Monday, October 18, 2004
Interview with Stuart MacFarlane, CEO of InsiderPages
Pasadena-based InsiderPages is a new Idealab startup focused on a combination of local search and social networking. I caught up with Stuart MacFarlane, the company's CEO, to better understand the idea behind the company and where it is in its development.
BK: What's the concept behind InsiderPages, and how do people use your service?
SM: Insider Pages is built around the idea that the best way to find a local service provider is to ask a friend. This applies to virtually every type of service, from contractors to pediatricians to mechanics.
Unfortunately, we often get stuck in situations where we don't know who to turn to for recommendations, so we find ourselves hunting and pecking through the Yellow Pages. This happened to me the other day when a pipe broke under my house. I ended up calling the first plumber listed in my local Yellow Pages, and was subsequently overcharged for shoddy work.
Insider Pages automates the word of mouth process so that you can get recommendations from friends anytime and from any location. Search for a plumber, and immediately see who your friends recommend. It's like the Yellow Pages, but written by people you know.
BK: What kind of information are people looking for on your service, and what seems to be the most popular categories?
SM: We find people turning to our site because they don't like blindly contacting service providers they know nothing about. Do you know anyone who would make an appointment with a hairstylist just because their name happens to show up in a Google search result? In fact, I've received dozens of emails from people who are thrilled to finally find a site that tells them what's good (and what's not) in their neighborhood. Restaurants, healthcare providers, and personal services have been three of our most popular search areas.
BK: Are you finding that people are willing to recommend services to their friends through InsiderPages?
SM: We released our beta site at the end of July, and have already collected 3,000 reviews from new members. This blows away what we had expected during the first couple months of testing. We're finding that people are motivated to help their friends and the rest of the community, and more than willing to take a few minutes to share recommendations. The web is full of people who like to share their expertise and opinions. Insider Pages is their neighborhood soap box.
BK: What's the relationship between Idealab and InsiderPages, and how involved is Bill Gross in InsiderPages?
SM: I've worked with Bill Gross and numerous other people at Idealab over the last 12 months to turn the Insider Pages idea into reality. Our company is located in Idealab's Pasadena facility and Bill sits about 20 feet from my desk, so I continue to work with him on nearly a daily basis. As you know, Bill's experience in search runs deep and his input is invaluable. He founded Overture, and with it the pay per click search advertising model. I can't overstate how much he brings to the table for us as an early-stage search company.
BK: What's your background, and how did you get hooked up with Idealab?
SM: Prior to Idealab, I'd worked in strategic planning in the pharmaceuticals industry, worked as a consultant at Bain and Company, and founded a direct mail and ecommerce company called MXG Media that was later invested in by USA Interactive (now Interactive Corp.). In 2002, I was introduced to Idealab through a friend who suggested I should take a look at some of the projects they had underway. I took one trip out to Pasadena and was amazed at how Idealab had regrouped after the tech crash and begun building a very interesting set of companies. Shortly after the introduction, I agreed to join their New Ventures Group.
BK: For those in the LA area, I see that you have beta access available. Is the service still currently accepting beta users?
SM: Yes, we are accepting new beta users in the greater Los Angeles area. We actually have some non-LA users who have been adding reviews to the site for other parts of the country, but we are focusing on LA for now.
BK: What's the revenue model for InsiderPages?
SM: We generate revenue from advertisers who are looking to source qualified leads. Advertisers have been especially interested our site because they can carefully target ads based on both user location and intent, and because our users have shown high likelihood to make a purchase.
BK: I know there have been some competitive forays into this market -- how do you see InsiderPages differentiating itself from your competitors?
SM: With the local search market expected to grow quickly in the next few years, there are a number of companies trying to carve out space for themselves. We differentiate ourselves in two important ways. First, we are able to show real, unbiased customer review information for businesses in every category you can imagine, from shoe repair to pet grooming. This is critical information for someone trying to decide on a service provider, and information you can't get through the yellow pages or other search sites. Secondly, we let our members see recommendations for friends and other people in their networks. This is an extension of the real world word-of-mouth process for finding local businesses, which is always a better way to find a plumber or a hairdresser than checking the yellow pages.
BK: Finally, when do you plan to roll out your formal launch of InsiderPages?
SM: We plan on wrapping up the beta and rolling out in the first half of next year.