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11/9/2011
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SMBs Get Help Finding Best Vendors

BestVendor helps businesspeople choose the best tools and applications with Yelp-like social recommendations from fellow SMBs who share and rate Web services, cloud apps, and software.

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Want to find out what your peers are using to get their jobs done--and, better yet, whether they think those tools are any good?

BestVendor is betting you do, particularly if you're part of a startup or other small business environment. Equal parts recommendation engine, social network, and company directory, the site aims users sift through and make smart choices from the ever-expanding menu of business-oriented technologies--or what CEO Jeff Giesea calls "work apps."

"When it comes to buying stuff for your business, there's no way to easily benefit from the experience of other people," Giesea said in an interview. "There's no go-to destination like Yelp is to restaurants or Amazon is to books."

That can be particularly true for smaller businesses trying to make sense of their growing choices among cloud applications and other services--usually without the benefit of a procurement department or expensive market research subscriptions.

"For small businesspeople, it's hard to separate beyond Dropbox and Google Apps and the ones that everyone knows," Giesea said. "It's hard to really figure out which of these can genuinely help me versus which ones are just noise."

[SMBs might be using external social sites more but what about using similar collaboration tools internally? See What's Slowing Down Social Collaboration Inside SMBs?]

A midmarket construction firm, for example, might comparison shop project management software on BestVendor based on what comparably sized companies in the same industry are using and recommending (or, conversely, panning). Giesea notes the increasing importance of peer influence in purchase decisions--not just for consumers but businesses, too.

"The thing that we learned as we talked to a lot of startups and small businesses is the first question they ask when there's something they need to buy is: What are other companies like mine using and what they do recommend, and what do people I know and trust use and what do they recommend?" Giesea said.

The efficacy of those recommendations will depend largely on users and the data they add to the network. Giesea said BestVendor, which was founded in January and is now available in beta, is very much a "work in progress." You can sign in with your LinkedIn account and generate recommendations based on their profile and connections. Giesea said similar integrations with Facebook and Twitter are in the works. And, of course, you can build a profile directly on BestVendor, too. "The more information you share with the recommendations engine, the smarter the recommendations get," Giesea said.

Beyond the recommendations and integration with popular social networks, Giesea wants BestVendor to evolve into a social community that enables active interaction and sharing among connected businesses and their employees. That could take the form of browsing other profiles--or "app voyeurism," as Giesea called it--and "eventually being able to follow [other users] and engage with them and ask them questions." A more traditional directory-based search for specific products or services is also part of the mix. No matter how you reach it, the page for a particular application will show others who are already using it, including existing social contacts.

BestVendor plans to make its money from vendors, though Giesea said there will be no pay-for-play when it comes to recommendations. "That will not impact our rankings," he said. "There will be full transparency to the user whenever a vendor is paying for something."

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