I’ll just throw this out there right now: I am known around TechCrunch for making, let’s say, unwise purchasing decisions. Whereas my problem stems mostly from making those choices without much forethought, others suffer from the reverse. Some people will do research until they’re blue in the face, and they still can’t make a decision.
That’s where Amir Elaguizy, Alex Morse and Paul DeVay come in. The trio has formed a Y Combinator-backed startup called Toutpost that wants to make it easier to figure out what you should buy. How? By basically harnessing the passion and ire of fanboy throwdowns in order to give people actual, valuable purchasing advice.
“We want to remove merchants from the review process,” co-founder Amir Elaguizy told me. “Those other review aggregators are telling a story about stuff; we’re trying to tell a story about people.”
Here’s the Toutpost formula in a nutshell. If you’re the sort of person who has opinions on products and gadgetry, you can sign up for the service and either create what’s called a “bout” (a direct comparison between two similar products) or pop into one of said bouts to lay down some informed opinions. From there, fellow users can rank the usefulness or insightfulness of your thoughts, add their own musings, and vote for whichever product they think should come out on top. And since there are bound to be multiple bouts involving the same product, the top points made in each bout are displayed on the product’s page so would-be purchasers can skim through what the community thought was most important.
Don’t think you need to be a technical expert to enter the fray, either. People have (for whatever reason) started to debate the superiority of Oreos vs. Skittles, Home Depot vs. Lowes, and a perennial winter favorite, Snowboards vs. Skis.
Granted, it may seem a little rudimentary for people to focus so intently on just two products when there are usually countless options to weigh, but that’s exactly how the three co-founders want it. As far as they’re concerned, most purchasing decisions ultimately come down to a choice between two things anyway, and these Toutpost bouts are meant to give people the information they need to pull the trigger.
As you might expect from a team made up mostly of former Zyngites, there’s a sort of gamified angle here, too — thoughtful, popular responses earn you merit points, and you get a neat little badge whenever one of your arguments is upvoted the most.
Elaguizy says that sort of ego-stroking appeal has played a big part in the company’s growth strategy, since users who make interesting points can share them on their Facebook wall to show off how clever they are. It seems to be working pretty well so far, too: The team hasn’t spent much energy on marketing, but the site has picked up some 5,000 users since it quietly went online a month ago, and the biggest source of traffic has been referrals from existing users.
That’s not to say Toutpost doesn’t have its hurdles to clear. What’s to stop, say, a dedicated PR flack from logging in and trying to artificially inflate a client product’s status in a given bout? Well, there’s the community for one. The redditesque upvote and downvote mechanism means the quality of any given bout depends on the people engaged in it.
The team is also mulling a switch in the service’s onboarding scheme that would see every new user logging in with a social account. Sure, the move could theoretically stymie user-base growth, but about 90 percent of Toutpost’s current users have already connected that way so there’s a decent enough argument for it.
And then there’s the lingering question of money. Despite wanting to keep bouts as pure as possible, Toutpost isn’t indifferent to brands and the sort of interactions they can bring to the table. Elaguizy says they’re open to the possibility of running ads and monetizing brand experiences if they can figure out how to do it without being “incentivized to sell products.” At this point though, the team isn’t worried so much about making money as it is growing Toutpost into what Elaguizy calls a “take-over-the-world” site — easier said than done, sure, but they may just be onto something there.