Need help getting the word out about your start-up and its products or services? A start-up called Wahooly thinks it can help.

The Minneapolis-based company's plan is to hook up start-ups with active users who give feedback in exchange for becoming shareholders in the company. The testers Wahooly delivers will promote your company on their social networks because it's in their interest: They'll get a bigger share of your company. If they do absolutely nothing, their share is diluted. (Wahooly will negotiate a percentage of equity based on the number of users it will deliver plus other factors, such as stage status, co-founder Dana Severson said.)

"We're creating a collaborative effort where we only succeed if the startup succeeds," said Severson, who describes his company as Klout meets Kickstarter meets Shark Tank. "From that standpoint, you might look at us as an alternative (or a nice addition) to an incubator program."

Skeptical that who Wahooly can hand over is better than your best friend's cousin's sister's Facebook friend or anyone else you can scare up on your own? Consider that last week the startup announced it had partnered with that arbiter of social influence Klout, and that those with Klout scores of 45 or more would be invited to join Wahooly.

The average Klout score is around 20, said spokeswoman Megan Berry. She would not say what percentage of users are 45 or above, though she said a score of 50 puts users in the 95th percentile. (Ashton Kutcher has a Klout score of 88; Justin Bieber's is 100.) 

Starting in January, users who've opted to join Wahooly (named for the Wahoo, the world's fastest fish, which travels in schools) can choose from 200 startups in which they'd like to invest.

Want to be part of Wahooly's initial pool of 200 start-ups? You'll need to be internet-based and – at least for now – appealing to the mass consumer. Severson said they're seeing everything from mobile applications to educational start-ups. They'll start properly evaluating start-ups in December, but not every startup will be presented to members at once, so there is no actual deadline.

Severson, a serial entrepreneur, has a job history that included a year and a half where he interviewed start-ups every week. The problem he saw most had was a lack of users and momentum, plus a lack of funding, so they could not afford to mass promote.

"[Wahooly] is an easy solution," he said. "In theory, everyone wins. Our users have a vested interest in seeing that startup succeed."

Severson pointed to Google's AdSense as the forerunner of Wahooly: Google "recognized that while, individually, bloggers may not have the ability to move the needle for companies, together the reach is infinite." With AdSense, bloggers got paid for their reach and influence, and companies reaped the benefits.

"Any person, no matter what their chosen social network, can become an influential broadcaster," Severson said.

What do you think? Would you exchange equity in your company for help getting the word out?


Nov 7, 2011