STARTUP TO WATCH Gives Up the Goods on Goods’ Goodness

Kate Moloney-Egnatios’ intuition led her to Intuit. She followed the signs in her career pointing to Verisign and paid her dues at PayPal. But she says her latest tech startup is even more of a winning business idea than tax preparation software and online payment/authentication systems, and the audience at this week’s TechCrunch 50 conference seemed to agree.

GoodGuide, a Web site that offers health, environmental and social impact information on a range of consumer products, was one of a handful of companies deemed best of show at the TechCrunch conference, founded by the leading technology blog as a way to get promising business models in front of venture capitalists and the tech press.

The recognition led to a very busy Thursday for Moloney-Egnatios, GoodGuide’s head of product.

“It’s been crazy. We’re not even 24 hours old,” Moloney-Egnatios told the E-Commerce Times as a day full of media interviews and contacts with industry insiders was nearing an end. “I get excited about being involved with changing people’s lives, something that can make a difference. That’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s a truly game-changing idea.”

Based on Science and Fact, Not Opinion

GoodGuide takes the “Consumer Reports” concept to the Nth degree. It’s not just price information and consumer reviews available at the Web site: Ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 are based on the chemicals used in a product, what impact its production had on the environment, and whether or not the company that makes it is socially responsible.

A rating for a particular brand of shampoo, for example, will include testing to determine if carcinogens are included in the ingredients, or whether animal testing is involved, or produced by a company that has faced labor violations. Those ratings and recommendations do include data provided by non-profit groups, but most of the information comes from GoodGuide’s team of scientists and experts.

“That’s our core competency. We work with the best science from all over the world,” Moloney-Egnatios said. “This has never been done before, to be the deliverer of all this information. This is based on the facts. It’s about making them available to consumers so they can make better decisions about what they’re buying.”

One reason something like GoodGuide has never been attempted before — a question asked by some of the TechCrunch 50 judges — may be the sheer volume of information along with the difficulty in keeping it all in one place. “To have algorithms slice and dice this in different ways, that’s actually scalable, and just the data management component of it. There are thousands and thousands of products that sit on U.S. store shelves and hundreds of data providers. And then there’s versioning — companies reformulate these products multiple times a year and we want to make sure we’re reflective of the integrity in how manufacturers are producing all this.”

A Guide to GoodGuide’s Future

GoodGuide currently rates 60,000 products, mostly in the personal and home care categories, but Moloney-Egnatios says more categories will be added by the end of the year. “We’re working diligently on getting food, toys and electronics ready.” The real test should come in about three weeks, when mobile applications are introduced. Users will be able to text message Goodguide with a product’s UPC code from any mobile phone and get ratings immediately sent back. An iPhone application is also on the way.

Is Moloney-Egnatios concerned that some manufacturers will try to game the system, or complain loudly about any errors in the software?

“We are product and company agnostic,” she said. “But if a company has a concern, we want to work with them.”

She admits that GoodGuide is still in the honeymoon phase, a startup with the tech industry spotlight that needs to listen to its audience. “We’re really excited about learning how consumers are receiving the information, so we can refine and test how to get this out to the public.

“We want to be reflective of people. That’s the entire mission. We don’t want to tell people what to care about. They flag to us what they care about.”

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