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welovelcoal.com - Max Jennings

Staff (Social Media Portal) - 25 February 2009

welovelocal.com - Profiled


An interview with welovelocal.com, co-founder, Max Jennings



Social Media Portal (SMP): What made you start welovelocal.com?

Max Jennings (MJ): Primarily, we saw the offering within the local space very limited, both for consumers looking for local businesses and services and for businesses looking to advertise and connect with new customers.  We’re very excited about opportunities that exist both online and via mobile to revolutionize the traditional b2c directory service industry.

Local search is a rapidly growing market and with welovelocal.com we hope to cement a strong reputation as a great way for consumers to discover the best of local and for businesses to generate great leads and grow their business. 

SMP: What was the most challenging part of building the service?

MJ: Wrestling with a lot of data and sorting it into something meaningful for users.  UK geography is surprisingly non-uniform too and as Local is a very personal issue,  determining where one area stops and another starts is surprisingly complex.  Take London for example, the area of Angel in North London is not a recognised administrative area and is unlikely to be referenced on most maps as it takes it name from the local tube station.  Anyone who lives within Islington or the surrounding area will readily refer to the hundreds of businesses and services within this neighbourhood as Angel. 

Making sure that the manner that we mapped businesses corresponded to genuinely local areas was essential but needless to say very difficult.   The actual design and build itself was relatively straightforward thanks to a lot of planning.  If anything the most challenging aspect of the build was stripping our ideas back to what we see is the core functionality of the site.  Its very easy to run away with ideas which nobody is actually going to use.

SMP: Who are your target audience and why?

MJ: The site has value for more or less anyone who needs to use a directory service as such  we are aiming to get as broad a demographic age-wise as possible using the site.

Inevitably, after our soft London launch we saw an initial rapid adoption of a younger (18 -35) demographic, however we’re now seeing a very broad age range sign up.  

In the long term, the site’s user value will be shaped largely by the breadth of users that it attracts, so when you’re looking for a cool club you can check out reviews by a younger hipper crowd, and when you’re looking for a plumber you’ll find recommendations from perhaps an older home-owner who has experienced the best and worst of local tradesmen and consequently you’re more likely to trust his or her judgement.

Concerning our marketing, it tends to be relatively wide in appeal, though we do make efforts to identify key niches where there is clear synergy between a partner’s existing user base and the services we provide.  Our partnership with Friday Cities is a good example where we saw the opportunity to work with a great site with a web-savy London-focussed audience.

SMP: How did you initially attract users to your site?

MJ: We’ve only been live a few months, so we’re still in the initial stages of marketing.  Partnerships have been essential in reaching out to new users, as such our partnerships with Friday Cities, Wedge Card and more recently the Women’s Institute have helped us attract new users.

Word of mouth marketing has inevitably also played a vital role in the growth of welovelocal.com largely via the blogosphere.   We’re also already seeing solid traction in the search engines, which will inevitably be a strong driver of traffic for any local directory website.

SMP: What have been the highs of what you have been doing so far?

MJ: The best moments have been shaped by our users, I have written elsewhere about how overwhelmed how we have been with the response and feedback we have received from our users thinkvitamin.  After months of planning, its very easy to forget with any social website the personal time and effort your community ultimately invests in the site, and when it comes to fruition it very exciting to watch the site grow and get positive feedback.

SMP: ...and what about the lows?

MJ: Lower moments have been more recently as we worked through the endless tests and checks to prepare the site’s business data (1million+ records) in preparation of nationwide launch.

SMP: Now that you are established, what do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities?

MJ: Our biggest opportunity is similarly our biggest challenge, namely working with the small business community and educating them in the opportunities that lie in having a web presence to connect with new customers.

The business community is notoriously fragmented and time poor, so selling any product or service to local businesses will certainly have its challenges.  Of course, hitting critical mass within this market presents huge opportunities to bring consumers and businesses together, helping consumers find great local businesses and importantly a powerful platform for businesses to target people searching for businesses locally.

SMP: What are the next moves for welovelocal.com?

MJ: We officially launched nationwide at the start of December 2008 which was very exciting.  After lots of testing and user feedback, we are now ready to take the step of rolling out welovelocal.com to the rest of the UK, which will see our directory of businesses and services rise to over 1M records.

As far as the development of site features and improvements to the site usability, the next move will be to build out the set of tools and services available for businesses who sign up to welovelocal.com.  I’m afraid I can’t disclose specifics at the moment, though we will be developing a series of features to help support small businesses looking to grow their business online.

More generally, following the nationwide launch, we’ll be adopting an aggressive marketing campaign across the UK to attract users and businesses to the site.

SMP: What’s the next big step for social media and networks?

Its been a hot topic for quite a while but the use and abuse of attention and personal data is likely to remain a major issue for the near future.  Facebook have made some bold steps in this direction, and as greater pressure is placed upon all social networks to generate revenue, the use of their user’s personal data is going to become a very contentious issue.

Advertisers have had incredible returns through contextual paid search marketing, and social networks are now offering a new powerful platform to run highly targeted advertising.  It will be very interesting to see how, consumers react to the use of their personal data and how successful such advertising really is.  A lot of existing web marketing is lead by quantifiable conversion rates which has created challenges for FMCG’s to really benefit from the growth of the web over the last decade.  Social networks, offer a more complex and compelling opportunity to connect with new customers, as such it will be interesting to see how successful these new advertising opportunities prove to be.

More broadly, as it becomes easier to create social networks, I think we will see an ongoing trend of decentralised social networks focussed around specific niches.  We’re already seeing a large number of industry specific social networks emerging. Of course, whether people have time to manage multiple social profiles is another question.

Lastly, I’d like to see far greater interoperability between social networks, particularly as they become more fragmented.

SMP: How does this fit into plans at welovelocal.com?

MJ: With welovelocal.com we always saw the social elements of the site purely to enhance the user’s ability to discover great local businesses.  I definitely see welovelocal.com fitting into the category of ‘social network with a purpose’, rather than a site you’re likely to while away hours chatting with friends, as such we’re very aware that welovelocal.com needs to complement a user’s web usage rather than define it, hence we were quick to develop a Facebook application and will continue to develop tools and applications which can add value to the existing larger social networks users use on a daily basis.

SMP: If you weren’t running welovelocal.com what would you be doing?

MJ: Running the next web project we’re just starting to plan.

SMP: Are there any other sites/s that we should be aware of?

MJ: I’m a big fan of etsy.com.  They entered a super-tough market and have carved a solid niche.  It’s kind of like eBay for handmade goods.  Beautiful usability, design and execution.  Strong passionate community of users. All in all a great site.

SMP: Are there a corporate or personal blog/s we should know about?

MJ: From a design perspective I try to keep an eye on Khoi Vin’s personal blog Subtraction.

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

MJ: Breakfast: Cereal, Bagel, OJ everyday without fail.

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?


MJ: Pass

SMP: How many hours to you work a week?


MJ: 50 - 60

SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?


MJ: Mexico – Mayan Riviera/ Mexico City

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?


MJ: Check the stats, Make a to-do list for the rest of the day.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?


MJ: Prevent illness and disease. Be invisible. Rank #1 in Google for any keyword.

 


Read more about welovelocal.com here

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