The GemShare mobile app channels and structures recommendations for local services from your network of friends and contacts.
GemShare, a California startup founded by Maryam Mohit (who helped build Amazon’s recommendation engine) and Claudine Ryan (who has previously worked in startups including Looksmart, Chow and EatingWell), is looking to formalize the process of obtaining personal recommendations from your friends and acquaintances, with a new iPhone app that lets you quickly find or post recommendations for various types of local services, from mechanics to doctors. Following a survey, the two GemShare founders realized that people tend togo on to sites such as Yelp only as a last resort to find information on local services such as a good piano teacher or a trustworthy plumber. This is fairly surprising since Yelp attracts an average of 117 million users a month. It is true however that looking for a good sushi restaurant in your area is not the same as inviting an electrician into your home or finding a good therapist. These are more personal needs, greater effort may be required to find the right person or service and Maryam Mohit argues that people simply tend not to trust Yelp-type sites for this kind of search. GemShare has already raised $1.2 million in seed funding from a range of investors, and is hoping to fill this gap in the market by offering users a more personalized, intimate experience. The mobile app was officially launched on 3 April, following a six month beta test period among a thousand users in the San Francisco Bay area.
The free-of-charge GemShare mobile app connects users with their friends and friends of friends based on Facebook, Gmail, and their phone contact list, enabling them to tap the network for tips on local ‘gems’ – which may be technical experts, service providers or places to go. Those wishing to make a recommendation on GemShare are asked to give each suggestion one of three designations: a wholehearted recommendation (‘gem’), a qualified suggestion (‘gem for some’), or an ‘I’ve heard good things about’ tip. It is very easy to contribute tips. You simply start typing the business name in the search field, the app will display a list of results, and you then tap the gem icon to leave your recommendation. If you wish, you can optionally add a few words about the service or provider. This is a less complicated, less time-consuming wayto share your opinions than on most other online review sites. Users can also create and join groups so as to network better with other people with the same areas of interest – for example, a group of parents whose children attend a particular school. GemShare also offers a solution for people who find signing up a nuisance. The app lets you send out your requests via email and respondents do not need to register in order to respond.
Building a network of active users
Although there is already a wide variety of services in existence for local recommendations, including, as well as Yelp, Foursquare, Google Places, and industry-specific resources such as New York-based ZocDoc, which will help you find a nearby health practitioner, the co-founders wanted to create a site that lets users direct requests not to the general public but to their own personal network of friends and friends’ friends. In addition, unlike most other platforms, GemShare is not geared to providing online reviews. What it offers is just a straightforward recommendation with a simplified rating system. The app also groups and categorizes recommendations so as to create a personalized database for each user containing the people and services s/he uses. The GemShare foundersare especially targeting the app at mothers and are hoping that user growth will come primarily via word-of-mouth. During the test phase, they found that GemShare’s early adopters were heavily engaged, with fully 70% contributing content – a much higher proportion than the typical Internet average, where generally a small minority create content for the passive majority of consumers. The goal is eventually to help businesses, especially small businesses, to obtain word-of-mouth custom. For the moment however, the company is focusing on streamlining the product, growing its user base and extending its reach so as to establish GemShare as a valuable resource for local recommendations.