It's strange how things work out. Strange that after 6 years of thinking about a concept, Chad Gilmer (pictured below) is now the CEO of an online Irish business directory.
Gilmer chuckles as he pulls out old sketches and notes of 'whatsnearme' from a 1990's filofax which he has recently resurrected from his days as an Accenture (Anderson Consulting) technical architect on the Garda Pulse system.
Ironically he says, "Sometimes it's just so much simpler to find things when it's on paper."
Not so for Vazumo.com - this is a search engines that rocks!
Vazumo is the result of a collaboration between two couples, Shane Broadberry & Eleanor Manny of IT training company IACT, and Chad and his wife Paula who had developed and maintained the IACT website since the early 00's. Having a successful relationship they began exploring what else they could do together and when Broadberry began talking about a million dollar home page, they had found the perfect opportunity.
They began developing a powerful search technology which powers Vazumo.com in October 2006. Gilmer explains, "We wanted to create something special. A local search service which would give Users the precise results they wanted, but in a visually attractive way."
The result was to create a website where the results are displayed graphically. What makes Vazumo.com really special though is that when the search engine returns the results for the term being queried, the graphics are displayed in a tapestry style, organised on the fly depending on factors like relevancy (type of business, location, specialism and location), advert size, and the length of time an advertiser has been a customer of Vazumo.
An advertiser has the option of picking eight different advert sizes in modules of 129 x 86pixels. For each module, they choose five key phrases and unlimited categories, assuming they are relevant.
In the Vazumo offices on St Stephens Green, Dublin, Chad showed us a few demonstrations.
The first thing you notice is how the database prompts key words as the search term is entered - akin to the most recent Google search engine, this is the type of technology which is there to make searching easier for the User.
A simple search on "Solicitor" works extremely quickly. It is interesting to see the Dublin based Solicitor who has bought a bigger advert, disappear from the results as Chad amends the search criteria from "Solicitor" to "Corporate Solicitor."
The only drawback we could find to the search engine is the lack of choice when there are too few search results available. For example, for Solicitors in Tallaght, it would prove useful to see Solicitors in Lucan or Crumlin too. As Vazumo sign up more advertisers, however, this weakness should resolve itself.
The most impressive thing about the search is the lightening speed - it really does fly!
Value Added Extras
Gilmer explains that there is a fundamental difference in the mentality of the historic directories who have evolved an online presence, and sites like Vazumo that have grown in the internet era.
He said, "We still hear stories of our competitors charging advertisers for multiple categories such as location. It seems our competitors haven't embraced the internet business model yet which really sets Vazumo apart. After all, it is simply the matter of ticking a check box."
Of course, Vazumo's model is open to abuse and Gilmer is quick to say that in order to prevent the website's accuracy being diluted, every advertiser is meticulously checked to ensure that an Italian restaurant in Dublin isn't checking Cork, Galway and Belfast categories along with Indian, Thai and Chinese.
Since the site went live, in September 2007, unique visitors have risen to 5000 per day, staying on average for around 10 page impressions. Gilmer hints that they are seeing spikes at lunchtimes / evenings which suggest that consumers are adopting the product much more than businesses at this time.
The ethos in Vazumo is to make search simple for the User, and this means moving towards 'semantic search'. Their eventual aim is to remove all traces of drop down boxes and allow Users to search by typing english phrases.
Gilmer demonstrates by typing in "Hyundai Santa Fe with Leather, Alloys and CD" in to the Ajax based Car Section on Vazumo, already available on the website to compete with rivalling sites like CBG.ie amongst others.
A list, of Hyundai Santa Fe cars, some with pictures, come back each equipped with the specification required. Again, no waiting around for the database to decipher your request in the back room.
Vazumo are currently putting the finishing touches to new release, due for 2-3 weeks time. The changes will reflect some design changes suggested by their users, and technology improvements to enhance performance.
In their next version, businesses will be able to rate each others services, although there is no immediate plan to add 'Customer Review Technology' for Users to comment, a feature which seems to be very popular and engaging for the sites who have embraced it.
Vazumo are adding functionality for businesses to connect with one another in a network fashion, although with the likes of Facebook and LinkedIN, and local services like IGOPeople, it will be up against stiff competition and whether business owners see any value in joining yet another network remains to be seen.
Vazumo have long since had a directory service for mobile users operated on a short-code vehicle. The problem with short-codes, like Vazumo's 53118, which is €0.60 per request, is generally consumers many wonder does it cost €2.50, or is it a subscription.
This is about to change on version 2.0 with the introduction of a dedicated long code number 083 3 118 118 which is provided on the 3 Network. The user will, as before, pay for a standard text to request the directory number, but the reply, which was 60c, is now free. The added benefit to using the 083 prefix is the service can be accessed whilst abroad, a feature not possible using the short-code numbers.
The Vazumo Future?
Vazumo.com have been accepted into Enterprise Ireland's High Potential Start Up programme, although they have not formally engaged. Gilmer says strategically the Vidvert Enterpries Limited board, which includes the experience of Pat McDowell, the ex-Deputy CEO of Bank of Ireland, is undecided whether they will extend their service to the UK or the US first, and will only access the programme when they make their minds up.
Like any business, and especially a business that is well positioned to rule the world, they are looking for investors and a number have already been knocking! Six months after Chad Gilmer set up his first business, web development company iPlanit, the dotcom bubble burst.
"The website work we'd done up to that point were mainly for charities which tended to be fairly reliable clients. With just the €10k pension I had cashed in to start iPlanit, and my marriage to Paula in 2001 looming closer, we watched every cent we spent and kept it tight. To this day we still work that way and we're not in any rush to accept the first offer that comes along."
With advertisers harder to come by, Gilmer says the market is reminiscent of 2001. "Like then, we keep our ears to the ground and pounce on everything we hear about - I love our technology and believe there is nothing to touch it."
It is evident that Gilmer is clearly excited.
Where Did You Get That Name?
Finally, where did the Vazumo name come from? Looking for a dotcom domain, it is impossible to get any combination of four letters, or any English word. One day, early in the development process, they were discussing the user experience.
Co-founder Broadberry jumped up and expressed, "I want people to search and vazoom, they get their results!"
The Vazumo name and mascot Vazzy were born!
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