Did you know that less than 25% of all local businesses have websites, and less than 10% of them post their pricing anywhere on the internet? Well say hello to Centzy, the local search engine that offers pricing and store hours alongside basic contact information, ratings and reviews for the local businesses you use on a regular basis. Dry cleaners, nail salons, oil change stations and yoga studios are among the 15 services you can research on this unique and useful site that went live earlier this year, with more services already in the works.
I recently sat down with CEO Jay Shek, who together with CTO Jeremy Clemenson developed this idea out of their desire to create something innovative in the local space. They wanted to solve a problem that no one else was really looking at, and after a thorough, logical process of elimination, they seem to have tapped into something quite practical. If you want to find the closest gym to your home or office, that costs less than a certain amount, and has a four star rating on both Citysearch and Yelp, then Centzy is the place to go.
Launched in May in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco, the site already contains data for the top ten US markets for multiple services in the categories of Health & Beauty, Home, Fitness, Transportation and Activities. A visit to their website shows that they are well on their way to building a comprehensive, national site, with data already being featured from additional cities spanning the country.
Jay and his team bring significant startup and development experience to the table. With degrees in Business and Computer Science from U Penn, Jay went on to manage finance, analytics and marketing at Snapfish, where he oversaw their acquisition by HP in 2005. He then went to London to help build and launch Betable, an online gambling startup, before coming back to the Bay Area to create Centzy.
After incubating privately in San Francisco for the first couple of months in 2011, Jay and Jeremy joined the Entrepreneur’s Roundtable Accelerator in NYC last summer. Subsequently, they were able to raise $800,000 in seed funding from Chicago’s Lightbank (Groupon investor) and NYC’s Founder Friendly Venture Capital (original investor in Klout and Indiegogo). Most recently, the company was a finalist in the TechCrunch Disrupt battlefield competition, just prior to their May 22nd launch.
Crowd sourced ratings and review sites can take years to develop their content to a practical, usable state. By contrast, with their extremely scalable data collection system, Centzy is poised to be able to launch additional cities with fully functional, complete data, useful to visitors on day one. By cornering the market on price information for these new kids on the internet block, Centzy is also uniquely positioned to establish themselves as their payment mechanism when these businesses start to sell their services online.
With such clear long-term vision, it’s easy to see how this team has developed such a lean, mean product. They have undertaken the usual series of online startup challenges – funding, recruiting, getting traffic and improving user experience – in the same systematic fashion as they have rolled out their product. Of course, they’ve been helped immeasurably by the increased availability of open source tools and frameworks to build on top of, such as Google Maps, making it more possible now than ever before to accomplish an impressive amount with a small team.
Still, cautions Jay, it’s essential to “think through the idea and decide where it fits in the market… You fall in love with an idea, but you have to be willing to let go of it, if it turns out not to be right.”
In other words, just because you can, doesn’t necessarily mean you should create a whole new company. Fortunately for us though, Jay and his team did create Centzy, one of the more innovative online tools to come along in a while. This is one I’m definitely going to to keep my eye on…
Listen to the full interview here:
Deborah Oster Pannell is a writer who specializes in the arts, culture, special events and creative projects of all kinds. As Director of Communications for the tech start-up eventwist, she also manages their blog. Some of her favorite work is featured on modernlifeblogs.com, lizkingevents.com, and her own blog, shesaysyes.wordpress.com. Currently she is launching Project Mavens, a literary, editorial design collective, with partner & writer Lillian Ann Slugocki. On Twitter @projectmaven.Subscribe to the Podcast