New Innovator: Verivoo

New software product tackles the problem of the rise of fake online restaurant reviews

In this era of easy revenge via blogs and social media, restaurants and hotels are sitting ducks for fake or unverified information being posted about them. But if the founders of Verivoo, Matthew O'Sullivan and Ray Allen, get their way this will change. They have developed a software product to take the fakes out of the equation.

O’Sullivan enjoys eating out and always checks online reviews before booking. “I’d read reviews that seemed too good to be true or else were overly harsh,” he says. “I was also seeing a lot of coverage about fake online reviews and platform manipulation. In one example a restaurant that didn’t even exist got to number one in the rankings on a well-known online review platform.”

Sensing an opportunity, software developers O'Sullivan and Allen got started in 2015 by surveying members of the Restaurants' Association of Ireland. Based on the feedback received, it was clear that a real problem existed.

In January 2017, Verivoo was formally established to develop a dual approach to solving the problem, comprising a dashboard for restaurant owners to keep track of comments and a review app for consumers.

Fraud detection

“The app combines reviewer verification, fraud detection, review sentiment analysis, personalised recommendations, gamification and social reviewing to deliver the next generation of intelligent online review platforms,” O’Sullivan says.

“Verivoo is like TripAdvisor or Yelp in that people can share dining experiences, but we verify reviewers and their reviews. Verification, trust and transparency are at our core and our aim is to become the platform of choice for consumers seeking authentic information.”

Consumers can only sign up to Verivoo using their social media accounts so identities can be verified while a location/token-based review process tackles the fraud element. “You can’t be sitting on your couch in Dublin writing a review of a restaurant in New York you’ve never even been to – which is happening now,” O’Sullivan says.

“You have to have been in the restaurant and have ‘checked in’ using the Verivoo app. This adds a review token to your account that enables you to write your review. Overall we’re trying to go that bit further for consumers so with Verivoo you won’t just see the top 10 best-rated restaurants in a particular search locality. You’ll see suggestions based on variables such as the time of day and what cuisines you like.”

O’Sullivan has recently completed the Enterprise Ireland-backed New Frontiers programme at the Synergy Centre at IT Tallaght. A private beta of the solution was successfully run in December and the public beta will be launched at the end of quarter one.

Competitors

“Current platforms don’t do enough to protect the businesses they list,” O’Sullivan says.  “Some use filtering algorithms to weed out the fakes but this often results in genuine reviews being lost too. Unlike some other online review platforms our customers won’t be able to pay for preferential treatment, increased visibility or access to traffic. Our competitors are the root cause of the problems we’re solving and this is our ‘unfair’ advantage.”

To help businesses cut the time spent searching multiple review platforms, Verivoo’s system aggregates their content in one place. “This centralised snapshot is more time-efficient and alerts can be set up so a business is notified of a negative review immediately. This limits the amount of time a potentially damaging review is left unaddressed,” O’Sullivan says.

Verivoo is initially targeting the approximately 7,500 hospitality sector businesses in Ireland before moving on to the 220,000 identified so far in the UK. However, O’Sullivan stresses that the company’s technology can be applied across the services sector.

Verivoo’s revenue model is SaaS for business and free to consumers. Monthly service fees will be about €30. As the founders both have technical backgrounds, start-up costs were minimal but O’Sullivan estimates the cost of their sweat equity at between €60,00 and €80,000.

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