Redbeacon, a startup that helps you find local service providers, has been pretty quiet since it won the top prize at the TechCrunch50 conference last September. Co-founder Ethan Anderson told me that’s intentional — the San Mateo, Calif. company has been keeping its head down as it works out the early kinks. Now Redbeacon is announcing a wave of new features, most notably integration with Facebook.
On Redbeacon, when you need a service (say a repairperson, or a cleaner, or a mover) you post a listing specifying the job and the window of time when it needs to be done. Different providers can bid on the job, and you choose from the bids based on the price, the providers’ profiles, and the ratings they’ve received from past customers.
Now, with the new Facebook integration, users can share their service listings with friends. Your friends can click through your news feed to Redbeacon, where they can comment on the service providers who have bid on your listing and can also recommend other providers who might be good for the job. Redbeacon uses Facebook Connect to identify which friend made which comment, so service providers aren’t sneaking in to boost their own ratings.
Obviously, this benefits Redbeacon by raising its visibility whenever anyone uses the site and is willing to share that on Facebook. But it should also benefit users, since you probably care more about what a friend says about a local business than some random person on the Internet.
The company’s other announcement is a partnership with BigTent, a company that offers tools for creating forums and other group features. BigTent apparently has a big audience among mothers’ groups, so now those mothers’ group sites will feature links to a Redbeacon page co-branded with BigTent. That page will include all the normal Redbeacon features and will also allow BigTent members to recommend and comment on service providers. There are more distribution deals in the works, Anderson said, which should help Redbeacon reach a broader audience, especially among non-techies. On the backend, Redbeacon will share revenue with its partners for each job that it facilitates.
This was also my first chance to check-in with Redbeacon now that the site has launched. The company faced some skepticism at TechCrunch50 around whether it would face a “chicken and egg” problem, where service providers wouldn’t want to join a site without users, while users wouldn’t want to join a site without service providers. But that wasn’t an issue, Anderson said, especially since Redbeacon doesn’t charge providers to join the site but instead takes a cut when they actually win a deal. When Redbeacon launched last fall, it had 1,000 service providers signed up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and every single job request has received a bid. Redbeacon ensured that would happen by calling up service providers and enlisting them for some of the jobs, but co-founder Yaron Binur noted that Redbeacon only has one staff member devoted to that task — it didn’t have to employ an army of workers to recruit businesses, so this is a model that can scale.
Redbeacon is self-funded, but Anderson hinted that the company is getting ready to raise some venture capital.