It’s not often that you run into to an optometrist at a Silicon Harbor gathering. This is partly why Go Where I Go (GWIG), a new digital referral company, is so compelling. Run by two eye doctors, Charlie Turner and Chris Cooper, GWIG helps small business owners like themselves manage and track their word-of-mouth referral programs. This team is revolutionizing online reputation management systems by creating an alternative to the untrustworthy and inefficient industry of reviews and ratings.
While growing his optometry practice on Daniel Island, Turner realized that year after year word-of-mouth referrals were the most effective marketing—and completely free. Turner decided to gather data to guide his marketing strategies. He figured out how referrals were linked to market-preferred brands, and found that people who purchased these products were more likely to refer their friends.
Turner brought this data to Johnson & Johnson three years ago, where Cooper was managing the Professional Affairs Consulting team. He hired Turner as a part-time consultant for his expertise in referral programs. Turner began looking for ways to digitize what he had proved was the most effective means of getting new clients. After searching for an existing product and coming up short, his next option was to build one himself, and he knew Cooper would be on board. Also an eye doctor in Memphis, Tennessee, Cooper said, “I understand [a business owner’s] challenge when trying to determine a return on investment for their marketing dollars.” Cooper knew they were solving a problem for small business owners around the world.
On April 17th, 2013 at 5 a.m., the technology concept came to Turner. He took the idea to SPARC to have a prototype developed. He said, “I basically showed the prototype to anybody that would listen.” Six months later GWIG had raised over half-a-million in capital, and began developing the company full-time. The result, Turner said, “ Is a product designed from my own experience… [with] a technology product and business plan around it.” Turner and Cooper have both left full-time practice and consulting to grow GWIG.
There are two sides to GWIG—the subscription model and the free model, and the two really come alive when used in unison. There is the free mobile app, available for both Android and iOS download, which interacts with the subscription-based dashboard designed for small businesses. Most small business owners don’t have the time to master marketing because they are busy doing what they’ve started a business to do. As a result most marketing decisions are based on emotions. Turner said, “I wanted to give them a tool to better understand word-of-mouth [referrals].” An end-user of the free app can refer a favorite local business and be recognized by that business. The business can then track whether the person you referred becomes a customer, and then they can recognize and thank you for your loyalty.
The dashboard allows the business subscriber to keep track of all their referrals, not just those from word-of-mouth, whether they come through the mobile app, from your grandmother who probably won’t use the app, or even from an ad you placed in the local newspaper. The dashboard actually enables the business to track all of their marketing so that strategy can be based on numbers, not guts. GWIG is working towards automating many of the dashboard functions. Eventually it will work like a small business CRM. GWIG is learning what small business users want, and the small businesses are likewise thinking about their business processes in a new light.
Most of GWIG’s 100 subscribers are eye doctors whom they’ve targeted through existing channels like manufacturing companies and alliance groups. It’s working, to say the least, and they will soon announce a nationwide partnership to begin next year. GWIG isn’t so concerned about adding to the 4,000 free downloads they’ve gotten. By targeting small business subscribers, they know that the paying customers will bring the free customers into the loop.
“One of the exciting—and very difficult things—about GWIG is that we’re literally applicable to everyone,” Turner said, which makes honing in on a business plan challenging. The plan is to streamline a client acquisition process in the eye care field, which they can then apply universally—a brilliant strategy for a virtually limitless service.
GWIG is adding a completely new dynamic to the world of online reputation management. While companies like Yelp offer local businesses a place for ratings and reviews, nobody is offering a place for referrals. Because reviews are now frequently gamed, they are becoming more arbitrary. Turner believes GWIG will remain relevant in helping small businesses because “if you’re willing to refer something you don’t need a five star review, you don’t need a rating because you already love it,” he said. It is similarly revolutionary because they’re approaching the field from a relational perspective. “GWIG is positioned to make a difference in local businesses, which in turn make a difference in local communities in terms of jobs and reinvestments in the community,” Cooper said.
Both Turner and Cooper left comfortable nine-to-five jobs to work seven days a week on GWIG. “As a former small business owner, I was frustrated with the anonymous rating and review industry. I had long assumed that most reviews were fake and simply another form of paid advertising… I knew there had to be an alternative. I knew GWIG could be the antidote to fake reviews from strangers online,” Cooper said. They are working around the clock to shake up the online reputation management industry and once you use their application, you too will believe the days of reviews and ratings are numbered.