9:22am

Fri March 9, 2012
Regional Coverage

Syracuse's BrandYourself relaunches with free online reputation service

Humans begin trying to protect their “street cred” as soon as they realize it exists - somewhere right around when they decide it’s no longer cool for mom to pick them up after school.

But gossip doesn’t contain itself to middle school hallways. In the digital era, it follows us onto the web, where the stakes can be much higher.

“It’s evolved to the point where we live online,” says online reputation management firm BrandYourself.com co-founder and CEO Patrick Ambron.

“The problem isn’t new, just the medium is new.”

Looking to disrupt

Ambron’s Syracuse-based firm is part of an industry making the bet that shining up a reputation - by manipulating what links potential employers and first dates see when they punch a name into a search engine - will be profitable.

Online reputation sites work by burying bad links, and making sure the ones you want people to see show up at the top of Google through search engine optimization (SEO).

Industry surveys say most people never leave the first page of a Google search. So get the bad links to be six or seven pages down, and they’re virtually invisible.

The king of the SEO industry, Reputation.com, starts at $3,000 a year for customers. Other sites charge around $100 per month.

But today BrandYourself announced that it’s looking to shake up that high-rolling industry, by offering its basic service for free.  

“This is a truly disruptive product,” proclaims co-founder Evan McGowan-Watson. “It’s going to flip this industry on its head.”

BrandYourself will allow users to submit links they want to show up on top of Google and track who’s been searching for them.

For about $9 a month, users can submit more links and get more detailed tracking.

“The concept of it, I give it an A+,” says Andy Beal, a reputation consultant and co-author of Radically Transparent: Monitoring and Managing Reputations Online. “Now they’ve got to deliver on what they’re promising and that’s going to be a lot tougher for them to do.”

The key, Beal says, will be transitioning the free users into premium-paying ones, in a crowded field of startups also trying to take down the 800-pound gorilla of the industry, Reputation.com.

“If someone can come in and shake up that notion and offer something that is free and does a good enough job for a majority of people then I think it’s good for the industry,” he says.

Life or death

The guys behind BrandYourself.com are all in their early 20’s. They still work out of an office at the Syracuse Tech Garden, where they got their start in 2009. More than one coffee pot and half-finished bowl of cereal sits around the office, giving away the team’s 15 hour days.

But those long days have already paid some dividends: BrandYourself has raised more than $1.2 million in venture capital.

Among those investing in the firm is Barney Pell, one of the men behind Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

“This is something everybody needs and [BrandYourself] is a great small company with some great folks,” Pell says of his reason for investing.

BrandYourself will be showing off the new site at the South By Southwest tech conference in Austin over the next few days.  

Currently, they have about 20,000 users. They hope with the free model, that’ll increase to about 100,000 by the end of the year.

The market is certainly out there, says managing partner of Millennial Branding Dan Schawbel. He’s also known the guys behind BrandYourself for a few years.

“Basically anyone who cares about their career needs to get involved, because this is kind of like a life or death matter in a sense,” says Schawbel.

“Careers are going to be made or broken online now.”