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Tuesday Surprise - Womow

Continuing our coverage of bringing more surprise entries, today’s surprise entry entry is

Founded by Fiona Adler and Brad Bond in 2006, WOMOW stands for Word Of Mouth On the Web and it’s an online business directory of word-of-mouth recommendations to help people find the best local businesses. All businesses are entered and rated by users who describe their experience, including what they particularly liked or didn’t like about the business. WOMOW helps users find the very best local businesses, using real information from real people. And for businesses, WOMOW is the only place where they can be promoted based on merit (not on how much they spend). And if businesses provide poor service, we believe people should know about this so that they can choose other alternatives. WOMOW gives consumers a voice and evens out the playing field for businesses.

Let us explore a bit more about Womow and see how they are doing. This is what Fiona, one of the founders, has to say:

How it started?
The idea for WOMOW came about in 1999 when Fiona was undertaking some home renovations and found herself reluctant to choose tradespeople without a recommendation. At the height of the dot-com boom, she started thinking, "Wouldn't it be great if recommendations were on the web?" But it wasn't until 2006 that we seriously started making WOMOW happen, and in July 2007 the site actually went live.
But that's not because we're slow movers! At the time we were in the thick of running Invizage Technology - the IT support company that Brad and Paul (Fiona's husband) founded. Fiona was the marketing manager here and Brad was the director of operations. After building this to become Australia's largest IT support company for small and medium sized businesses, Invizage was sold to Sensis (part of Telstra) in 2005. Fiona and Brad then pursued other interests for a while (Fiona climbed Mt Everest) and then at the end of 2006, teamed up again and started planning WOMOW.

How long it took before it was up and running?
It took about 6 months of researching, planning, and designing, and then 3 months of developing and testing before we launched the live version of the site.

What stage of your start-up is, stealth mode, beta mode or fully functional?
Fully functional.

What is the main objective/mission behind your venture?
Our goal is to make WOMOW a way to find the best local businesses, using real information from real people.

For businesses, WOMOW aims to be the only place where businesses are promoted on merit (not on how much they spend) and good businesses can acquire quality-oriented customers without spending a fortune.

What services it provide it for consumers or customers?
A business directory based on real, word-of-mouth information. It lets people know what real customers say about a business, rather than what the business says about themselves.

What is unique about your venture?
There are plenty of online directories that let you find businesses, but how do you know if they’re any good? The businesses that pay the most are always the most prominent, but this tells you nothing about their service.

Everyone knows how powerful recommendations are, but these days it’s hard to have that over-the-fence chat with our neighbours to find out where they get their car serviced. But who doesn't want to hear about a great new restaurant that just opened, a fantastic plumber that won't rip you off, or a dentist that makes the experience pleasant?

On WOMOW, all businesses are entered and rated by users and it’s the only place where people can find out what businesses are really like – directly from real customers.
It’s word-of-mouth on steroids.

What market segment verticals you are targeting for?
WOMOW is proving to be most popular for services relating to; Building and Trades, Home Services, Automotive & Travel, Health and medical, Children, Family and pets, Professional Services, Restaurants, Shopping and hobbies, and Weddings.

What type of customers you are targeting?
Discerning customers that care about good service – whether that be finding a great place to eat out tonight, a mechanic that won’t rip them off, or a hairdresser that comes highly recommended.

What age group of people will benefit most?
There’s no particular age-group, but people that are online that use a lot of services get the most benefit from These might be people in their 20’s that tend to eat out and use a lot of personal services, through to people in their 30s, 40’s and 50’s that use more services for their homes and children.

How many users are using your services?
We now have almost 9,000 business ratings on WOMOW and have been getting more than 20,000 unique visitors per month.

What sort of marketing you are using to spread the word?
True to our name, we are using word-of-mouth to spread the word about WOMOW. We’re finding that most people love the idea and are quick to share the site with their friends and family. We also run member promotions from time to time.

How are you measuring the success of your venture? Are there any special mechanisms/tools in place to monitor the progress?
We use measures like traffic, number of ratings, and number of users but the real measure of WOMOW’s success comes from the feedback we receive. We often get people writing to us saying that they found a great little business on and they’re so thankful. It might be a business they’ve driven past every day but never noticed and now it’s solved a particular problem for them or helped them in some way. Personally, WOMOW has helped me find a fantastic builder, cleaner, dog trainer, printer and heaps of great restaurants I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

The businesses rated on WOMOW are also contacting us – a hairdresser recently contacted us saying they’d acquired 13 new customers after only being on the site for 2 months. Another restaurant owner said that 30% of her customers are finding her through WOMOW. She also said that reading the ratings gave her goosebumps – after all, it’s not often that business owners get praise and recognition for their efforts.

What is the monetizing/revenue model? Is there any new model, which is being tried?
Businesses can pay a small fee to have an Optimised Listing. This allows them to include a description of their services, images, and special offers on their profile, as well as appearing as a suggestion on the profiles of other businesses in the same category.

Which are the main competitors or major players in this market segment?
  • WOMOW is the first directory to be entirely based on user ratings. More traditional models (such as Yellow Pages and TrueLocal) base their directory around the businesses’ needs – which get in the way of the user experience. For instance, TrueLocal has just introduced functionality where users can rate businesses, but they lack credibility as the ratings are moderated and the business can ask to have any rating removed.
  • Other players such as ServiceCentral and ServiceSeeking have a model based on convenience. They help match consumers up with businesses that are ready to do the work – but there is still no effective way of telling whether that business is any good.
  • WOMOW is the only business directory in Australia where all businesses are rated and the information is based on real users.

What are the main technologies used behind this start-up?
PHP, MySQL running on Linux.

What has been the easiest to use, out of box and helpful technology?
PHP has been very easy to learn and use.

Are you using a lot of open source tool sets for this?
Yes, everything is Open source except PHP Designer.

What is your operating environment (operating system) and what type of database you are using?
MySQL running on Linux.

How often do you catch up with others trying similar things and where do you catch up. Do you have dedicated communities in your city?
No official dedicated communities but there plenty of meetings where we bounce ideas off each other and our personal networks. Having been in business previously and recently finishing an MBA, we have many interesting, intelligent business contacts.

How much money is needed upfront to start a venture?
Obviously, this varies significantly from business to business and also depends on the speed you want to make an impact on the market. In our case, the true start-up costs are minimal as we developed the site ourselves. However, the ongoing effort and funding required to market the site are significant. Fortunately, our last business was sold to Telstra, giving us the ability to invest our time and funds in WOMOW and removing the pressure to be profitable. This is something we believe in rather than a way to get rich!

What are the main barriers in general for people to start their venture in Australia?
Starting anything significant takes significant time and effort. Usually, much more than people anticipate and certainly more than can be squeezed in around a full-time job. The biggest barrier is people’s dependence on their income – usually for servicing their mortgages. This means that they can’t quit their job and devote the necessary time to their venture.

What are your thoughts on the future trends of your service and the market segment you are in?
The web is continuing to change the way we do business and the trend towards user-generated content will create a lot more transparency in the marketplace. This means that businesses have to be more accountable, but also provides a great opportunity for those businesses that are providing a great service. Good service really is the new marketing.

Do you have any advice for people who want to start their venture?
If there’s any way possible – just give it a go. Better to have a go and fail than to look back and wonder “What if?”. Having said that, take the time to research, plan, design, and test your ideas on your target market. Without the 6 months we spent in this phase, I’m sure would not be the happening, vibrant site it is today.

Thanks, Fiona for sharing your thoughts. Unfortunately, we cant add your venture into the competition, but we look forward to hearing from you in future on the progress of Womow. All the best.

Note: Surprise entries are not eligible for participating in the competition. Previous surprise entries can be read here


Anonymous said…
When are people going to stop claiming they are "the ONLY business directory in Australia" doing consumer reviews? Docoloco is just one that has been around for a long time now, which is 100% consumer reviews.

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