Talking tech since 2003

Starting a startup from your college dorm is becoming more popular than ever before, whether that is because young adults have been influenced by the success of Facebook which started from the Harvard dorm room of Mark Zuckerberg or because more people are just interested in being entrepreneurial I’m not sure — either way though, I like it.  This is why when I spoke with the founding team of likeplum, an online knowledge marketplace, I was really excited and impressed with their story and the company they are working to build.

Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia on the beautiful Emory campus are the brains behind likeplum.  Founded by Emory freshman, Richard Werbe and sophomore Jimmy Zhong, likeplum is all about making the transfer of information from one person to another more efficient.  I’m not going to lie, when I first saw likeplum, I wasn’t sure about it.  However, after I spoke with likeplum Founder and CEO, Richard Werbe and CFO Denver Rayburn (also an Emory sophomore) about the company’s recent product launch, it clicked with me–I got it.

If Google is the company that organizes all the world’s information, likeplum wants to be the company where you get all the world’s information.

So how do you get people to share their knowledge with others?  In order to encourage people to share their knowledge, they built an incentive system — the exchange of money.  According to Mr. Werbe, the incentive system is key, “With incentive you can connect people looking for knowledge and people who have it.”

In short, think about likeplum as Yahoo! Answers but on some serious steroids, sans the the roid rage.  People post a question and offer to pay for the best answer.  So far, I’ve seen askers posting questions where they offered to pay anywhere from $1 to $50 for answers. However, pledges can range from $1 to $1,000,000+.  One thing Mr. Werbe pointed out to me is that askers do not have to pay until they receive an answer — in fact, you don’t even have to provide your billing information until you receive an answer that you like.

Questions typically fall into two different types said Mr. Werbe and Mr. Rayburn.  There are questions that are very easy to answer for people with the knowledge and don’t take that much time or effort.  And then there are questions which are more difficult to answer even if you have the knowledge, where it can take a significant amount of time to answer despite having the knowledge.  To address this, likeplum implemented two question formats: basic questions and premium questions.

Basic questions are any question with a pledge under $10 and can typically be answered relatively easily.  Basic questions may receive multiple answers from different people in which the asker will pick the answer that they feel is best and pay that particular person. Whereas with premium questions (any question with a pledge of $10 or more), they typically take more time to answer.  For premium questions, answerers can post their credentials and why the asker should pick them to answer the question over another answerer.  Additionally, on premium questions, once the answerer is selected, they get a down payment of 50 percent of the askers pledge (what they say they will pay for an answer) before answering the question, which helps ensure that answerer isn’t wasting their time.

But how can you deter people from cheating the system?  Whether it be the asker or the answerer, it’s possible not everyone will play the by rules.  In order to combat cheating, likeplum developed a sophisticated reputation system that works for both askers and answerers.  The reputation system will help answerers be able to tell which askers are reputable and make their payments.  And it will help askers be able to ensure that an answerer will not just take the money and run without answering the question.  I should also note there are other safety measures in place if an asker makes a down payment and doesn’t receive an answer, such as the ability to withdraw their question and get a refund. Additionally, the team has created several badges that can be earned and are displayed for people with specific skills and knowledge, as well as a way to rank better for the more good answers you provide.

The founders hope that askers and answerers will be able to develop solid relationships through the site, which will result in building a great community.  In order to help facilitate those relationships, askers who have paid an answerer, end up on the answerers client list.  This means the answerer will be able to see when that particular asker has posted a new question and help them out if they know the answer.  A great way to get repeat customers, if you ask me.

It’s obvious that getting the best possible answerers on likeplum is going to be key for the company’s success, however, often times people don’t want to have put in a tremendous amount of work on a new site just to rebuild their good reputation.  And honestly, I can’t say I blame those people.  In order to prevent that from being a problem, likeplum has created a way to transfer your reputation from another site to likeplum.  For example, if you hang out on Yahoo! Answers a lot, you can transfer your reputation over to likeplum. This is a very smart move, one I haven’t seen any other site do before and I think it will benefit likeplum greatly.

Since the company’s soft launch last week and minimal promotion so far, they have received over 1,500 signups and have over 5,000 questions with answers.  And right now, the company is taking a 10 percent cut of each transaction, however, I’m told that may change in the future.  If you want to learn more about likeplum, head over to the company’s learn page, it has very detailed information about how the site works and everything you can use it for.

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