Rating the world: is Bugscore the most enterprising startup ever?

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Bugscore has a compelling premise: rate any person, product or business in the world. Investors are biting. The score almost anything startup headquartered in the UK, launched in March of this year, and following a US$330 000 seed round is already valued at US$2-million.

Bugscore, currently in beta, is sort of what Jotly could have been if Firespotter Labs took its “rate everything” — and we do mean everything — app seriously. Unlike Jotly however, Bugscore won’t allow you to issue inane rate things for that mountain ridge outside your window or the individual ice cubes in your glass of water. Instead, Bugscore focuses on people, products and businesses — the stuff marketers care about.

By collecting what Bugscore’s founders consider “real-time data on consumer opinion”, the startup hopes to become a comparison resource for consumers and a large source of monetary value for the market research industry and the online advertising sector as it tracks what people like, dislike and why.

Bugscore is headed up by German founder and CEO Karan Khemani, co-founder and CEOO Zissis Skouloudis and Jay Sankar, CTO: Technical Architect. Khemani, who previously worked as an investment banker for JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, tells us that he has injected 30% of his own equity into Bugscore.

The emerging market connection

The company is betting on growth in emerging markets and is investing in these regions early on. Bugscore says that close to 70% of its user base is in emerging markets and that it is currently growing at a rate of about 150% to 200% per month in these areas. Bugscore’s founders believe that the average GDP per capita in developing markets such as Singapore is in a range that makes earning money on Bugscore a viable option for side income.

Users that join the rating site earn points for adding profiles, scoring things or inviting new users to Bugscore. These points can be converted into prizes or cash at the end of each month. Intriguingly, there’s also an option for a potential equity stake — capped and fractional — in the Bugscore business at the end of the year.

Bugscore says its efforts-based program, known as “Earn As You Bug” (or EASYB) is a precursor to a full-blown automated market research platform with which it plans to allow anyone to run market research campaigns — it’s here that Bugscore plans to compensate its user base on a pay-per-score basis.

Beyond the GDP per capita match, Bugscore believes Singapore is solid hub for covering the Asia-Pacific and South-East Asia regions as it’s believed to be business-friendly and politically stable. Having established itself in Singapore, Bugscore managed to secure a Singapore-based Hewlett-Packard veteran as one of its primary investors. Shareholders for the startup include Rosetree Advisors LLC., Neuchatel Ltd., Berresch Capital GmbH and Wong Wai Chen LLC.

Illustrating an ongoing love affair with developing regions, Bugscore tells Ventureburn that it will be introducing Bugscore in a variety of emerging market languages.

Giant ambition

Early signs show that Bugscore’s investment in Singapore is paying off. Leading German industrial company, Pfeiffer Vacuum — market cap US$1.2-billion — joined Bugscore and has added over 800 of its products to the system. Bugscore currently hosts a rated catalogue of roughly 200 000 people, products and businesses.

If Bugscore’s catalogue continues to grow, it could fill what it sees as a “missed” gap in the information value chain. “Google allows people to search information, Wikipedia collects it, Facebook and Twitter allow you to share it, and Bugscore allows people to score and rate information in a quantified manner,” postulates the young ratings company.

Bugscore tells Ventureburn that it envisions a future where Google Glass is common place and the fledgling venture has become the global scoring directory. Imagine donning a pair of Google’s glasses and seeing a score for any person, product or business appear next to them — fluctuating in real time. A prospect that will strike you as either, awesome or terrifying.

To attain notable mass, Bugscore hopes to use the freelance industry as conduit. The startup wants to become a quality filter that helps clients gauge talent when advertising freelance work. Bugscore is also eyeing the media industry.

More specifically, Bugscore wants to roll out its own version of the Facebook “Like” button. Freelance hubs and major online newspapers would place a ‘Score’ button next to the Twitter and Facebook buttons on their digital content.

Google is for finding things. Bugscore is for rating things.

Becoming the world’s quality filter is a complex task, and yet the pursuit of something so ambitious makes sense. We expect from our ever increasingly online existence to help us make instant decisions. In late 2011, Google paid US$125-million to integrate Zagat’s restaurant ratings into its properties, helping people make quick dining decisions. Additionally, having a single ratings source will make the marketing industry giddy.

Bugscore wants to help the world make instant decisions about products, people and businesses and it has a clear path — user incentives and industry-specific pandering — for doing that. The question is, is it a worthwhile pursuit when context is key.

For example, the context in which we rate people is important. In a professional context, one would look to LinkedIn. In a social context, one would look to Facebook or Twitter. In terms of a product, Amazon carries immense gravitas, but its lack of global saturation makes it a sketchy barometer of product popularity in emerging markets beyond Brazil, China and India.

Does an amalgam ratings service have a place or are disparate, specialised rating services essential? How much weight should a broad spectrum ratings service carry? For example, Justin Bieber carries a score of 55 on Bugscore — a score made up of various metrics including one for “Knowledge” which sits at 40. This number has been awarded purely based on subjective, public opinion — there’s no scientific or independently verified process to warrant the score. The complexity of rating everything extends further when one considers a score of 81 for Apple’s iPhone. It scores 78 for smell — a largely irrelevant metric, but it underlines the complexity of having a broad enough scoring system to rate everything. A more granular approach would add authority to the score, but makes the process infinitely more complex.

To date, the most comprehensive scoring system in the world belongs to Facebook thanks to its “Like” Button. Yes, it’s not as comprehensive as what Bugscore offers, and it has not been developed into a consumer-facing barometer or marketing research resource (some would argue). Yet.

Bugscore would have to become the best at rating everything in one of the 63 industry sectors across 12 000 occupations and 500 different product types it is targeting. Would you accept a Bugscore rating for a hotel or restaurant at this stage or one from Tripadvisor or Google?

One feels however, that Bugscore’s strength lies in informing researchers, but it needs to make sure its ratings are authoritative and perhaps that means doing more than incentivising a crowdsourced workforce with micropayments.

Update 12 May 2014:

Bugscore has told Ventureburn that it has grown into a market research platform with a network of 410 000 users worldwide.

Khemani adds that these users are “waiting to express their opinion (in scores) on any person, product or business. What gives Bugscore the edge over traditional off-line research is our breadth (huge opinion pool) and cost-per-opinion — as low as US$0.1/user.”

The company has also launched a fully-real-time employee scoring tool aimed at the US$5.5-billion talent management industry called Bugscore360.

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