Tout’d Puts $1.4M Seed Round toward Updating Recommendation Platform

7/26/12Follow @jpruth

A plethora of apps and websites try to help users figure out where to shop and eat but New York-based Tout’d believes it has trumped its rivals by focusing on what friends rather than strangers recommend. This month the company announced it raised $1.4 million in a seed round led by Warner Hill Angels. The co-founders of Tout’d—TechStars alum Arron Kallenberg and former Wall Streeters Rob Morelli and Saro Cutri—say they plan to use the funding to revamp their platform and grow their technical team.

Tout’d pivoted in January from WhichDoc, a company founded one year ago that developed a recommendation site for finding doctors. The current platform lets users pose questions to their extended social network of Facebook friends about stores, restaurants, trip destinations and general questions. It is a bit like question-and-answer websites such as Quora or Answer.com but with responses from a more personal community. While platforms such as Yelp and New York-based startup Taap.it also let users seek advice from others for similar needs, Tout’d aims to be different by focusing on opinions from within the users’ social connections

“The motivation for coming to our site is about helping friends,” Morelli says. Friends who use the Tout’d platform will receive the users’ questions immediately. “We also allow you to post the question to Facebook,” Morelli says. If someone clicks on the link with the question they are taken to the Tout’d website to provide answers. He believes that answers provided by users’ friends can set Tout’d apart from its peers, which may rely on algorithms to offer recommendations. “We think the content generated on our platform is higher quality and more actionable than the responses on other sites,” he says.

Cutri says the Tout’d platform calls attention to questions that might otherwise get lost in the constant flow of updates on Facebook. “If you happen to not be watching the feed when someone asks a question, a week later you can’t really find it,” he says.

In addition to offering direct responses to questions, Tout’d also mines its database for all answers to similar questions posed within the users’ extended social circles. “If you are looking for an Italian restaurant in New York, we’ll show you all the Italian restaurants that were previously recommended by your friends who answered other friends,” Morelli says.

With the seed funding, he says the company plans to redesign its website, begin work on a mobile app due in the coming months, and hire at least one more developer. Tout’d already has some experienced entrepreneurs on its team. Kallenberg, part of the 2007 TechStars class in Boulder, CO., co-founded Villij.com, which was a recommendation engine for matching users with other people who shared similar interests. Villij did not survive in spite of the TechStars pedigree, but Kallenberg says he is using his technical expertise and overall experience in entrepreneurship to help grow Tout’d. “I don’t want to make the same mistakes, I want to make new mistakes,” he says. “I want to go bigger and better.”

Cutri and Morelli are also building on their prior efforts. Morelli and Cutri say they left the world of big banks to establish their own financials services company but then decided they wanted out of that market. Seeking a fresh challenge in New York’s tech renaissance, they co-founded WhichDoc last year. WhichDoc relied on users volunteering information about doctors, which Morelli says was comparable to Yelp reviews. Kallenberg came on board during the development of WhichDoc but the team decided to pivot early this year. “[WhichDoc] limited the ability of friends to share recommendations with friends,” Morelli says. “It didn’t create the same type of social incentives that Tout’d does.” The company plans to sell ads to local businesses and vendors next to the recommendations. Tout’d also lets users purchase recommended products through links to Amazon. Partnerships to book hotel rooms, airfare, and restaurants reservations are also in the works.

Cutri believes the Tout’d platform can set itself apart from rival recommendation sites by letting users ask their community of friends general questions, such as where to take a daytrip with the family, and not just about businesses, products, and services. “That is something Yelp really can’t do for you,” he says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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