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Start Me Up: A profile of pownumIn today's Start Me Up we hear from Karl Havard at pownum, a new startup that collects consumer ratings on organisations and brands. 

If you run a B2C startup and want a Start Me Up profile then please throw your hat into the ring by emailing editor@econsultancy.com.

In one sentence, what is pownum?

Pownum gives people a collective voice and enables them to share their opinions of organisations with others (and with the organisations themselves). In turn, organisations can respond should they choose to do so.

What problem does Pownum solve?

It gives individuals an authoritative voice that will be heard by organisations of any kind. In so doing they can bring about change in the way organisations relate to them. 

It gives structure by collating people's opinion and provides a meaningful score (the pownum rating) making it much easier for organisations to monitor and interact, as opposed to scouring the whole of the social web. And it aids decision making by providing the ability to compare organisations with each other.

If we achieve our vision of being the de-facto place on the web for everyone to go to offer opinions about any and every organisation, pownum will eliminate a large amount of the cost, time and effort currently expended on sentiment analysis and reputation management.

We also want to achieve certain charity donation targets. The people decide which charities are nominated and what proportion of the donations they receive.

When and why did you launch it?

We launched the website and iPhone app, officially, two weeks ago. We launched it because we wanted to introduce a ratings and review site that actually worked and has a real value to all parties. Also, a social network that did some good and seamlessly integrates with the existing and much more established social platforms of Twitter and Facebook.

Secretly - so not so secret now - we wanted to ensure the UK could also introduce an innovative and useful social platform onto the web, as opposed to everything coming from the US. That said, pownum can be used in whichever country people decide to rate from. 

Who is your target audience? 

This is going to sound really wide, but the target audience is the global general public as a whole. Anyone that has an opinion about an organisation and has access to the internet can use the site. If they are already using Facebook and have an iPhone then they are right in our current sweet spot. We will be introducing new mobile platforms and further site development will be an ongoing process.

Of course, people providing opinions doesn't create any revenue, however with sufficient volume of ratings we're confident that organisations (at least ones that care) will want to subscribe to their Right of Reply and engage in a meaningful dialogue.

The recent and most welcome tweet from @StephenFry, who thought pownum was a "good idea" has stimulated a lot of interest.

What are your immediate goals?

Our immediate goals are to build awareness and have people coming in and provide their opinions. We believe that people - once signed up - will begin to rate a couple of times a week (we're not a Twitter or Facebook) so we need lots of people to register to start to have an impact.

The signs so far are really positive. Our immediate KPI is 'Ratings', followed closely by the number of sign ups; everything else is secondary to these. We know, based on the various measurement statistics (on- and off-site) that awareness is building amongst the corporate community and we're looking to attract some more forward thinking organisations who will subscribe to their Right of Reply and be more proactive than reactive. This will enable us to start the process of charity nominations and voting, quickly leading to donations chosen by the people who rate.

What were the biggest challenges involved in building Pownum?

We both had a very clear vision of what the pownum concept was about. Executing it on the web and via mobile took a lot of planning. Marty, because of his background, is completely passionate about the on-site user experience and aesthetics, and Karl wants the site to be the best social sharing and search optimised site on the web.

Much debate, sometimes heated, took place. However, we feel we have something that is on its way to achieving those ambitions. The other challenge came from talking to people. The majority bought into the concept, where as a small minority (some quite influential) challenged it. They felt it would be just another "whinge" site and opinions would favour the negative. We firmly believe this is not the case.

Pownum is built upon being fair. It's pleasing to see only after a couple of weeks that this is now starting to take shape, and actually a lot of ratings favour the positive. There's still a long way to go, but we feel confident of proving the minority wrong.

How will the company make money? 

The primary and initial model is based upon the Right of Reply subscription. Anyone can see what is being said on the site for free, but for organisations to be able to respond to ratings and communicate what they are doing/planning as a whole they have to take up the Right of Reply, which has an annual fee attached to it.

Naturally, the Right of Reply is completely free for charities and we'd encourage them to take this up. Half of all revenues will be put into a charity donations pot and we will ask people to nominate and vote on the charities they feel should benefit.

There will be no advertising on the site.

What is your pricing model?

The model for the Right of Reply is a very simple annual subscription. Current pricing equates to £5,000 / $8,000 per annum.

Who is in the team and what does it look like?

The team is currently Marty Carroll and Karl Havard. Joint founders and funders! And that's it. Naturally, we have plans to expand the team overtime. We chose Codegent as our development partner and you can see the results of their work, we're really pleased and this will be an on going relationship. 

Where would you like to be in one, three and five years time?

Difficult. But being forced into time shaped boxes and focusing on pownum...

By the end of the first year, we'd like to have a constant frequency of ratings appearing consistently every few minutes.

In three years, we'd like to have become a household name and be the place where organisations go to to review and manage their reputation. We're imagining conversations around the boardroom where the "pownum rating" is a regular agenda item.

And in five years time we, with the help of everyone, hope to have donated £10m to charity.

Chris Lake

Published 1 June, 2010 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

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