Zipzoom has $2.2 million to get better business quotes

If Web 2.0 businesses love one thing, other than selling their company for millions of dollars, it's making their business name a verb. I can already point to many examples that I use on a daily basis: Facebook me, Google it, Urbanspoon that restaurant. It's usually reserved for web behemoths, but some startups are trying to join those ranks by entering their name into the new vernacular. Local startup zipzoom is one of those companies - they're encouraging consumers to "zipzoom" items and services.

For anyone who's tried to get quotes on home repairs, services like cleaners or gardeners, or even new products it can be difficult to know what price they should be paying, and whether a business is reputable. Zipzoom aims to connect ready-to-buy consumers with ready-to-sell businesses - consumers can anonymously request quotes for a product or service for free.

Founder Reg DesRosiers came up with the idea for zipzoom when he saw California police use mass automated messages to evacuate homeowners during a wildfire emergency. He realized that he could use a kind of "reverse search engine" to allow businesses to connect with their customers, bringing consumers to businesses instead of the other way around.

Zipzoom wasn't Reg's first startup venture though - he's been involved in businesses as varied as a driving school and a breath freshener. "I'm a Toronto entrepreneur with a lifelong background in upstarts," he says. "From a major portable driving school in Quebec in my youth to marketing a new type of lighting system for businesses in the 90's to introducing the very first Liquid Breath Freshener to the Canadian market sold in major chains to graduating to Internet business."

DesRosiers applied for a patent in 2007 when he came up with the idea, and there is currently a wordwide patent pending on the zipzoom communication platform messaging system. He's spent the time since then developing the branding and site functionality, and raising funding for the idea. The service launched officially this month north of Toronto in Simcoe County, and simultaneously announced a $2.2 million round of funding. The money was raised from private investors, and 75% of it was contributed by one major shareholder and partner.

Consumers can sign up for a free zipzoom account, and then search for service providers. They submit a request with a personalized message (aka "I'm looking for house cleaners to come once a week to my 800 square foot condo in downtown Toronto) and then "zipzoom it" - the request is sent to vendors matching that criteria, who can then send quotes to your zipzoom inbox. Once you have quotes you can sort, compare and select vendors that interest you, and communicate with the vendors via e-mail or text message. Your information remains anonymous until you select a business to hire.

So why should consumers use zipzoom instead of just approaching businesses individually for quotes? DesRosiers says it all comes down to time and money. "In one click of the send button consumers can send a personalized request for a specific job, service or product without having to search through a multitude of websites, search engines and providers websites," he says. "This is a huge time and money saver for consumers as it allows them to contact all vendors at the same time in one fell swoop."

But it only saves time and money if consumers can find businesses in their area - since the service just launched they're working on adding vendors in multiple cities in addition to the test area. I tried searching for auto mechanics in Barrie (the city they launched in recently) and was told my query didn't match any vendors. Another downside is that the best business for your need might not be signed up on zipzoom, so it makes sense to do a little additional research on Google to make sure you're not missing out on an obvious choice.

Though zipzoom has a ratings system to provide feedback on businesses, I prefer to use a service like Gigpark that connects you with products and services based on referrals from friends. Another great option is Homestars, a local company that helps you find reputable home improvement companies based on reviews and feedback from past customers.

The only problem with these two options is that you don't get quotes immediately, so if you're crunched for time and really only care about the money then zipzoom might be more effective (and obviously Homestars is specific to home improvement needs).

Zipzoom isn't without competitors - Toronto-based launched late last year and does the exact same thing, though DesRosiers says his company is "a completely different concept than JobDeals."

Regardless of whether you'll use the service, it's impossible to deny that DesRosiers is fully confident in it. The website calls it "magical," and says people "pinch themselves every time zipzoom finds them what they were looking for." The service is launching this year in North America and in Western Europe in 2012, and DesRosiers plans to debut mobile applications this spring.

I'm wondering how his marketing campaign will pan out - he's trying to convince people to use his online service instead of Google, which would lead you to believe he would focus his marketing efforts online. But he says he's targeting people in Barrie via a huge "radio blitz." So now the only question is whether consumers will be as enthusiastic about zipzoom as the entrepreneur behind the idea.

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