Thursday, November 26, 2009

Web 2.0 Start-ups Continue to Emerge in the Local Space

Excerpted from Jason Kincaid's 11/25/09 article

Last month we saw the
launch of TechCrunch50 winner RedBeacon, the startup that lets you book local service providers directly from the web. Today it's getting some strong competition from a new startup called Thumbtack, a local service booking engine that's looking to offer both a comprehensive directory of providers and a greater degree of trust than you can find elsewhere.

Featurewise, Thumbtack is a mix between RedBeacon, Yelp, and OpenTable. Like RedBeacon, it lets you sign onto the site and issue a request for a service, which service providers can then bid on. But Thumbtack also offers provider profiles, where these providers can list some of their specialties and price points. There's also a section where you can book a service directly from a profile page as you would on OpenTable, complete with an availability calendar.

One of the biggest issues with local services like Thumbtack is the chicken-and-the-egg problem. These sites generally launch with a relatively small number of services, which means that users can have a hard time finding what they need (and without users, providers have little incentive to join the site).

If a service provider is licensed they can post that in their profile, which Thumbtack will verify for free. Thumbtack is also giving providers a handful of premium verification options. Providers who successfully pass these checks are rewarded with badges on their profile pages, giving users more confidence in their service.

Thumbtack is offering its service nationwide beginning today, but as with RedBeacon their primary focus is the Bay Area, with plans to expand down the road.

Thumbtack is doing a lot of things right with its site - I particularly like the idea of having providers verified through background checks, which helps differentiate it from sites like Angie's List, Craigslist, and RedBeacon (which lets providers display their licenses but doesn't do background checks). That said, Thumbtack faces the same challenges that RedBeacon will have. For one, it's going to have to train users to turn to their computers rather than their yellow pages for these local services. And while 10,000 businesses is a good start, it's going to take a long time for the service to build up a robust community of users and reviews. The background checks are a nice touch, but they don't do much for helping users discern which providers offer a high quality service.

For another service that's taking a different approach to matching users with trustworthy service providers, check out
Workstir, which provides suggestions based on your social graph.

My Take

Jason is right on with his "chicken and egg" analogy. Networks need critical mass to get traction - and traction to achieve critical mass.

The name brand, free social & local sites (CraigsList, Facebook, MySpace) have driven this process by offering unique value and exciting their users. AngiesList, in a slightly different category, charges consumers to subscribe and seems to be spending quite a bit on advertising. It does not appear to be built on a social foundation, so not sure if it's truly "Web 2.0".

Sites that build their functionality around their members' social networks have the greatest chance of facilitating and leveraging genuine trust to drive commerce.

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