There are tons of recommendation sites out there, but for services where the stakes are much higher than a meal–like pediatricians or financial advisors–a lot of people still prefer referrals from friends. But that’s a challenge if you are, for example, new to an area. New site byUs.com wants to mimic the way word-of-mouth referrals work by providing an invite-only platform where people can find recommendations for medical professionals, general contractors and childcare from a personalized network of friends and associates. The site is currently taking signups and plans to launch its Bay Area beta version in early 2014.
Its founders describe byUs.com as a “next-generation Angie’s List,” the subscription-only reviews site that was founded in 1996 and currently has 2.4 million paid members, because both focus on service providers where there is a “high cost of failure” (including nannies, pediatricians, general contractors and wealth advisors),” co-founder and CEO Jonathan Bunt told me in an email.
byUs.com wants to differentiate from Angie’s List and other recommendation platforms, however, by combining its reviews with a “proprietary natural recommendation processing engine on the backend” that it says helps increase the relevancy of recommendations while protecting the privacy of individual users.
The site recently raised a $1.5 million angel round from 40 individual investors. While the amount of participants is unusually large, co-founder and CEO Jonathan Bunt says it fit into the site’s community-building strategy.
“We distinctly avoided institutional capital as the benefits each aspirational advisors/investor who is motivated to be an active user and bring his/her community and connections to the site far outweighs a few investors writing big checks,” he says.
Angel investors include Charlie Cheever, co-founder of Quora; Colin Evans, co-founder of StubHub; Ariel Poler, former chairman of Stumbleupon; Ed Baker, Uber‘s head of growth; former CEO of eHarmony Jeremy Varba; and Dixon Doll, the co-founder of DCM.
byUs.com was created by Bunt, who launched and sold humble Brands Inc., which makes the sleeping aid Rebloom, and co-founder Brad Stroh, a serial entrepreneur who founded consumer finance startups Freedom Financial Network in 2002 and Bills.com in 2005.
In order to get an account on byUs.com, you need to be invited by an existing member. Once on the site, you can see recommendations for service providers from friends and share connections; ask for recommendations and get real-time responses from people in relevant to you; and write your own recommendations.
The site uses its own algorithms to connect people with a wider network beyond their friends. This means that instead of getting recommendations from everyone your friends know, you only see ones from people who live in the same area or have worked with service providers you need.
“byUs.com is about users sharing private recommendations with trusted friends and shared groups, which most social networks don’t do a great job of currently,” says Bunt. The site will remain free for users and plans to monetize by partnering with selected providers who want to market their services to friends and connections of their existing customers.