After shutdown announcement, Dunwello considers lifelines

Dunwello founder and CEO Matt Lauzon.
Dunwello founder and CEO Matt Lauzon.

The staff of ratings website Dunwello announced over the long weekend that the service, a kind of Yelp for people, would shut down. Now it seems that death knell for the two-year-old company could deliver a new lease on life.

Founder Matt Lauzon said he has heard resounding enthusiasm for the product since the announcement and is re-evaluating the decision to shutter the site. A flood of responses from Dunwello users and Boston entrepreneurs include offers that could allow the service to continue, Lauzon said.

A revival could take the shape of a partnership, a new line of financing, or an enthusiastic round of crowdfunding, he said.

“Since we made the announcement yesterday, new interest emerged that we may or may not pursue,” Lauzon said. “It’s an evolving situation.”

Late Sunday night, Lauzon published a series of reflections on blogging platform Medium titled “Failure.”

“There’s no doubt that I’ve learned an enormous amount in the last couple years, there’s no doubt I’ve grown and there’s also no doubt I’ve failed,” he wrote. “I’m not going to run this past anyone before I publish because I know most advisors would advise me otherwise. Accepting failure is accepting defeat, right? I think not.”

“Dunwello is closing down with as much grace as possible,” the staff of the website wrote in a blog post a few hours later.  Twenty-four hours later all that changed.

Dunwello sought to bring the benefits of crowd-rating services like Yelp to itinerant professionals such as hairdressers who split their time between salons, or fitness instructors who host classes at a few different gyms. On the website, each can build a profile featuring customer reviews to bring in new business.

Lauzon said that the website has averaged 5,000-10,000 monthly visitors looking for professional services since September.

The company raised about $2 million in financing from firms including Next View Ventures and experimented with business models: a premium subscription and advertising to people who used the service and wrote reviews. But neither yielded results that stuck.

It was Lauzon’s  second venture; his first was custom jewelry maker Gemvara, founded while he was a student at Babson College, that raised more than $60 million in funding.

Lauzon said he made the decision to shutter the service after gauging investor interest and finding that it had shifted to favor a quickly growing national network. Dunwello’s core user base — some 5,000 professionals in the Boston area — was loyal, but local.

“We cultivated a small but active and passionate community, whereas I think the market right now is oriented towards a larger number that may not be as passionate,” he said.

A national strategy would require more capital than was on hand, he said. 

Other alternatives, such as selling the company, or merging with partners, didn’t seem suitable. “It was a really hard situation to say: ‘The right thing for everyone involved would be to wind down that company,'” Lauzon said.

Updated 8:45 am Feb 17 to correct spelling of Gemvara.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at [email protected]
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