By LESLIE ANNE JONES
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
“Over the last decade consumers have benefited from greater transparency,” TrustRadius founder Vinay Bhagat said. Now, his website gathers reviews for business software, striving to do for business people what’s sites like Trip Advisor, Yelp and Cars.com have done for consumers.
The model isn’t exactly the same. Yelp relies on a vocal minority: only about 1 percent of users actually write reviews; and a committed foodie might share his opinion on 100 restaurants. Whereas most people using TrustRadius are familiar with about five software products, according to Bhagat, and top users might be familiar with up to 60. Thus, the site has to drive a higher participation rate to gather enough information.
To do so, the site is set up so users must register to receive continued access to reviews. Then the site asks people to profile themselves and encourages them to review products they’ve used. About 30 percent of TrustRadius’ registered users have reviewed a product.
The website relies on crowd-sourcing, but it also has a clear editorial standard to drive quality content. An in-house research team checks all reviews, and they wind up rejecting about 5 percent of submissions.
Reviews are structured in fixed sections (usability, implementation, customer support, etc.). This makes it easy for those researching products to find the precise feedback they’re looking for, and it also encourages more comprehensive review writing.
Reviewers receive emails on how many people have viewed their write up, and these updates might include an editorial question, prompting them to expand part of their opinion if they skipped over or wrote little in certain sections. Research Director Alan Cooke says in the beginning they had a 15 percent response rate to these prompts, but that has increased to 30 percent due to tweaks to the editorial process.
This careful focus on providing quality content has allowed the site to quickly ascend Google’s search results. TrustRadius isn’t doing any paid advertising, 70 percent of people find the site through Google searches, the other 30 percent through social referrals. The site is up to 50,000 visitors per month and has grown by 20 percent per month since last May, according to Bhagat. Mattermark, a company that provides research to venture capital firms, ranked Trust Radius as Austin’s second fastest-growing startup (behind Bitcoin processing company CoinTerra).
“It’s really the first website that I found I was really comfortable with all the information in the reviews,” said Debbie Personette, the HR system coordinator for Houston-based LINN Energy, who found the site while doing research. “The only think I didn’t like about it was there just weren’t enough reviews.” Though as she spoke, Personette looked at the site and noted there were now many more reviews for the product she was interested in.
TrustRadius isn’t the only website gathering peer reviews for business. Sites like Credii and IT Central Station have similar objectives (though both appear to be more targeted at IT professionals, where Trust Radius covers all business software). But Bhagat is no stranger to stiff competition: His first start-up Convio, a provider of relationship management and marketing software for non-profit organizations, was founded in 1999, had its Initial Public Offering in 2010 and was bought by software supplier Blackbaud for $325 million in 2012.
“When I started Convio there were twenty other people trying to bring Internet marketing to non-profits,” Bhagat says.
It was actually the pain of a miscalculated purchase at Convio that got him thinking about how to improve the buying process. The company bought a $100,000 human resource software package that didn’t perform as needed. “We’d been oversold by a sales person,” Bhagat recalled. “The company who bought us had made the same mistake.”
As Convio was being acquired, Bhagat had more time to think about what to do next and to research whether other businesses had similar software-buying problems (they did). Convio sold in May 2012, and TrustRadius incorporated in June. In November 2012 they launched a private beta site and on May 1, 2013 the public site went live. Then on June 28, they received $5 million from Mayfield Fund, one of Silicon Valley’s oldest venture capital firms.
TrustRadius bootstrapped through its first year, and Bhagat says they’re still keeping things lean. Presently, the team is nine people, eight in Austin and one in Iowa (a star employee from the Convio days, Bhagat says).
The site plans to begin monetizing in the first half of this year once they’ve reached a critical mass of content. In the future they might offer paid premium content, but the site will initially generate revenue from the vendor side: Users who decide to buy the products they’ve been researching will be encouraged to connect to sellers through TrustRadius.
“Monetization is part of the plan for 2014,” Bhagat said. “But the first priority is scaling and providing deeper, richer coverage.”