Today New York City-based Tout’d, a word-of-mouth referral platform we covered in July, announced its acquisition of Villij, a platform that matches people based on their interests. Tout’d is relaunching its website under the new Villij brand, and adding functionality to help people get advice from their friends on everything from products to service providers. Tout’d closed a seed funding round of $1.4 million this summer led by Warner Hill Angels.
Villij was initially a platform that connected individuals based on their interests, and was part of TechStars in Boulder in 2007. It was later shelved due to a lack of traction by co-founder Arron Kallenberg, who later joined Tout’d as a co-founder and CTO of Tout’d and saw the synergy between the two technologies.
“Over the past several months as we’ve been working on Tout’d, lots of concepts that Arron had initially developed with the original Villij kept popping up and we thought some of that technology would work really well with what we were doing here,” Tout’d co-founder Rob Morelli said in an interview. “We want to be able to pair up questions that people come to our site with, with the right person who would be most likely to answer it.”
The site enables users to build their ‘village’ on the platform either through inviting email contacts or their Facebook friends. A Q&A format lets users pose questions to friends who are also part of the platform, and they can reply with answers and links. In addition, users can share their questions by posting them to their Facebook wall and inviting friends to reply. The launch of the new site now has a search function where users can see questions and answers posted from people outside their network, though they aren’t able to contribute to the conversation.
Categories of questions range both in category and depth according to Morelli. “You can ask questions about people, service providers like painters, plumbers, and contractors. Places, things like restaurants, products, cameras and the like to more abstract questions like, ‘what should I do this weekend?’, ‘where should I take my kids?’ Categories that have gotten the most hits are fairly obvious, restaurants, nightlife, and home services.”
The company has already started to monetize its platform through affiliate revenue, letting people buy recommended products through the platform. Other avenues the company is exploring is acting as a digital word of mouth platform for local businesses, letting merchants create profile pages and aggregate recommendations from both users and friends and others to help promote them, similar to Homestars and other service-based recommendation sites.
However, the company is competing for the attention span of consumers who already have a vast amount of tools and platforms to search for products, places, or service providers, not to mention crowdsource their weekend plans with apps like Localmind. Usually people will default to posting a question on Facebook, doing a Google search, or looking up a restaurant on Yelp, so Villij has a way to go to convince users that it’s a better source of information than other mainstream means of finding info. Where it hopes to distinguish itself is by riding on the hope that the site will populate responses that are motivated by wanting to help out a friend. The ability to search, index, and categorize questions may make the service tad bit more useful than asking a question on Facebook and having it sink to the bottom of the newsfeed.
The main hubs of activity for the site are currently in NYC, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, though the team will be looking to gain traction in other large cities. The company is also looking to roll out a mobile app later this year. With a new brand, website, and added functionality, Villij will have to wait to see if and to what extent it gets populated.