Auren Hoffman, a professional networker in Silicon Valley, has launched Rapleaf, a company that keeps track of your reputation for reliability as you buy and sell things online.
He is going after one of the more valuable monopolized assets out there, which is eBay’s rating of its buyers and sellers. Indeed, with Yahoo and Google looking for the next place to grow, and with Google trying to build out its online marketplace GoogleBase, Google may be hankering to get a valuable reputation asset similar to eBay. Reputations will be helpful for advertisers too, as buyers and sellers seek to advertise their wares.
Silicon Valley has a lot of professional networkers, but few of them are as organized as Auren Hoffman. He runs a the Stonebrick Group, which helps its clients connect with customers they are trying to reach..
It follows, perhaps, that Hoffman, who usually deals with offline reputations, allowing people offline to hook up for business, is now launching a Web site that tracks people’s reputations so that they can be better prepared to do online transactions.
We talked with Hoffman a few days ago. He said Rapleaf will launch May 7. He wants to give people a portable rating, so that they can build a reputation in any commerce environment — including offline.
It is a good idea, as there is apparently no Web site that efficiently tracks e-commerce reputations across sites. EBay tracks reputations, but these are limited to eBay transactions. A couple of other companies are trying to track reputations across sites, such as ikarma, which lets people who have done business with you leave comments about how you handled the transaction, but the information there seems rudimentary so far, and ikarma apparently rate you on all kinds of things, even dating. And there’s Opinity, which deals more with your identity than your reputation, and also apparently focuses on dating.
The trick will be whether Rapleaf will get the cooperation it needs from big Websites to obtain real transaction information, and not just rely on comments people leave about others they do business with. Hoffman told us that he is working to build up such partnerships, and named Edgeio, a new online classifieds site as one example of a company he wants to work with. Indeed, he invested in that company, which was co-founded by Michael Arrington. We note that Michael has just blogged about Rapleaf too.
Hoffman said he is self-funding the two-person effort so far, but will start raising venture capital after the company launches. His co-founder is Manish Shah, and the company is based in SF.
For now, here’s how it will work: If Auren buys five U2 tickets from Matt for tomorrow’s show for $150, he can go to Rapleaf after the show and say “Matt is good at selling tickets, he sold me five tickets, they were great, and even threw in a free parking pass.” Matt then gets an email saying he was rated positively, and which asks him he wants to rate Auren, the buyer. Matt says: “Auren, he wasn’t very courteous.”
Rapleaf wants to avoid letting people trash others without cause, and so it is building in community features which allow members to flag things if they appear wrong. For example, Auren or someone else can protest Matt’s rating, and appeal to Rapleaf to take down the negative comment. Rapleaf then relies on the reputation it has already built up about Matt. If Matt doesn’t have a reputation, and he is trashing someone with a good reputation, then Matt doesn’t carry any weight, and the comment is removed.
It is just the latest company for Hoffman, who started and sold three Internet companies before age 30. He was previously CEO of BridgePath, enterprise software to staffing firms (sold in 2002). Auren also founded Kyber Systems, an Intranet development firm (sold in 1997) and co-founded GetRelevant, an Internet lead-generation network (sold in 2002).
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