Startup of the Week: Tello, a Yelp-Style Customer Service Rating Site

mbStartups is pleased to announce the Startup of the Week: a weekly post dedicated to the newest faces in new media.

In honor of President’s Day weekend sales, this week’s featured startup is Tello, a forum for thanking businesses for providing excellent customer service. The company’s logo evokes the aesthetics of the 1950’s, said CEO and founder Joe Beninato, “when service used to be good.” We recently met up with Benitato to talk about this latest spin on the rate-it site and the new business model that goes with it.

How it Works

Customers can already voice their opinions on Yelp, but with Tello, instead of skimming through the comments to find out which bridal consultant or massage therapist to book by name, they can check out a local business and instantly see who has gotten the best feedback. “Yelp is about the place – we’re more about the people in the place,” Beninato said. The content is crowd-sourced, with options to add both the name of the business and the employees who work there.

The mobile app, launched February 9th for iPhone, iPad and Android, connects to Facebook and Twitter, and will eventually have a check-in function as well. We tried it out on Baked, the Brooklyn bakery where we conducted the interview. The address popped up, along with a map.   Rather than giving a star rating, customers are asked to decide if the experience was positive or negative, and leave a comment if they’d like to elaborate. “People tend to be polarized,” Beninato said of the star-rating system. A simpler question to ask is, “would you recommend it or not?” We didn’t catch the cashier’s name at Baked, but whoever he was, we clicked the icon to give him a thumbs up. A public complaint board runs the risk of subjecting poorly paid cashiers and new hires with too much negative publicity, but Beninato says that so far, 80% of the users have used the service to leave compliments rather than complaints.

Beyond local eateries and shops, Tello is good for any company that relies on customer service to stay competitive, like car dealerships, hotels and airlines. For example, Beninato credits good customer service for moving Virgin America ahead of the competition in an industry that’s suffered from heightened security. “They’re thriving when others are having trouble,” he said, and the pink mood lighting doesn’t hurt, either.

The Business Model

Although the forum is free for the customers, the business model is actually a B2B service, and not just ads. Eventually, companies will pay a monthly fee to claim their businesses, respond to customers on the site and track employee performance.

The Tello Story

Prior to Tello, Beninato was the founder and CEO of Presto, a venture-backed startup in partnership with Hewlett-Packard that – get this – connected printers to phone lines for people who didn’t own computers to receive digital photos and e-mails. He came up with the idea for Tello while following a commercial truck with a bumper sticker that read, “How am I driving?” Beninato’s response: “why can you only rate truck drivers?”

Tello launched in 2010 in Palo Alto, California with funding from Jon Callaghan of True Ventures, Ron Conway of SV Angel, Mark Goines, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, Eric Paley of Founder Collective, Shervin Pishevar of SGN, Naval Ravikant of Venture Hacks, Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital, Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures and Russ Siegelman. Currently, the company is hiring an “everything engineer” and a “user experience mastermind.”