At the BIA/Kelsey conference yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with the two co-founders of SeniorChecked, Chris Spanos and Scott Knowles. Both ex-AOLers with solid experience in the local space, they’ve built this vertical local directory site targeting Seniors and their family.
Their mission is to help reduce the risk and incidence of fraud against Seniors by connecting them to trusted local businesses. Local service providers pay them $700 a year for a detailed review which eventually gets them a seal of approval from SeniorChecked. This is the list of things they investigate before approving a merchant.
Obviously a great vertical with the aging baby boomers population (Yellow Pages Group had published a print directory on the topic a few years ago) and an important life event that involves many business categories, Scott and Chris have stumbled upon a better business model than I had expected before sitting down with them. This is not a business directory play, this is a “seal of approval” play.
Why is this an important distinction? If you’re building a vertical business directory, you need to sell advertising AND convince users to come to your site. A very difficult challenge for any startup. But if you’re selling a trusted seal, advertisers will “sell” consumers to your brand. They will promote the seal in-store and in their brochures (SeniorChecked provides advertisers with a promotion package that includes stickers, logo, etc.). Consumers might eventually come back to the SeniorChecked.com site searching in the directory to make sure that the company is legit but this is not the core business. Because a seal is a simple content “atom”, it also enables SeniorChecked to distribute their approved merchants in other directory sites.
The long term picture for SeniorChecked is also very interesting. They’ve basically built a platform which enables them to launch other verticals where trust plays a big role. They want to build these verticals themselves or partner with other people, as a technology provider, to launch them.
This is not the first company to try a “seal of approval” (ValueStar comes to mind) but by verticalizing, SeniorChecked might be taking the right road to success. I’ll be following them.