Jason Gaylord wants to use his company, Localloop, to take a stand against online consumer trafficking and transform the way business is done on the Internet. And he wants to start in Monroe.
To help spark the conversation, the 1993 Monroe High School graduate held his "Change Your Business. Change Your FutureGÇ¥ event last week at Cascade Community Church in Monroe. Attendees were introduced to Localloop; a search engine, social network and jobs platform with a built-in mechanism for verified business reviews. Localloop is unique in that it does not feature any advertising, nor does it collect user information. Built by Gaylord from the ground up, Localloop does not analyze keystrokes or track online behavior in any way.
The event was coordinated by Poppy Seed Productions with support from the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, and included lunch catered by several local businesses.
"We've worked incredibly hard to bring this concept to you; a concept that we think is going to radically change the marketplace for small business owners,GÇ¥ Gaylord said.
Gaylord attended Central Washington University after graduating from Monroe, and became a dot.com entrepreneur with his online magazine, Lethal Sports. He was successful up until around 2001, when the dot.com bubble burst, causing numerous web-based companies that relied on Internet advertising for revenue to go out of business.
Gaylord lost everything in the process. He paused to take stock, and in 2002 immersed himself in research. He spent two years conducting 4,000 interviews with consumers across the United States to determine what people really wanted from the Internet.
"If you fail with your eyes closed, you're a cooked goose,GÇ¥ Gaylord said. "But if you pay attention, a world of opportunity exists.GÇ¥
Gaylord said he learned that consumers wanted their privacy. They didn't want advertising, and they wanted a way to separate the good companies from the bad; a way to find the needle in the haystack. They wanted a reliable tool that could weed out companies that didn't perform well, giving them a streamlined way to access companies known for good service.
Localloop was built to meet those expectations. Companies are able to be "in the loopGÇ¥ only after 20 verified customer reviews have been conducted by Gaylord and his staff.
"Localloop is a stack of needles,GÇ¥ Gaylord said. "Because to get in the loop you have to have a four-star or better satisfaction rating based on a minimum of 20 verified reviews.GÇ¥
Localloop offers its users the opportunity to locate companies with a proven track record and a high rate of customer satisfaction, based on reviews from individuals whose status as a customer has been confirmed by the business owner, whereas Yelp offers no mechanism to test the legitimacy of a review, Gaylord said.
"You don't have to be a customer,GÇ¥ Gaylord said. "You can go on that platform and you can bastardize any business you choose, for free.GÇ¥
Gaylord said even worse is recent court precedent has given Yelp the legal right to manipulate negative reviews for money.
Gaylord wanted Localloop to cater to both customer and business integrity. He also wanted to make sure he was on the right track. After the initial 4,000 survey responses he used to create Localloop, he conducted 6,000 more interviews. He established the four pillars of Localloop based on the results of his research, which are guaranteed privacy, verified performance, advertising free and community impact.
Now, he's working on spreading the word and trying to get more customers and businesses "in the loop.GÇ¥ The Localloop site is simple to navigate, as it was specifically created to be user-friendly. Gaylord developed the Localloop logo to signify businesses and consumers on a parallel path, and he began working with clients to get them "in the loop.GÇ¥
And he began telling his story.
In July, he spent a month on a Bothell rooftop in order to raise awareness about consumer trafficking.
"I spent 30 days on top of a roof talking about the fact that we are being tracked, we are being analyzed, and yet most people aren't paying attention,GÇ¥ Gaylord said. "Because the phone doesn't ring at 7 and bother my dinner.GÇ¥
Consumer trafficking was born after Internet companies realized online advertising didn't bring in revenue, Gaylord said. Companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google use the trafficked information to create what Gaylord calls a "digital avatarGÇ¥ based what users look at online. The avatars are created based on the websites a person visits and words entered into Google's search engine; each click is tracked. Gaylord likens it to stalking.
"In the world we live in, stalking is a crime,GÇ¥ he said, "but for Facebook, it's a money source.GÇ¥
The fact that consumers are willingly turning over that much of their personal data to be collected and sold is a huge problem, Gaylord said.
"We don't ever stop and think that Google's a private company,GÇ¥ he said. "Sure, it's traded publicly, but there are individuals that are getting the data every single day when we type, "I'm sick, what will cure me? I'm lonely, how can I find a friend? I'm crazy, how can I blow something up?' They're capturing all of this human intelligence.GÇ¥
A consumer's personal identity is their most valuable asset, but they are giving it away for free, Gaylord said. That is what motivated him to create a site that guarantees consumer privacy and prevents consumer trafficking, which is the foundation Localloop was built on. He also wanted to find a way to give local small businesses an edge, before they are permanently stamped out by large companies like Amazon.
Small businesses do have an edge, he insisted, because it's not the small business owners that are purchasing tracked consumer data and using it for profit.
"It's Walmart. It's Amazon. It's Home Depot. It's all of these companies that want to destroy the local market, and what better way than to know the local consumers better than the local consumers know themselves,GÇ¥ Gaylord said. "This is something we have to pay attention to.GÇ¥
Gaylord posed a question to attendees: What will happen when companies start charging consumers for their privacy? He said it's not farfetched; AT&T is already doing it.
"AT&T is acknowledging that we shouldn't take our customer information and, for lack of a better term, "pimp' it to anybody that we can, so we're going to give consumers the opportunity to pay $30 per month ' $30 per month ' and we'll no longer track their behavior.GÇ¥
AT&T announced a pricing structure in February that is dependent on a customer's level of Internet privacy. Through its "Internet PreferencesGÇ¥ program, the telecommunications giant tracks search terms and websites its customers visit, as well as how much time is spent on each site and the links or ads a customer follows. According to AT&T, this is done in order to "tailor ads and offersGÇ¥ based on its customers' interests.
For an extra $29 per month, customers can opt out of the Internet Preferences program, and receive service that does not watch their web browsing.
"So now what happens when Facebook wants to do it? When Google wants to do it? You're going to find out really quickly that it costs thousands of dollars to protect your most valuable asset,GÇ¥ Gaylord said, adding Localloop protects a customer's identity.
Community impact is where Localloop businesses really gets the opportunity to shine, Gaylord said, because Yelp and Facebook aren't out sponsoring sports teams, cleaning up city parks or serving food at the homeless shelter.
"I played for the Monroe Bearcats basketball team, and we were sponsored by Les Schwab and Ben Franklin. We never were sponsored by Google or Facebook,GÇ¥ Gaylord said. "Now, they didn't exist when I went to high school, but they're not doing it right now.GÇ¥
In Sultan, a small business like Galaxy Chocolates will support the Volunteers of America. Vick's Burger Shack supports students in the Sultan School District. In Monroe, Kathleen's Day Spa might organize a sock drive to help Take the Next Step and Ben Franklin frequently supports local students and nonprofits. Dashing Dutchman's Deli co-owner Susan Whitfield is currently strategizing how to raise funds for Monroe's Cold Weather Alliance.
Gaylord believes small business owners can use that community involvement to their advantage, and hopes to even take things a few steps further. That's why he's developing a Localloop eCommerce platform to help small businesses compete against companies like Amazon. He wants to provide an Internet marketplace where business owners are protected from companies like Amazon swooping in and undercutting their pricing models.
Data collected through consumer trafficking enables Amazon to identify sales trends. It is then able to purchase products directly from the manufacturer, and compete against the very small businesses that are using its platform to sell items.
Gaylord believes that the innovation of the future is actually taking a step backward and often asserts "just because we can doesn't mean we should.GÇ¥
"I promise you, the surveys that we have completed illustrate that the small business market place is what the consumer wants,GÇ¥ Gaylord said. "But there has to be an ignition of spirit.GÇ¥
Gaylord is hopeful that Localloop can help ignite that spirit.
Localloop, which is based out of Edmonds, has been endorsed by media personality Tony Ventrella. In order to be "in the loop,GÇ¥ companies pay a one-time fee. Nonprofits can join Localloop for free. To learn more about Localloop, visit: http://localloop.com/AboutUs.aspx or call 855-800-5667.
Photo by Chris Hendrickson Localloop owner Jason Gaylord discusses Internet privacy and reliable online business reviews during his 'Change Your Business. Change Your Future' event in Monroe last week.
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