Startup Spotlight: Pondr
All Things Venture #019
Hey Everyone - Dez here from Apex Venture Studios. Let’s jump down memory lane. When I was a freshman in college I lived by one pretty simple rule: Work Hard, Play Hard. Looking back, is that a slightly obnoxious mantra? Yes. Did it produce the results that I was looking for in my college experience? Also, yes. My undergraduate experience consisted of being in the library, being in the gym (I was a student-athlete), and being at a party. There was nothing unique to this routine. My teammates, my classmates, my friends - they all had similar versions of it in varying degrees. What is unique though, and what I wish I had done, was start a company. Which is why I am so excited to share today’s article.
Today we are covering Pondr. Pondr was founded by a group of Purdue/Gonzaga undergrads who, in an era of fake news, fake likes, and fake reviews, are looking to bring truth and authenticity back to the internet. Pondr was co-founded by Akshay Murthy. Akshay and I had the wonderful opportunity to catch up to talk about Pondr and his experience as an entrepreneur. Pondr is making the internet a more honest place one product review at a time, and while I wish I had the vision and maturity to start a company when I was in college, I’m extremely excited for what Askhay and the Pondr team have in store.
All Things Venture: What is Pondr?
Akshay: At a general level, the main goal at Pondr is to create an authentic consumer review platform. We’re trying to create a meaningful community of people that are seeking truth and authenticity on the internet. Over 40% of all online reviews are fake or unreliable. People are buying products they think are high quality, but in reality, sellers are buying reviews or buying bots to generate reviews, making products look better than they truly are. We have three main areas on Pondr – sellers who are looking for feedback and market information, review gurus who want to try products and leave opinions, and members interested in a better way to buy. Our review gurus are passionate about trying products, but also experts in their respective fields/hobbies, so we allow sellers to send products to our review gurus in exchange for honest, authentic reviews. The core of what we’re doing is creating a community that supports our sellers, gurus, and members, and improves the quality of reviews on the internet. In a way, we’re kind of like a very intense focus group.
All Things Venture: What led you to build Pondr?
Akshay: Yeah, it’s actually a pretty interesting story – The event that really sparked this idea was the mysterious seed packet incident that actually happened back in June-July of 2020, where thousands of Americans received unknown seed packets in their mailbox from China. This national phenomenon prompted the USDA to request everyone who received the seeds to hand them over to the authorities. This incident was the result of a common online scam called brushing. A brushing scam is when a company in an online marketplace, pays a third party individual called a brusher to purchase the supplier's products through fake buyer accounts that the brusher has created. These brushers then write a glowing 5-star review on the said product through their “verified purchase” and fake accounts using real addresses. By employing a brushing scam, companies soar to the top with an influx of undeserved “verified purchase” 5-star reviews. Last October, I connected with my two friends from high school, now in college, and we wanted to tackle underlying issues like these in the e-commerce space to bring back truth and authenticity to the internet. Brushing scams like these are operating at such a large scale, that the return on investment for a company outweighs any other form of marketing or product promotion known to the e-commerce world.
All Things Venture: Who do you believe Pondr is best positioned for?
Akshay: Honestly, consumers like you and me, we would benefit tremendously from something like Pondr. On the seller side – we generally want to touch all aspects of the consumer space. One thing that needs to be mentioned is that, in terms of providing value to our sellers – is that our sellers are receiving 500+ data points from our review gurus. On the back end our review gurus answer 40+ questions on each product running the gamut on branding, marketing, competitors, quality, etc. All of this information is valuable to sellers to help them improve their products, and just goes back to the concept of us also being an intense focus group that provides valuable feedback.
All Things Venture: What are some of the challenges that you face at the current stage for Pondr?
Akshay: We’ve found it challenging to provide sellers with the push they need to join us – we are trying to provide authenticity through our blog posts, through our social media, and we’re trying to figure out how to send products to our users. We’re analyzing how many products we can send out, and internally narrowing down how to perform our analysis on the data we generate. On the quantitative end it’s pretty easy, but on the qualitative end it’s more complex.
All Things Venture: What advice do you have for any aspiring entrepreneur?
Akshay: Obviously, I’m still young, I’m 18 years old. I haven’t seen everything myself, but I do really look up to Elon Musk. He’s sent things to the moon and back and made things that land by themselves, he’s made Tesla, he’s built these amazing inventions, and put his mind and vision to something to innovate on a grand scale. The one thing I’ve taken from him is to adapt to feedback while still working toward and learning from your mistakes. My advice is to pursue your idea, but don’t not create something because you’re scared or think it will fail. You have to start somewhere.