Minnesota start-up offers free, scaled-down model similar to Angie's List

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2013 - 10:40 PM

Twin Cities start-up gets users to share their favorite plumbers and electricians with their Facebook friends – for free.

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Local entrepreneuer Dan Linstroth has launched a version of Angie's List for people who'd rather find a good service provider from their Facebook friends' recommendations than from strangers on Angie's List. Grain Exchange Bldg., Minneapolis, MN on July 15, 2013.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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Zach Sussman didn’t want to search the Yellow Pages or pay $50 for an Angie’s List subscription when he needed a handyman.

The idea of strangers recommending a service provider didn’t appeal to the 30-year-old from Minnetonka.

“I don’t trust anonymous people’s reviews when I’m hiring someone who’s going to be in my house,” he said. “It’s a matter of security.”

So Sussman used a start-up website, BeHeroic.com. The Twin Cities-based business takes a different approach to finding a good auto mechanic, plumber or other service provider.

Heroic lets friends form their own user group, a mini-version of Angie’s List or Consumers’ Checkbook, where they know and trust everyone in the group. They sign in through Facebook to gain access to reviews written by their friends.

It taps into recommendations from people whose standards, interests and biases are known because they’re friends or family, said Dan Linstroth, 28, one of Heroic’s four co-founders. “I can understand the context of my friend’s recommendation, but I may not understand an anonymous five-star rating.”

Millennials are three times more likely to turn to social channels than boomers when differentiating among products or services, according to a Bazaarvoice.com survey. They want feedback from experts and people with common interests, including personal connections, although not exclusively.

And they prefer to get their information indirectly. “They turn to online rather than human communication,” said Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and management consulting firm.

Heroic’s model is to encourage people to start by connecting with three Facebook friends and writing three reviews of service providers that have given great service, said Linstroth. (Users also can correspond via e-mail instead of Facebook.) The company, which was launched in February, now has about 1,000 reviews and about 1,800 users and plans to offer a mobile product later this year.

It’s a small fraction of the number of subscribers at Angie’s List (48,000 in the Twin Cities) or Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook (8,000), but that doesn’t bother Dennis Malinis of Minneapolis, a user since March.

He realizes that the business is in its infancy, and that it takes time to build a base. “I’m a supporter of all things local,” he said. “I like that it’s based in the Twin Cities and that it’s free.”

Malinis also likes the idea of being the megaphone for small businesses. “I really wanted to promote the dog walker I use and get the word out about how happy I am,” he said.

He’s written half a dozen reviews of businesses so far, including a painter and a house cleaning service.

Linstroth said the site made a deliberate decision to include only positive reviews. There are a lot of high-quality skilled service workers who are humble and aren’t good at marketing, he said.

“We wanted to pass the word around for those great businesses, like the bike repair guy who works out of his basement.”

While Heroic doesn’t deliberately focus on one- or two-person businesses, that’s been the majority of businesses that have been reviewed so far.

Users writing only about the good eggs, not the bad apples, makes for a smaller number of reviews, eliminating the average and below-average companies. Most of the companies listed at Heroic have only a handful of reviews.

That’s troubling to Robert Krughoff, founder and president of the nonprofit Center for the Study of Service, which publishes the ratings magazine Consumers’ Checkbook in seven metro regions, including the Twin Cities.

A larger sample of reviews improves the consumer’s odds, he said. Twenty people giving a company good reviews is preferable to one person’s kudos, who may have just had good luck, he said.

Krughoff said the most-helpful consumer reviews are for hotels or products, but service providers can be trickier. That, he says, is why 10 or 20 or more reviews are better than a handful.

“Some consumers wouldn’t know a good plumber from a bad one,” he said. “The important thing if you’re using Facebook friends as evaluators of service is to narrow the group down to friends who are consumer-savvy and don’t want to waste money.”

What about the business trying to stack the deck by writing its own reviews? Linstroth said that businesses can’t be listed until a user recommends them, and Heroic checks e-mail addresses and Facebook profiles for any company connection.

Like many Internet start-ups, the company is still “pre-revenue,” according to Linstroth, but they are considering a premium model that would charge businesses for deeper features.

 

John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633

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