Good judgment and patience — the kind of qualities that are vital, yet hard to assess in a potential hire or partner — helped win Peter Kazanjy funding for his startup. And he’s planning to use the money to keep building a site that will help others make similar assessments of people they’re going into business with.
Kazanjy’s site, a tool for reviewing colleagues while hiding your identity from the people you rate, is changing its name from Unvarnished to Honestly and opening the previously invite-only site to the world today. It has also raised $1.2 million in seed funding from First Round Capital, Ron Conway’s SV Angel, and individual investors including Delicious founder Joshua Schachter, Red Swoosh cofounder Travis Kalanick, and AngelPad’s Richard Chen.
First Round Capital’s Josh Kopelman, the founder of Half.com, is joining Unvarnished’s board of directors.
When Kazanjy launched the site in March, he drew controversy — and the kind of publicity a startup CEOs could only dream of, including an appearance on the Today Show.
Unvarnished, which lets people post frank assessments of coworkers’ performance while keeping the reviewers’ identities hidden, was still in a private beta at the time. Most consumer Web entrepreneurs would have leapt at the opportunity to sign up new users from the millions of people watching. But Kazanjy resisted: Unvarnished’s critics claimed that the fact that reviewers’ names weren’t listed on reviews would make it a hub for defamation, and he worried that a flood of new users might change the site’s tone.
“Nine out of ten CEOs would have taken down the beta wall because of the massive exposure of the Today Show,” said Kopelman. “[Kazanjy] didn’t, and that shows the commitment to getting it right.”
In fact, the site has a mostly thumbs-up culture: 61 percent of reviews give the rated person five out of five stars, which Kazanjy said is “reflective of the offline world — most people generally have positive opinions of other folks.”
While the site is changing its name and getting a fresh look, the new Honestly works mostly like the old Unvarnished, including a revamp in July which allowed reviewers to quickly rate people in their network with simple star ratings, instead of the more detailed ratings the site originally asked for. The site will still require users to log in with a Facebook account to verify that they’re a real human being who’s over 21. Behind the scenes, Honestly also uses data about users’ friend connections to assess the trustworthiness and relevance of their reviews.
Honestly is competing with a host of professional-reputation sites, including the dominant player, LinkedIn, as well as new tools largely driven by analyzing social-network activity, like PeerIndex and Klout. But the feature that drew such criticism at its start — its seemingly anonymous reviews — may turn out to be Honestly’s strength.
After all, have you ever seen a negative review on LinkedIn? Of course not. If someone ever were brash enough to write one, the site allows the person reviewed to reject it.
Here’s a screenshot of the redesigned Honestly.com:
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