In a market where many of the global players have local listings for businesses and service providers, GenieTown is starting at the ground level and building up. The company, which made its public debut today, is a knowledge-sharing community built around person-to-person and small-business services providers in the Bay Area.
Today, GenieTown featured service providers that include a coach to help you run a marathon, an investment adviser and several electrical wiring companies. They can build their reputations with articles, through customer introductions and ratings and/or reviews by previous customers.
With $2 million in funding, GenieTown faces a daunting challenge, as Mike Arrington pointed out earlier today. It doesn't look easy to beat Google, Yahoo and the Yellow Pages businesses around the country.
The interesting element at GenieTown is a community approach similar to social networks and eBay's marketplace, which gives local service providers ("genies," in the company's language) a platform for building a loyal fan base.
The traditional approach to local services is the paid listing we consult in the Yellow Pages. Google, Yahoo and others have followed that model, turning the transaction opportunity into a pay-for-performance event. So far, then, the big change in local services in the Internet age has been a shift from traditional advertising to CPC advertising.
GenieTown is the foundation for community building that has made local stars of realtors, gardeners, restauranteurs, and others that have a lot of information to offer while providing a unique quality of service that isn't easy to replicate. Think of the radio talk shows on any weekend in every radio market in the United States, where a local businessperson does an hour or two on their area of expertise and benefits from the exposure through the rest of the week as customers think of their names first.
A local star can afford to give away a lot of ideas if customers are willing to pay the premium necessary to get their personal attention.
Participating "genies" contribute to the community to earn their credibility, similar to function of the eBay reputation system, before they begin to earn any revenue from actual transactions with customers. Winning early genies will be the greatest challenge for the company, which can afford to run a local community for a long while, because site operations are the least expensive investment they can make, but only if every day yields new service providers and, ultimately, potential customers.
Which makes the long-term question of GenieTown's viability clear: Growing a national service requires many marketing-intensive local launches. A $2 million kitty is not much when you may spend that much for each of the major markets you enter during the first few months of marketing efforts. The opportunity, of course, is to create valuable markets that can be sold to a media conglomerate seeking a local edge.
It's an interesting business, one that will require more than a little magic to succeed. Since GenieTown is staffed by a "group of Stanford entrepreneurs," it comes to market with the requisite Silicon Valley magic formula. GenieTown is worth keeping an eye on, as these kinds of bottom-up experiments yield more surprising results than national campaigns for local services.