When Hal Sharpe Google-searched “restaurants in Raleigh” a few years ago and got over 100 million results, he thought to himself, this doesn’t seem necessary. After all, at the end of the day he was only going to choose one restaurant.
So, he founded Top10Easy to make the searching process less overwhelming and more straightforward.
Raleigh-based Top10Easy just wrapped up CED’s 12-week GRO Incubator program by giving a live pitch at a Demo Day in Raleigh yesterday, June 30.
As the name implies, Top10Easy will be a website that gives users the top 10 businesses that correspond to their search, whether someone is looking for a dentist, plumber, mechanic or restaurant in their area. All of them will be pre-vetted by the site.
“The current search engine is broken and needs fixing,” Sharpe said. “There ought to be a better way for people to search that’s more curated that puts the customer first.”
Sharpe was previously a publisher for Lake Gaston Phone Book in Littleton, North Carolina, for 22 years until 2017. When Sharpe’s idea for a new search engine that connects customers to a curated list of vendors came along in 2014, he said the sales experience he gained as a publisher equipped him to build the product, by teaching him how to identify what customers seek in a potential product or service.
Sharpe said they are currently in the customer discovery phase and plan to launch the website MVP in September and a mobile app later on. They are currently deciding what lists to include in the initial version of the website, which will focus on businesses in Raleigh, by identifying what the most popular searches are in the area.
Sharpe lives in Lumberton, N.C., and his team of five is dispersed throughout the Southeast U.S. He said his decision to launch in Raleigh is due in part because of the positive impact that participating in the GRO incubator has had on his business, team, and the company’s direction.
Sharpe said he has talked with many consumers who are frustrated with the excessive nature of popular search engines and how a simple Google search can turn into an endless rabbit hole of examining more and more potential options. To many overwhelmed consumers, the idea of a search limited to 10 options is refreshing, and those who are hesitant may be reassured that all of the options are pre-vetted, Sharpe said.
“With Top10Easy, smart consumers are connected with great businesses in just three clicks,” Sharpe said. “And we do all the legwork in terms of curating the list of 10 various types of businesses in your local area.”
How exactly will the list of top 10 businesses for each search be determined? Sharpe said the most important factor they use to pick businesses is whether or not they have positive reviews from past customers.
So while businesses ultimately have to pay to be on the list, Sharpe said exceptions will be made for underdogs or startups if they have exceptionally good customer reviews.
Obviously, Sharpe said, narrowing a massive pool of options (restaurants in Raleigh, for instance) down to only 10 results means a lot of potential options will be excluded. That’s why they carefully select businesses that commit to Top10Easy’s customer-first values of reasonable prices, timely service and good customer care.
Businesses will rotate on-and-off the list as well as throughout the list, to give different businesses a chance to be featured, and also so that a business enjoying the No. 1 space isn’t perceived as better than a business occupying No. 6, Sharpe said.
“Our mission of ‘connecting smart consumers with great, local merchants’ has an evergreen quality,” Sharpe said. “Ideally, it will have a positive impact on a lot of communities and will help merchants who feel like they’re ‘underdogs’. In short, this should work in any medium-size or large city.”
Sharpe believes that Top10Easy could be the new default not only because it makes the searching process faster and less painless, but because it will provide a level of authenticity and personal connection that websites like Google or Yahoo lack.
For instance, what if instead of relying on Yelp or Google reviews from past customers, potential customers could hear from the business owner themselves? Each business owner that is listed on Top10Easy’s website will have the chance to speak directly to the consumer via a video and explain why they are the top 10 in their field.
“Having too many options when you’re only going to buy one thing can lead to indecision and anxiety,” Sharpe said. “Many times consumers get what they need, and faster, with just a short list where they can be reassured that if they click on any one of the 10 businesses listed, they’ll have a good experience.”