Dane Westerweller launched Mate of Mine in January. The online start-up dubs itself a “social business engine,” allowing users to search for businesses that are “liked” or affiliated to friends via Facebook Connect.
Bondi-based Westerweller talks to StartupSmart about how the fledgling business is faring.
How does the Mate of Mine work, exactly?
Business owners become a member of the site using Facebook Connect which allows them to share their Facebook identity information such as their profile and friends with their business profile on Mate of Mine.
Then, when someone searches Mate of Mine, say, for a plumber in Bondi, Mate of Mine will find their Facebook friends and mutual friends who are plumbers in Bondi.
The business with the most connections from people in the user’s extended network will appear at the top of the search lists.
It’s basically word-of-mouth marketing, but without the conversations.
What gave you the idea for the business?
I found that a lot of people were going on Facebook asking for a good hairdresser or personal trainer and it can be a slow process to get back your friends’ recommendations.
I thought that the process could be automated and that it could actively support the businesses that people like or talk about.
Isn’t privacy an issue?
No, not really. Some people don’t want to share their profile, but people can’t see anything more than what they can already see. You can only see those in your social network and the businesses you “like”.
What’s your background?
I started up a site called Travel Beckons. It was a video streamed marketing channel, a kind of YouTube of travel promotions for resorts. They could use it as a booking system. I wound it up before starting Mate of Mine.
I’ve always wanted to run my own business. I like running my own show.
What kind of planning did you do?
I started planning last year and launched in January. It was all self-funded – I put in $130,000. I got Rick Chen, who is a coder on board, but I managed to keep the costs down as I have a background in IT.
What’s been the hardest part?
It’s been challenging as this is the first time that this kind of thing has been done.
Facebook has to be integrated so heavily into the system and even getting a “like” button into the click counter has been very challenging as it’s an automatic code that can’t be broken.
The next step is to create a Facebook app that runs within Facebook, but that’s another $70,000 to do. Until we raise more capital we won’t be able to take that step, but once we do, it will explode.
Once the first 100 businesses came on board, there was a snowball affect. When you hit 400,000 people, the business feeds off itself. There’s 350 businesses connected to 110,000 people at the moment. The numbers are pretty amazing.
How do you plan to acquire businesses?
Cold calling, Facebook, press releases and other marketing. What really works is friends of friends liking the system. That’s the beauty of it.
I’ve told businesses to get linked in as you get better results than True Local or Yellow Pages. If I have 35 likes on my business, that’s the equivalent of 35 people rating my business. True Local will be six or seven. The “like” is the rating system.
We can bring this all together and really support small businesses.
How will you monetise it?
There’s a basic membership fee that means you start out being visible to only those in your immediate area. The first 10 postcodes beyond that are charged at $50 a time.
I’m only releasing that fee structure when we have 10,000 businesses on board, as they won’t see it as consumer-friendly until then.
There will then be a premium subscription and we will open it up to online advertising too. I’ve already had conversations with (media agency) OMD.
What are your ambitions for the business?
We’ve just launched the URL in the UK and Ireland and we have a trademark in Australia and New Zealand. Our main focus is Australia and New Zealand, but I’d love to get into those other markets too.
The goal is to be the number one social business directory. I want to get people on board who have used True Local and Yellow Pages, as they haven’t adapted to the market. There’s such a mass audience for this that I hope we will be bigger than them in five years’ time.