BY ANDREW MOORE
Reporter for Silicon Hills News
How influential are online reviews? Have you used a review site such as Yelp to find a restaurant lately? If you have, you may be one of the 100 million people to use Yelp in January of 2013. Did you review that restaurant? I hope it was good — a Harvard business study found that a one star increase in Yelp ratings meant a 5 to 9 percent increase in restaurant revenue. The Guardian reports that a half star increase translates to a better chance of being full at peak dining times. This means that restaurants, and other businesses, have a vested interest in keeping track of their online reviews – and that’s what Grapevine does.
“We aggregate, or gather, online reviews from customers, and notify businesses when a new review is left for them online,” says Grapevine co-founder and marketing rep Erik Larson.
Grapevine notifies it’s customers with daily email alerts. Its service covers 10 major review sites including Google, Bing, Yelp, CitySearch, Insider Pages, Yellow Pages, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and UrbanSpoon. While there are many more review sites on the web, Grapevine claims that their service covers 95 percent of online restaurant reviews.
The email alerts show a synopsis of what the reviewers said, how many stars they gave the establishment, and the author of the review. They also include links that allow the user to quickly go to the site that originated the review to either read the whole review or respond to it.
“Instead of having to keep ten different websites bookmarked on your browser and check them every day, we now do that for you automatically,” says Larson. “We are an alerting service.”
Because Grapevine gets users their reviews quickly, it gives the user an opportunity to easily respond to a bad review or thank a customer for a good one.
“We want them to respond, we encourage them to respond,” says designer Josh Seltzer. “Owning their reputation is huge. We can help them get to that point as effectively as possible.”
Grapevine believes that responding to negative reviews and encouraging customers to leave positive reviews is the best way to improve an establishment’s reputation.
“You need to ask you customers to give reviews when they’re happy, and that’s what most businesses don’t do,” says Larson. “The most you can do with a bad review is push it down [on web searches].”
Reputation management has become a big industry in the last few years. Businessweek.com recently reported that “Media consultant BIA/Kelsey estimates that small and medium-size businesses spent about $1.6 billion managing their online reputations in 2011. It expects the figure to grow to more than $5 billion by 2015.”
The article discusses how some of the major reputation managers have hurt their own reputations by trying to push bad reviews down by creating artificial or fake review pages designed to show up high on Google searches – a tactic that Grapevine and other companies look down on.
“That actually used to work for a while and it doesn’t work anymore,” says Larson. “As time progresses, customers online will get smarter and smarter — and they’ll see through the B-S.”
There are other companies that offer services similar to Grapevine, such as Reviewtrackers.com, but Grapevine hopes to gain an advantage through speed and simplicity.
“We look at it from the standpoint of, ‘what is the simplest way to get this to the customer?’” says co-founder and developer Richard Ortega. “We are focused on simplicity in the delivery of the technology.”
Grapevine incorporates this simplicity by using email instead of a website or dashboard that must be logged into. It also touts that users can start receiving reviews the day after you sign up – which they claim is faster than most other sites. Grapevine is also the only company to offer a free version of their service. The free version gives users up to five reviews a month for as long as the user wants – there is no limited trial period.
The paid version of the service is $30 a month. On March 5, paying customers will be able to access a dashboard that gives a statistical overview of all the reviews a business has received. Users with multiple locations can have all locations covered for a negotiated price.
The Startup currently has 94 customers – half of which are paying for unlimited reviews. About one-third of Grapevine customers are restaurants, but the startup also provides services to everything from health and wellness businesses and attorneys to jewelry stores and a RV park.
Grapevine was originally created by Erik Larson and Richard Ortega as a complex and expensive costumer review management and comparison service exclusively for hotels and car dealerships. The service launched in 2011 but failed due to a lack of market research and customer demand.
“We built a product without a need, which is not the right way to do it,” says Larson.
After losing $40,000 in what startups refer to as “their first burn”, Grapevine re-invented their business model and re-launched as a greatly simplified alerting service on July 26, 2012 — bringing on co-founder Josh Seltzer. It was then re-vamped on Jan. 15 to provide reviews to customers in a faster and easier way. Grapevine was also the first startup to officially receive the $25,000 Geekdom fund from Geekdom of San Antonio.
Grapevine’s next move is to adapt their service for tracking product reviews on sites like Amazon.com and newegg.com for consumer manufacturers. It is currently looking for an intern to help web development and sales.