Over the last two years, Jeremy Sanchez has walked Philadelphia streets from the Schuylkill to the Delaware, systematically gathering by hand the information and resources that power his startup The Jawn.
What he and co-founder Marc Levy have to show for it is more than 7,200 photographs of Philadelphia businesses and institutions, a number which is growing fast, and which serve as the foundation for The Jawn’s 11,000 business listings.
“I’d start with Walnut Street, for example, and it would take me about 2 hours to walk, stop, shoot, walk, stop, shoot,” Sanchez says. He’d gather 300 to 400 business locations on a street through this method.
The service, which launched two years ago and has made some more notable headway in 2011 (the company has been able to produce about 2,000 user reviews from more than 400 users) — is similar to Yelp and other mapped listing services, which they hope will be made more powerful by local perspective.
“A lot of these websites that give this information are really crap. I thought we should create something that people can use and benefit the city,” he says.
“We wanted to create something that wasn’t the Silicon Valley one-size-fits-all model.”
Sanchez, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, moved to Philadelphia to attend Temple University says he doesn’t “plan on leaving for a very long time.”
It’s with this local focus in mind that The Jawn is also utilizing an increasingly common startup hook: giving back. The Jawn promises to provide a five percent donation to charitable organizations through the revenue it will generate. EatShopGive, a local daily deals site launched last month, follows a similar charitable model.
Though the partners are not yet full-time with the endeavor — Sanchez makes a living designing websites for consulting clients — they are actively seeking investment with the hopes of being profitable by next summer and eventually expanding to additional cities with the same homegrown data emphasis.
Using a freemium model that targets businesses that want control over their listing, the company has signed up 40 businesses to free accounts, a handful of which have upgraded to its nine dollar per month premium service. The paid offering allows a business to control its listing information, images and post upcoming events. Customers also get a vanity URL, and the ability to reply to and if necessary, can request to remove reviews.
With plans to redesign this fall, the company is heads-down trying to grow its modest traffic (less than 1,000 users per day) before it focuses on growing its revenue.
“I’m still a broke college student,” Sanchez says.