Former Zywave execs form consumer referral site

Jim Emling, former president and chief operating officer of Wauwatosa-based Zywave Inc., left the company after it split into two entities in November 2013.

“I had been there for almost two decades and I wanted to just explore some other ideas that have always sort of run through my head,” Emling said.

Kimberly Capelle, who previously served as president of Advicent Solutions, the financial solutions company formed after the split, has joined him to form a new consumer professional services referral website called WhyHigh in February. After several months of building the site, the company has officially announced its plans.

Menomonee Falls-based WhyHigh describes itself as “the world’s first social, referral-driven marketplace that connects people with service professionals trusted by their personal network.” The site offers referrals for home and professional services companies that work in and around homes or with personal finances.

WhyHigh, which will be free to consumers and free of advertising, will provide referrals—no reviews. All users must make referrals under their real names.

“We’re deliberately avoiding the idea of basically this idea of written reviews,” Emling said. “Their entire trust value has eroded over the last few years by either fake reviews or frankly some curious techniques by the review companies.”

Emling and Capelle’s team of eight has recruited about 100 area businesses to create virtual storefronts on the site. They have an option of a basic plan or a paid subscription with additional marketing capabilities, such as booking sales appointments online, offering customer rewards programs and accessing data insights.

“Our new market is a different segment, a different slice of the world than Zywave,” Emling said.

WhyHigh targets small service businesses with 20 employees or fewer that are owner operated, a segment he says is largely underserved by current technology vendors.

“Some of these guys, to get going, they want to grow their businesses but need a little help in taking those early steps, and that’s what we hope to provide,” he said. “A lot of our ideas really started on looking at how businesses approach the challenge of growth. We looked for sort of industry segments that were owner operated, smaller, really focused on growth and entrepreneurship, and as we talked to several customers in that space…we realized there was lots of opportunity to provide them sort of a marketing platform.”

For now, WhyHigh is only accepting business members. Once it has reached critical mass, probably in early 2015, it will invite consumers to join the site and invite their friends.

“We think obviously there’s a lot of potential for viral growth here because it’s people inviting other people, businesses inviting other businesses,” Emling said.

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