WhyHigh brings social media, consumer referrals together

February 21, 2015 by Kathleen Gallagher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Zywave Inc. found success helping insurance brokers make their services stand out. Now the Milwaukee company's former president is setting out to do the same for other industries.

Jim Emling, who worked his way up from a job as Zywave's first programmer, co-founded WhyHigh Technology LLC a year ago with the idea that as varied as plumbers and financial planners need as much help distinguishing themselves as insurance brokers do.

"They suffer from the same problem," Emling said. "They want to showcase how they're different, but the world wants to commoditize them."

They all fight against what Emling calls the "Uber" phenomenon, referring to the San Francisco car service that relies on to connect customers with rides. Uber is giving traditional taxi companies a run for their money.

Models like Uber create a "downward pressure" on service providers, Emling said. So he has developed what he says can serve as a software solution of their own.

WhyHigh, Emling says, is the world's first social, referral-driven marketplace. Think Facebook meets Angie's List.

Consumers create free accounts on WhyHigh and connect with people they know. Then they can tap this network of family and friends for referrals and book appointments online.

"If you want to put a patio in your backyard, you're either going to buy a subscription on Angie's List or ask a friend or neighbor for a referral. That's what we're trying to automate," Emling said. "There are review sites ad nauseam, but we don't think there's anything quite like this."

The patio installer and other service providers - not the consumers - pay a subscription fee to have a social media presence on the platform, Emling said. Then they can pay more to update their storefront to do things like content-driven marketing or sending thank-you notes.

WhyHigh launched the business part of the platform in November and has mostly small businesses on the platform. They are adding their own referrals and preparing to e-vite their customers to refer them on WhyHigh when the consumer side opens in the next few weeks, Emling said.

Consumers will like the platform because they pay nothing to trade referrals from trusted sources; businesses like the platform because it doesn't contain reviews, which might be anonymous, fake or inaccurate, Emling said.

L.H. Krueger & Son, a roofing and exterior maintenance company, used to rely heavily on Angie's List for leads, getting as many as 60 percent of them from the site, owner Ryan Krueger said.

But the more Angie's List's revenue stream shifted to contractor advertising and away from subscriptions, the fewer leads Krueger has gotten, he said. Angie's List charges consumers a subscription fee and gets about two-thirds of its revenue from advertising, Emling said.

"Jim's approach seems to be completely different," Krueger said. "It's referral-based, but by people you know. You know those people will give you an honest recommendation."

Krueger said he signed on for WhyHigh because it met his two criteria: getting a fair assessment and getting quality referrals.

Emling says he and his co-founder, former Zywave executive Kimberly Capelle, learned the importance of those factors at the fast-growth software firm. Zywave sold its insurance broker division to Aurora Capital Group, a private equity firm in Los Angeles, in late 2013.

That kind of insight and experience will work in their favor, said E.J. Reedy, director of research and policy at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

"The research says if you have experience in start-ups that's the best thing you can do to increase your chances of future success as an entrepreneur," Reedy said.

The other thing WhyHigh has working in its favor is the market it is starting in. Milwaukee is notoriously old-school, and consumers are very set in their ways, Krueger said.

"It's impressive that Jim has so much confidence in his system that he's going to go after the hardest market," he said. "If he can make this work here, it will work anywhere."

Explore further: Angie's List stock rises in first trading day


Related Stories

Angie's List stock rises in first trading day

November 17, 2011

(AP) -- The stock of consumer-reviews site Angie's List Inc. increased 16 percent on its first day of trading Thursday, showing ongoing investor appetite for Internet companies.

Uber picks up another $1 bn from investors

February 18, 2015

Uber said Wednesday that it expanded its latest funding round to pick another billion dollars from investors eager to put money into the controversial ride-sharing service.

3Qs: Uber's on the move

July 15, 2014

In just five years Uber, a startup ride-sharing company based in San Francisco, has become a popular form of transportation in 100 cities around the world. Using a mobile app, passengers connect with drivers of vehicles for ...

Uber resurfaces in Spain with home food deliveries

February 19, 2015

US smartphone app firm Uber reappeared in Spain Thursday as a home food delivery network after a court banned it from operating its taxi service following complaints from professional drivers.

Recommended for you

Technology near for real-time TV political fact checks

January 18, 2019

A Duke University team expects to have a product available for election year that will allow television networks to offer real-time fact checks onscreen when a politician makes a questionable claim during a speech or debate.

Privacy becomes a selling point at tech show

January 7, 2019

Apple is not among the exhibitors at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, but that didn't prevent the iPhone maker from sending a message to attendees on a large billboard.

China's Huawei unveils chip for global big data market

January 7, 2019

Huawei Technologies Ltd. showed off a new processor chip for data centers and cloud computing Monday, expanding into new and growing markets despite Western warnings the company might be a security risk.

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2015
As a consumer, any service that helps businesses avoid critical reviews is of no interest. Yes, I understand reviews can be biased and unfair. Both negative and positive. Reducing such abuse is desirable. Consumers come to understand this.

I do keep in mind that as a consumer I'm not a WhyHigh customer. I'm just a potential product. So my views matter little.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.