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Sortable co-founders, from left, Chris Reid, Alex Black and Mark Feeney (ALEX BLACK/COURTESY OF SORTABLE)
Sortable co-founders, from left, Chris Reid, Alex Black and Mark Feeney (ALEX BLACK/COURTESY OF SORTABLE)

Mark Evans

Startup site aims to ease consumer buying decisions Add to ...

The Web is a terrific resource if you need to do research on the purchase of products and services. But the amount of information and number of available choices also can make it overwhelming.

That was a problem Alex Black and Christopher Reid decided to solve, believing there had to be a better way to make smart buying decisions without having to invest hours of time doing research.

After two years of development, Sortable publicly launched earlier this month to an enthusiastic response.

Powered by a decision engine that uses sophisticated algorithms and extensive data, Waterloo, Ont.-based Sortable makes it easier to find products that meet your specific needs and budget.

What makes Sortable so compelling is how it provides a lot of relevant information and the ability to filter selections based on different criteria.

“We think there is a huge market to build a decision engine that works,” Mr. Reid said in a recent interview.

“We spent about two years building out the technology to the point where it is today, doing a lot of testing and work, and answering the question: Can algorithms provide the advice that humans will like? We think the answer is “yes” and we have a lot of data to support that.”

Sortable launched with five categories – TVs, tablets, phones, camera and laptops – but Mr. Reid said the company is confident it can provide advice on countless products and services – everything from automobiles and restaurants to yoga studios, hot startups and election candidates.

The idea for Sortable came about after Mr. Black called Mr. Reid, to see if he was interested in doing another startup. Mr. Black and Mr. Reid had already done two startups together: one that built software for the insurance industry, and another that created a Facebook-like product for the school market. The two companies, BrightBlocks and Booksoft, were wound down. Third co-founder Mark Feeney joined after Mr. Reid and Mr. Black started to work on their idea.

After numerous lunches and discussions, they decided to focus on the e-commerce market given the challenges Canadians faced when trying to buy products and services online. It soon dawned on them the problem they were looking to solve wasn’t just a Canadian issue but a global one.

When Sortable finally launched publicly, it attracted a lot of positive coverage from major blogs and media outlets. Mr. Reid said he was happily surprised but believes the response was because Sortable’s decision engine works well and, just as important; can be applied to lots of other services and products.

“That is what caught people’s attention,” he said. “They saw a service that worked well, especially for a launch product, and they were impressed because, even though we are only doing a few products, they could expand their imaginations to other categories. That is what clicked with people. We had a lot of people who said it is like a search engine, a different way to find things. That was an interesting take on it.”

Unlike many startups that launch a product without a clear idea of how to make money, Mr. Reid said Sortable is already generating revenue from test sites it launched before the company went public. While Mr. Reid said an obvious option is advertising from manufacturers and partnerships with retailers, Sortable’s priority is creating a service that will engage more consumers.

So far, the seven-person company has been mostly self-funded. Mr. Reid said it is now looking to raise a large venture capital round. “I don’t know how it will play out but it will probably be the U.S. investors [who]will offer us better terms.”

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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