Fresh Chalk Has a New Take on Local Reviews

Online reviews have come a long way in the 15 years since Yelp was founded. With a swipe and a click, consumers can find detailed reviews of just about any product or service, mostly on Google. But as the number of review and recommendation sites has risen, placing trust in those reviews has grown more complicated.

Frequent headlines about phony reviews on Amazon and other ecommerce sites have only made the problem worse. The number of fake reviews outnumber real ones in a number of ecommerce product categories, including electronics, beauty, and sneakers.

Despite digital change, recommendations from friends remain one of the most credible forms of marketing. Now, a new startup called Fresh Chalk is aiming to capitalize on that, giving consumers a way to find local professionals with help from their friends.

Like Yelp, Facebook, Google, and other local business directories, Fresh Chalk is aiming to help people source recommendations from reliable, qualified businesses in their own communities. But unlike most other competitors in the market, Fresh Chalk is keeping a tight focus on personal connections.

At Fresh Chalk, people connect with their friends and get access to their lists of recommended professionals. So, a user can see that his sister-in-law liked the CPA who did her taxes, or that his best friend recommends a dentist whose office is just around the block.

“The Fresh Chalk experience is focused specifically around helping people find local professionals they can trust — through their friends, family, and coworkers. As you build your network on Fresh Chalk, you simultaneously grow the list of personal recommendations you have access to,” explains Liz Pearce, Fresh Chalk’s co-founder and CEO. “I’m connected to about 200 people on Fresh Chalk, and I now have a curated list of 1,700+ recommendations across hundreds of categories just from people I know. That’s pretty powerful.”

Pearce says a key differentiator between Fresh Chalk and its competitors is that users on her service are not reviewing or rating professionals. They’re either recommending someone, or they’re not. Without wading through lengthy reviews just to find out if a service professionals is good or not, Fresh Chalk has managed to streamline the recommendation process.

Finding the best service professional—whether that’s a yoga instructor, a plumber, or any other local business owner—on traditional review sites can require sifting through lengthy write-ups or dubious five-star rankings. But Pearce says that isn’t the only problem that Fresh Chalk is looking to fix. She hopes that her solution will bring trust and authority back to the online review space.

“The entrenched players in the review space are suffering under the weight of tremendous information pollution and lack of consumer trust,” she says. “Their sites are littered with fake reviews and fake listings. As a result, people have given up on the internet and are texting one another for recommendations.”

Given how young the company is, it’s no surprise that Fresh Chalk isn’t talking about monetization strategies just yet. Pearce says she’s focused on creating value for her users right now, and as the platform grows, she’ll determine which business models work best for the community of users and professionals.

Pearce’s co-founders have plenty of experience, not just in startups, but also in the local space. Co-founders Adam Doppelt and Patrick O’Donnell, for example, helped to launch the restaurant review site Urbanspoon. Together with another Fresh Chalk co-founder, Nathan Kriege, Doppelt also founded the vacation rental startup Dwellable back in 2012.

Pearce sees her co-founders’ experience as an important asset at Fresh Chalk. The team’s experience in the restaurant and travel industries translates well to the local professional space, starting with the know-how to collect good data, build the user experience on top of it, and find repeatable wins in a handful of markets before taking on aggressive geographic expansion.

“As serial entrepreneurs, we’ve already learned so many lessons the hard way,” she says. “However, our strategy this time around is as driven by our collective experiences as busy homeowners, parents, and consumers of services as anything else.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

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