A startup called Bento Labs is launching today with $2 million and an Android home screen that can surface relevant recommendations, even when you haven’t bothered to manually enter preferences and other personal information into applications installed on your phone.
Bento Labs’ chief executive, Nikhil Chandhok, has respect for Google, having spent more than eight years there. And yet, he thinks the home screen he and his small team have created could be a worthy challenger to Google Now, Google’s own system for providing relevant information and ways to engage with apps on mobile devices.
“It is not a very good suggested system,” Chandhok told VentureBeat in an interview. “You first have to figure out what is the reason you want to go there. I think our thesis — and it could be wrong — is that you have to be a home screen to build a system that is going to be interesting, that tells you what to do next. I don’t think Google Now is going as far as that.”
Bento’s home screen, with its knack for seeding apps with personal details, inherently acknowledges the sprawl of apps that consumers keep on their phones. And it operates with the assumption that the best apps aren’t always the ones with Google’s name on them.
The thing is, other companies might think those are good ideas. So Bento could face a good bit of competition.
“You have to believe that every chat application, every Android device maker — every once of those guys — is trying to build something on the home screen that is contextual and that is relevant to the user,” Chandhok said.
And yet, here comes Bento, which already has several application programming interface (API) partners, including Reddit, SoundCloud, Uber, Yelp, and even Google-owned YouTube.
Initially, Bento is focusing on music and local services. Practically speaking, Bento can learn what music you like to listen to in one music app and then surface songs to play in another music app. Or Bento can let make apps like Uber or Yelp remember important addresses, saving you time.
In time, Bento could expand its reach and start to include social applications,.
“Now you have this notion of, ‘Hey, apps are sharing this data without actually having to do one-off integrations between apps,'” Chandhok said.
Formerly an entrepreneur in residence at Google Ventures, Chandhok founded Bento Labs with Kunal Punera, previously the head of data products engineering at RelateIQ, last June. Now the San Francisco startup employs seven people.
The seed funding for Bento comes from First Round Capital, Google Ventures, the Social+Capital Partnership, and Susa Ventures, as well as some angel investors.
Starting today, you can sign up for an invite-only beta of Bento’s home screen. While you’re waiting for access, check out this video, which shows Bento’s home screen making some smart recommendations: