Checked, the startup formerly known as Luster, today announced that it has received $15 million in funding to develop its AI-based product review platform. The cash injection is part of a Series A led by Insight Partners with participation from Index Ventures, Bling Capital, Golden Ventures and angel investors including former Meta VP of Commerce Shiva Rajaraman and founder and CEO Stuart Kearney. invested in scaling Vetted’s machine learning technologies.
Kearney describes the Vetted platform, which was widely launched today, as a “product search engine” for “discovering the brands and products most recommended for your needs. He founded the company with Tim Atler and Tom Raleigh after working on “small satellites” (spacecraft the size of a kitchen refrigerator) at NASA’s Ames Research Center and as a systems engineer at the Australian Department of Defense.
“We founded Vetted because we felt that online shopping had become an overwhelming and overtly anti-consumer experience,” Kearney told TechCrunch via email. “People shouldn’t spend hours sifting through indistinguishable products scattered across thousands of ad-laden sites loaded with fake reviews and misinformation.”
According to Kearney, verified reviews of the product on Wirecutter, Reddit, YouTube, and other “reputable” The New York Times sites (although some might argue that Reddit doesn’t always meet this criterion). The platform, available online or as a Chrome extension, compares prices across retailers, tracks changes, and notifies you of sales.
There are many product comparison tools, such as the one owned by PayPal. Honey as well as Paribus (now Capital One Shopping). But what makes Vetted different is the use of AI to determine the best products in different categories, Kearney says. Vetted ranks products based on over 10,000 factors, including reviewer trust, brand trust, enthusiast consensus, and past generation performance. As prices change and new products and reviews become available, the platform updates the rankings, and a team of 30 “product experts” work to ensure the results are accurate.
“We created our own named entity recognition technology to identify brand and product mentions. We then analyze user attitudes towards them and use vectorization techniques to group similar products for further analysis,” said Kearney. “This allows us to turn a clutter of thousands of topics into a well-organized presentation, such as Reddit’s opinions about a given product or brand.”
Kearney did not reveal how Vetted’s ranking algorithm weighs various factors and quantifies the more subjective aspects of product reviews, such as “credibility.” He also did not disclose what work, if any, was done behind the scenes to ensure that feedback from different groups of people is analyzed in the same way. AI models trained to understand a particular native language (e.g. Standard English) tend to poorly when viewing unfamiliar text.
Kearney says part of the new funding will go towards deploying better search technologies as well as artificial intelligence systems to organize and understand product knowledge in forums. He notes that buyers who used Vetted before the rebrand (when it was Luster) ended up buying one of the platform’s offerings 70% of the time, implying they trusted Vetted’s recommendations.
“As e-commerce has grown and platforms like Shopify have made it incredibly easy for everyone to launch brands, the number of products people have to choose from has skyrocketed and become fragmented across thousands of stores. This created a major discovery problem that led to equally huge ad spending on Amazon, Google and Facebook to try and reach the consumer,” Kearney continued. “As a result, the success of a product depends much more on how much a brand can afford to spend on advertising than on its quality or value for money. In order to best serve consumers, e-commerce desperately needs a new solution that integrates products and knowledge beyond ad spend (the cost of which is passed directly to the consumer).”
So how does Vetted plan to make money? Showcase affiliate links are one way. The rest is still being figured out, but Kearney has been adamant that Vetted will not monetize the personally identifiable data the platform collects. “The only data we collect is completely anonymous, aggregated and linked to overall search performance to ensure we are useful to our users,” he said.
To the question about economic climate and whether it could affect business, Kearney expressed no concern. He says that with more than 330,000 users on Vetted, many of whom joined before the rebrand, the company has “years” of runway and plans to grow its membership by 30% in the next few months.
“Because an economic downturn could lead to less money, we believe Vetted will be an even more efficient way for people to stretch their dollar without the burden of endless research,” Kearney said. “Our main competitors are people’s existing shopping habits online, such as searching Google for “the best [blank’] and spend hours reading all the reviews and comparing products.”
Credit: techcrunch.com /