When you’re ready to try a new product, Stephen Svajian, co-founder and CEO of a startup called Fresh, said that what you’re really looking for are recommendations from consumers like you — but the review systems on sites like Amazon are basically broken. That’s why he’s launching Fresh, a site that only allows someone to review a product if they’ve actually received a copy, and that does away with the five-star rating system.
When users are browsing the Fresh site, they can sign up to review products that they’re interested in, which essentially reserves them a spot in the virtual line. (They can move ahead in the line by promoting products to friends through Facebook, Twitter, or email.) Then manufacturers move down the list, sending units to each of the reviewers, and people can only post their reviews after they’ve received the product. Through that system, you can be reasonably sure that any reviews you see on the site come from people who have actually tried it out.
Svajian said the five-star system also has problems, because it tends to attract extreme opinions — you either love a product and give it five stars or hate it and give it one star, while people with positions in between are less likely to post at all. Fresh asks a simpler, more relevant question: Would you recommend the product to a friend, or not? You can also take a neutral position, and yes, people write short reviews as well, but the percentage of reviewers who would recommend a product is the first metric that you see.
Despite the flaws in the existing consumer review system, Svajian said that for most people, they’re more relevant than professional reviews.
“A big part of the differentiation around expert reviews is the perspective,” he said. “If I’m an expert [and I’m reviewing speakers] then I might measure decibels. But if I’m a regular consumer I don’t really care about decibels, just whether it’s loud enough for my use case. They just want to see what the user experience is like.”
There are a lot of hardware startups and Kickstarter-supported projects on the Fresh homepage, and Svajian said that’s not a coincidence. While he’s interested in working with big hardware manufacturers too, Svajian argued that Fresh is well-positioned to help new companies entering the hardware market with the help of trends like crowdfunding, but that haven’t built a big consumer brand yet. By sending out enough review units through Fresh, startups can ensure they get a critical mass of consumer reviews. For example, he noted that the Hidden Radio Bluetooth speaker has only received one review on Amazon, compared to eight on Fresh.
At the same time, Svajian pointed out that the reviewers aren’t being paid by the manufacturers, and their only obligation in return for receiving a free product is to post an honest review — there’s no expectation that they’ll review it positively.
Fresh was founded Svajian, George Truong (both formerly of Ybuy), and Yammer Chief Product Officer James Patterson. Yammer founder and CEO David Sacks is the startup’s lead investor. Svajian declined to specify how much money the company has raised so far, because he said he hasn’t closed the initial funding round yet.
The site has been live for the past couple of months, but is only officially launching today. Svajian said the company is still working out the details of the business model. It will involve the affiliate model and e-commerce in some way — in early testing, the team found that the challenge is to incorporate those elements while making it clear that Fresh is a reviews site, not an e-commerce site.