GenieTown, a new services matchmaking service, launched yesterday. It helps you find service people. CEO Hassan Chafi told me that he built the company because, "acquiring services is harder than acquiring products."
There are dozens of services directories and finders, so I was curious to understand how GenieTown will differentiate. Chafi told me that he wants his site to go after the "long tail" of service providers, the same way eBay went after the odds and ends people have in their attics. To be more precise, he hopes that GenieTown will be where the part-time, semi-pro caterer lists his business, so that he'll be able to connect with the person two blocks away who's looking for a reasonably-priced local service provider to cater her kid's birthday party.
That's an interesting differentiator, but the site is also useful for traditional service listings--local plumbers, accountants, and actual professional caterers. And at this early stage, there are already plenty of professional listings on the service (at least in the first official market, the San Francisco Bay Area).
GenieTown is a modern directory with fancy Web 2.0-ish features. Users get points on the system for writing articles on service-oriented topics, and customers can rate the performance of service providers.
The site appears to have everything that's necessary to solve the service-finding problem. Except users. And that's the big issue. What will stop people from going to Craigslist, ServiceMagic, Angie's List, and Yelp when they want a plumber?
It's a simple SEO play, Chafi says. That's why he has a system to encourage users to write articles. That text will be search engine bait, he believes, and will help the site rise in the rankings when a user Googles something like "plumber weekend Oakland CA."
There is no fee to use GenieTown yet, although in the future the site will probably handle payments and take a transaction fee in return.
Also coming up: social network integration. If Chafi can successfully build a service that helps people monetize hobbies and skills they are passionate about, some sort of tap into social networks could be a big multiplier for some of the providers on the service. Not so much for plumbers, perhaps, but people looking for help with their macramé might find a future GenieTown feature that helps them not only find people they can pay for help, but communities where users can set up group workshops and things like that.
For the moment, the success of this business is all in its search engine rankings. That's a scary bet, but we've seen the same gamble pay off for a few other companies.