Startup ArchetypeMe wants to take personalization to the next level with a little help from Carl Jung.
FORTUNE — How much do your social networks know about you? Too much? While many fear Google’s creep and Facebook’s omniscience, Michael Mendenhall, a former marketing executive at Disney and Hewlett-Packard suspects social networks are clueless when it comes to users’ personalities. “Those sites are about chatting, sharing, discovery and connections,” he argues. “They never ask you about yourself. They don’t know who you are.”
Mendenhall’s answer is startup ArchetypeMe, which launched in November last year. Mendenhall is betting users want a smarter, more-knowing network that will customize content, not according to your friends or profession, but in light of your personality. The website, which is currently in beta testing, aims to “redefine personal search and personal branding” by connecting users with what’s most relevant to them. “You always hear personalization, but I have yet to see it,” says Mendenhall.
To that end, ArchetypeMe is part-Facebook FB , part-Carl Jung, part-QVC. In other words, the site is not exactly your typical social network. Mendenhall founded the site with cosmetics entrepreneur Cristina Carlino when she approached him with an idea to build a social platform to distribute content and market products in a more personalized way: by archetypes or patterns of behavior.
For Carlino, who previously founded two skin care companies and has long studied archetypes, the Eureka moment came in 2009, in the midst of her own “archetypal crisis,” as she sorted clothes on her closet floor. At the time, Carlino had just lost creative control of her second company. “I was a queen losing my queendom”, she says. In the mounds of clothing — business suits, maternity wear, creative garb — “I saw my archetypes,” she explains. She also saw the less suitable roles she had tried on over the years and decided others should be empowered in their decisions — be they about shoes, home decor, careers, or relationships — through self-knowledge.
Carlino’s idea resonated with Mendenhall who had grown frustrated with imperfect content filters and the limits of algorithms while working in Silicon Valley. “The only sites that really try to figure you out are dating sites,” he says.
Carlino met Mendenhall when he was being recruited by Revolate Holdings to become partner, President and COO. Revolate is a private equity firm founded in 2011 that owns Lipman, the New York advertising agency. The company invests in startups that it helps promote with its in-house marketing. Mendenhall now serves as Archetypes’ CEO; Carlino is the company’s executive chair. Revolate’s David Lipman and Andrew Spellman are also Archetypes co-founders. Archetypes, which is the parent company of ArchetypeMe as well as publishing, productions, and branding companies, has raised $19 million in funding.
How does ArchetypeMe work? Signing up for the site begins with a multiple choice, eight-question quiz. The test asks users to complete statements like I’m first on my friends’ list for: Fashion advice; a shoulder to cry on; world news, and I can’t stop: Helping; praying; seeing things differently. Users can select up to three of 10 possible responses per question. The site then reveals the user’s archetype, which can range from Caregiver to Fashionista (a Gentleman if you’re male) or Intellectual. There are 10 possible archetypes per gender, each of which comes with its own customized content and community page. Commerce will be added next month.
That may sound too simple a means to get to the “real you,” but Mendenhall claims the process is 85% accurate in identifying a person’s primary type. ArchetypeMe spent months honing the math and science behind the quiz, which was developed by Carlino with the help of a personality assessment expert and vetted by medical intuitive and archectype scholar Caroline Myss as well as behavioral psychologists and quants. The company settled on just eight questions and 10 archetypal families to avoid overwhelming users. Those interested in archetypes can explore the site’s “Archepedia.”
Despite being rooted in math, ArchetypeMe is not as rigid as it may sound — “this is not a site about stereotypes,” says Mendenhall — and the site makes it quite easy for users to change archetype. (By Jung’s teaching, archetypes change in real life too.) Carlino acknowledges that archetypes might not be for everyone. She likens them to astrology but adds that they’re a simple and universal language to organize content.
Content is another of ArchetypeMe’s distinguishing characteristics. While Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube GOOG began as platforms for user-generated content, ArchetypeMe launched with the infrastructure of a media company. Among the start-up’s 35 employees are writers, editors, and designers who publish 20 editions of the “The Daily Me” — one for each archetype. Archetype’s publishing and video production properties augment the site’s offerings; so far they’ve published a 244-page book by Caroline Myss and are midway through production of a 20-webisode series featuring CBS This Morning’s Lee Woodruff, both on the subject of archetypes.
ArchetypeMe currently produces about 70% of its own content, a figure Mendenhall says could shift over time. The site has the looks of Pinterest and features content that is short, shareable — posts rather than articles — and targets the various archetypal groups. The Caregiver page, for example, features “The 8 Best Hugs of President Obama’s First Term” and a post on “Comfort Food for Friends.” Posts across the site range from archetype-specific — “Alphabet of Archetypes” and celebrity archetyping posts: Anne Hathaway is a Fashionista; Galileo and Prince Harry are Rebels — to those that are not at all (a goofy video offering Super Bowl party tips).
Mendenhall and the site’s editor-in-chief, Lisa Gabor, hope to spin-off content from the various Daily Me’s into larger, recognizable franchises and onto other media platforms. For example, the Fashionista’s Daily Me has a weekly column, ‘Bare Naked’ penned by an anonymous up-and-coming foreign fashion model that they believe could translate well to a scripted Web series. Users can also post and share content from the site or the wider Web through ‘Me’ (as in, “this is so me”) and ‘You’ buttons; when they do, the user must first archetype the content, a step that Mendenhall says will be a data point that ultimately helps editors customize content.
The company is not shy about the marketing potential of the site, or the happy more efficient union it could bring consumers and the marketplace. For example, Mendenhall says Spirituals are into candles, fragrances, and other products that evoke ritual; Fashionistas meanwhile are more responsive to marketing that allows them to style products themselves. Mendenhall has ambitions to revolutionize online advertising. He sees more nuanced marketing as an improvement over the status quo — “sites homogenize you,” he says. His lead archetype? Visionary, naturally.