New funding: Fresh Chalk just landed a $2 million seed round. The Seattle startup debuted earlier this year with its service that helps users find local professionals by tapping into the knowledge of their friends.
Investors: Code.org co-founder Ali Partovi was a “major” investor in the round, via his San Francisco-based firm Neo, which describes itself as a mentorship community and communal VC fund. Other backers include Seattle-based Trilogy Equity Partners, Vulcan Capital, and various angel investors.
Company background: Fresh Chalk aims to build a faster and more efficient way to find everything from doctors to plumbers to landscapers to photographers. The site allows users to create profiles and search through service providers to see which have been recommended by their friends. They can also offer their own recommendations across more than 500 categories. Fresh Chalk is taking on the likes of Facebook, Google, Yelp, and other giant platforms.
Founder pedigree: CEO Liz Pearce previously spent a decade at Seattle project management software startup LiquidPlanner, including five years as CEO.
Her co-founders — Adam Doppelt, Patrick O’Donnell, and Nathan Kriege — all have extensive startup experience in Seattle. Doppelt and O’Donnell previously co-founded restaurant review site Urbanspoon, which was acquired by Zomato in 2015. Doppelt and Kriege co-founded vacation rental startup Dwellable, which sold to HomeAway for $18 million that same year. Doppelt also sold TV app startup Strangeberry to TiVo in 2003.
CEO Perspective: Pearce said she’s excited about the company’s growth thus far. “What we’re seeing from our users is that the needs across our categories are popping up all time,” she said. “When they can come in and find a friend who has had a similar need and get that recommendation and be off and get the job done, that’s a win for everybody. Part of the value we want to be able to provide is to make this whole process much more efficient and easy.”
Investor perspective: “I’ve been waiting for something like Fresh Chalk: a better way for us all to ask trusted friends when we need a specialist, and to tell our friends about services we love. Fresh Chalk improves with each new user, a recipe for a very successful business.” — Ali Partovi, CEO of Neo
Worth noting: The company is opening a second office in Austin, Texas, where it just hired two employees (Kriege is based in Austin). It is also running a contest called “Karmafest,” which lets users convert their “karma points” — earned by engagement with the app — to tokens that can be used to win gifts.
There have been various attempts at creating something similar to Fresh Chalk. Veteran Seattle tech entrepreneurs and investors Andy Sack and Chris DeVore attacked the same problem with their startup Judy’s Book in the early 2000s, but that company shut down in 2007.
And last year, a Seattle startup emerged from Bill Gates’ private office called Likewise, an app that helps find recommendations for restaurants, TV shows, movies, books and more, primarily from friends but also from in-house experts.
Here’s one rationale, from Fresh Chalk investor Kirby Winfield, on why Fresh Chalk is different from previous iterations of the idea. “Nextdoor couldn’t have existed in 2005. Nor Stitchfix, nor Instacart,” he tweets in the thread below. “But the confluence of demographic and technological shifts over the intervening years has opened the door for new takes on ideas that were just too early. I think Freshchalk is one of these.”
Just used @FreshChalk to find a water heater repair solution, used the top recommended outfit, ended up buying a $3K water heater.
This model (social proof for high trust home/personal svcs) may have failed in the past – but a lot has changed since Judy’s Book et al. <thread>
— Kirby Winfield (@kirbywinfield) October 22, 2019