out.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been writing — over and over and over — about how the Internet’s central problem is the lack of leverage that consumers have over the data they co-create with the hundreds of apps, sites, and platforms they use. But data lockers never got any traction — most were confusing to install and run, and they all suffered from a lack of tangible consumer benefits. Sure, having a copy of all my personal data sounds great, but in the end, what can it do for me? Up till now, the answer was not much.
It was with all those caveats — and honestly pretty low expectations — that I took a meeting with Sumit Agarwal and his team at Palo Alto, CA-based Gather, an early stage startup still in its first year of operation. Fifteen minutes later I was hooked — here was a company that was addressing the “what can my data do for me” problem by building out a generative AI agent that just might spark the kind of personal data revolution I’ve been writing about for more than a decade. And this was no fly-by-night startup — the company’s founders, team, and investors are all deeply experienced in AI, Internet security, scaled engineering, product design, marketing, and much more.
Before diving in, a caveat: Gather is still at a very early stage, as is the overheated AI ecosystem in which Gather’s products will eventually live. Agarwal told me he’s not even sure if his company will be called Gather by the time its first product becomes available later this year. In addition, the company faces fearsome obstacles to success — including entrenched platform players like Google, Amazon, and Apple, whose business interests do not align with the concept of a newly empowered consumer base. While I usually like to write about companies and products that readers can use immediately, I’m breaking that rule for Gather. No matter the business you’re in, it…