Q&A with Kevin Wielgus, JabberJury co-founder and president
JabberJury is a conflict resolution website that uses social media to facilitate debates between people. The Chicago-based company was founded in February of this year.
SUB: What is the concept behind JabberJury?
Wielgus: JabberJury is a courtroom-themed social media website. I like to call it “conflictainment” or the entertainment derived from the conflict of others. We provide a forum where people having a disagreement can upload a video representing his or her respective side of the argument and the rest of the site’s visitors can vote on who is right and wrong. Aside from receiving “social justice” site visitors compete for points called Jabbies that can be redeemed for prizes, donated to charity or help increase one’s standing in the site’s social hierarchy. Unlike other conflictainment options, our content is diverse and quick—just what the Internet generation likes. And, if you don’t like the content of one case, click to the next. We are [going to be] to conflictainment what Amazon is to books.
SUB: Please describe how the site works. What is the user experience like?
Wielgus: With a few bits of information, or using an existing Facebook account, a user can register to become a juror and receive 500 Jabbies. Then, he can search for different cases that may be of interest. Each case has a description and a video. The juror just watches the video and then clicks on a vote button once he chooses a side. Jurors can also leave comments about a case. Each vote costs 50 Jabbies, but if the juror is on the winning side, he will get back 100 Jabbies. If the juror wishes to contribute his own case, he follows the online instructions to create a case and either upload a video or record it directly from his webcam. Once both parties contribute their content, the case goes live and the voting begins.
SUB: Who do you consider to be JabberJury’s competition?
Wielgus: Squabbler.com and PeoplesCourtRaw.com are the two closest competitors with an online product. Of course we also compete for the time of our users which can come from traditional courtroom television to time they’d otherwise spend on Facebook or YouTube. Relative to our online competition, we share may features. A key differentiator is our point system, Jabbies, which is missing from the competing sites. Squabbler for example, shows how the vote is going while the case is still active. We do not believe we should show the results until the end as we want people to vote for that they believe is right, not simply voting for what may be the clear winner. That’s like being able to place a bet on the Superbowl in the final minutes with one team out to a wide lead.
SUB: What inspired the idea for JabberJury?
Wielgus: In September ’09, I was out with my wife and my co-creator, Angelo Rago—no longer with the company—and Angelo’s then girlfriend. My wife and I bought tickets for a comedy show at The Improv. Angelo’s girlfriend received a phone call just as the show was about to start. Visibly upset, she said she had to go. Angelo reached into his pocket for his keys and as he handed them to her, he asked me if I’d give him a ride later. After the show, Angelo called his girlfriend to see where to meet her, but we could hear her screaming through the phone. After they hung up, she continued to send angry text messages to Angelo. Not wanting to call it a night too early, my wifewife, Angelo and I headed to a local bar for a nightcap. The angry text messages continued. We discussed how she was probably telling her side of the story to her friends and painting Angelo in a very unflattering light. We discussed how in general, most people would tell a story with a bias towards their side, so getting fair and objective input from friends was hard. We wondered how the bar patrons would vote if they were able to hear both sides of the story. We then wondered how the whole world would vote if given the chance. We thought such a site surely had to exist. When our search the next day didn’t turn up a good solution, a business idea was born.
SUB: What is your business model? How does JabberJury generate revenue?
Wielgus: Advertising is our primary revenue source, so in many ways we are like any other online publisher. Our next revenue opportunity comes from the monetization of our virtual currency, which behaves much the same as other online games: users need points to play, they interact with a sponsor, take a survey, etc. Last, but certainly not least, we have our market research component. When we reach a critical mass of users, we will be able to place cases that help marketers learn about their customers while building their brand. As an example, think of a case between a caveman and a tiny lizard on behalf of a well-known insurance company.
SUB: How are you marketing the site?
Wielgus: We place focused ads on Facebook. We also place ads on Google. Luckily there aren’t many advertisers that want to target a phrase like, “I am fighting with my ______” so we can get those ads for minimum prices. To target gamers, we also place our messages on the “offer walls” of other games as a way to get virtual points for the game they are currently playing by simply signing up as a Juror on JabberJury. Offline, we are kicking off a nationwide brand ambassador program. The brand ambassadors will help spread the word about JabberJury using voter registration cards that include a code to get bonus Jabbies at registration. They will also help record and contribute new content to the site.
SUB: What were the first steps you took to establishing the company?
Wielgus: First, we looked for competition. Then we asked people for their opinions of the concept. Then we looked for revenue models that would make sense. Once all that was done, I started looking at technology solutions that could pull it all together so I could get a sense for what the costs would be. With the research under my belt, we built a small demo, formed the company (LLC), and reached out to our first investors.
SUB: Have you raised outside funding to this point? If so, do you plan to raise more in the near future?
Wielgus: Early on, we raised $120,000 from friends and family. In October 2010, we entered into a $1.2 million convertible debt financing agreement with a group out of South Florida. The group was unable to provide the financing in the agreed tranches, and in March of 2011, with a large check returned as NSF, that this group would not be able to cure its breach. We are currently seeking new capital partners to replace approximately $1 million in financing.
SUB: Where do you see JabberJury in a year from now?
Wielgus: In a year, I’d like to see us: 1) surpass 1 million registered users; 2) have some of our interesting content get mainstream and viral mentions; 3) have strong direct advertiser relationships; and 4) be operating on positive cashflow.
SUB: Finally, as an entrepreneur who has successfully navigated the recent bad economy, what advice do you have for those just starting a company?
Wielgus: When you think you’ve done enough due diligence, do some more. Having a personal relationship with someone does not mean that they will perform in a business setting. Be sure to get advice from people that will be honest with you, even if that advice may be painful to get.
JabberJury – www.jabberjury.com