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Investors back online networking company

Rochester Business Journal
March 28, 2014

One year after its launch, armed with a recent secondary investment by Kayweb Angels LLC, business networking site You Need My Guy LLC continues to evolve in support of its vision of word-of-mouth referrals on the Web.

“The time seemed right and the momentum seemed there enough for us to take a look at where (the company) was going,” said John Buckman, general manager of Kayweb Angels, an angel investment group based in New York City, and member of the board of directors of You Need My Guy.

“There’s a reason that we’re putting more into You Need My Guy,” he said. “We believe in it more than ever, we believe in Joe more than ever, and we’re doing everything we can to kind of help continue to build his vision around it.”

The premise behind the company is to link professionals in any industry through socially driven referrals online.

Users are able to recommend only one person in a given profession, placing the focus on the user’s experience with that individual rather than on the detached connections seen on other sites.

“There’s a lot of that, ‘Well, I like your Facebook page’…Who cares?” said Joseph Cassara, founder and CEO of You Need My Guy. “If you’re smart, you’re liking the Facebook page of all your competitors. (It) doesn’t mean that you would recommend them. (Similarly) you reach a point where LinkedIn just becomes the Yellow Pages of business.”

Since its launch in February 2013, You Need My Guy has evolved. That evolution has included three major changes this year: revamping the sign-in process, defining a premium account and creating a geographic focus for referrals.

Cassara started the company because he had a bad experience with an online review.

“I hired a drywall person off Craigslist, because we bought a new house, and they flooded my basement,” Cassara said. “It was awful, and after that I thought, ‘Man, I’m so embarrassed I hired the wrong person.’ I’m connected to so many people, and I can’t believe I didn’t ask (anyone).”

He found no place online a person could trust to find good people for services such as carpentry and photography.

From there, Cassara began thinking about a way to commercialize the strength of recommendations by making them personal. That means building more accountability and trust for online reviews or referrals using the social network people already have.

“There’s 4,000 Realtors in Rochester; I don’t want all 4,000. I want the ones that people love to talk about, people love to recommend, (who are) engaging in the digital age,” Cassara said.

You Need My Guy started as an idea on a sheet of paper that was submitted to a Kayweb Angels startup competition in New York City in late 2011.

“(It) was one of those ideas that you get as soon as you hear it,” Buckman said. “It was the concept, the need in the marketplace and really the simplicity of it: using social media and its potential to go viral to bring word-of-mouth to the Internet.

“I think it’s been there to some extent, but this really put a sharper point on the pencil when it came to these specific needs. Idea-wise it was one of those ‘somebody has got to be doing this,’” he added.

The three company winners of the contest—You Need My Guy; Cafrino, a California-based poker website; and Minute Lister, a mobile e-commerce application in Chicago—were selected from 200 entries. Each received an investment of development and mentoring valued at $250,000 to $300,000. Kayweb Angels invests development and resources in exchange for equity in the startups.

“The investment is always the person and the idea in that order, and Joe is a pretty good testament to why that works,” Buckman said.

This January, two of the three winners, including You Need My Guy, gained further investment from Kayweb in the range of $30,000 to $40,000.

Two private investors have since invested a total of $100,000 in You Need My Guy.

The company has two employees including Cassara. It has some 6,000 users and has experienced 20 to 30 percent growth each month.

Kayweb Angels expects big things for the startup, Buckman said.

“We look to make a return on our investment,” he said. “We’re happy either way; a success is really having a company where we were part of building it and it’s become to some degree a player in the market.”

With a strong start to the company, Cassara has learned important tenets along the way, including how certain referrals can take on larger meanings.

“If a mortgage person recommends a Realtor, that’s meaningful,” he said. “There (are) a lot of things that actually do matter that people (say): ‘I’m not sure I want to take a random Google or Yelp review from someone that I don’t know what they do for a living.’ A bouncer recommending a CPA is a little different than an attorney recommending a CPA.”

You Need My Guy is free to all users or businesses who create a basic profile, but a premium profile costs $10 a month. Users can sign up as contributors without a personal or business profile.

Premium profiles allow users to embed videos, links or photos in their profiles and also get a candidate on the first page of a search. Since premium accounts are guaranteed to be on the first page of a search, they generally receive more clicks.

“I’m young, so I do a lot with social media and I do a lot with Internet marketing,” said Mandy Friend, an agent for Keller Williams Realty Greater Rochester and a premium account user. “(You Need My Guy) is something that’s so true to how the buyers feel and to how the consumers feel, and they don’t put someone on there that they don’t believe in.”

“It’s almost like your past clients are constantly marketing for you,” she added.

One perk of a profile is higher rankings in Google searches, which are important for search engine optimization marketers, Cassara said.

Partnerships with organizations such as the Greece Chamber of Commerce are strategic moves for the company.

“Even in this digital age, people like to do business with people they know through a referral. … I think it really has a strong chance of really being beneficial, and we think it’s a great product,” said Jodie Perry, CEO and president of the Greece Chamber of Commerce.

In the real estate industry, where referrals can be everything, Friend sees the value in the site.

“The You Need My Guy’s appeal to me comes from the fact that it’s almost like a middle ground between Facebook and Linked In,” Friend said. “It’s a little bit more of a professional referral base where you can really have your business validated more so than just ‘I’m connected with this person’ or ‘My friend of a friend did that.’”

Moving forward, the company wants to loop good experiences back to referrals.

“We’re learning that users want to know more about what happens with the recommendations and their friends,” Cassara said. “We’ll be implementing in the next couple of weeks almost an alert system that says you listed this hairstylist and she claimed her profile. What we’ve learned is that you actually care because you know her.”

3/28/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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