Judys Book, Imandi, and Finding a Decent Opthalmologist

Judys Book, a Seattle-based startup, gets plugged today in John Cook’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer column. The pitch is the following: Finding qualified mechanics, dentists, house painters and other tradespeople isn’t easy, especially for newcomers to a city. Judys Book will combine social networking notions — recommendations, reviews, friends-of-friends, etc. — with locality-specific features to end up with a site that can help you find good doctors/lawyers/painters/plumbers/opthalmologists/etc.

That is fair enough, as far as it goes. Those are real problems, and they are ones I would happily have solved. We just finished replacing about fifteen windows in our place, including some that required construction work –finding contractors was easy; figuring out who was good was a giant pain. Similarly, I needed a new opthalmologist recently, and we have an embarassment of such folks here in San Diego. But which one to choose? Who is good?

So let’s take it as given that there is a real need. And what’s more, let’s take it as given that having people somehow connected to you doing the recommending is worth more to you than having people you don’t know doing it. (I’m a little less convinced of that one.)

But can you make money? As Cook rightly points out, Judys Book — named after a little book of favored tradespeople kept by a founder’s landlord mother-in-law — is more than a little reminiscent of the dearly-departed Imandi.com, a site that sucked in $35-million in venture capital before unceremoniously expiring a few years back.

The folks behind Judys Book think they’re different, of course. They think they can make the site profitable through … wait for it … advertising. Yes indeed, Judys Book will be free to users but will show ads from local advertisers. Shades of 1999, of course, and a real flyer for the folks from Ignition et al., who have agreed to put $2.5-million into the startup.

Will Judys Books follow Servicemagic and end up being acquired by IAC? Or is it just the second coming of Imandi? I tend to think the latter, but I’m open to contrary views. Meanwhile, anyone know any good opthalmologists in the 92037 zip?


  1. Hi, Paul
    As the co-founder and COO of Judy’s Book, I wanted to thank you for your generous mention of our little company. As you note, others have tried and failed with similar ideas, so your gentle skepticism is also more than warranted. However – and as I’m sure you’re well aware – there are at least two significant differences between 2004 and 1999, neither having to do with the unique merits of Judy’s Book’s technology or management.
    The first is the overwhelming success of the paid search / contextual marketing business, best exemplified by Google and Overture, but well-represented in several other (nicely profitable) online business models. Where advertisers – quite rightly – balked at high cost-per-view fees for untargeted banner advertising, both large and small firms are demonstrably willing to pay for effective combinations of context (i.e., only showing ads that are specifically relevant to the viewer’s geography and search terms) and performance (i.e., quanitifiable delivery of new sales leads to the advertiser’s Website or inbox).
    Second, with the steady conversion of the ‘average’ consumer Web user from task-driven dial-up Web access to ‘always on’ broadband service (already past the 50% share mark in several top metros), affluent consumers are increasingly turning to the Web for answers to their everyday questions. In keeping with patterns of consumer spending, many (most?) of these questions revolve around how best to allocate discretionary dollars for *local* purchase decisions – what might be called the ‘ophthalmologist problem’.
    Prevailing Web search models currently do a terrible job of delivering relevant local results – yellow pages listings are ubiquitous, but trustworthy information about *why* to choose one vendor or another is scarce indeed. The increasingly obvious economic value of search only compounds this problem: the faster Web search activity grows, the greater the incentive for search engine marketers to ‘game’ algorithmically-derived search results for commercial purposes. The inevitable result is page after page of links that look relevant to the Google (or Yahoo, or MSN) bots, but deliver very little to consumers besides a thicket of CPA advertising. The clear trend is toward ever more consumer search activity for ever-less satisfying results.
    Something has to give in this equation, and our bet is that the current search model will break down well before consumers give up on the Web as a medium for local research.
    The question of whether Judy’s Book represents a valid new model for local search remains to demonstrated, and we look forward to your future assessment(s) as we do our best to solve this emerging problem. If I have a suggestion to offer, it is only that you consider leavening your ‘lessons learned’ from the bad old days of the Internet with a larger dose of current market dynamics.
    Respectfully yours,
    Chris DeVore