Featured Startup Pitch: ZEEF is taking on AdSense with a curated search network intended to improve results and make subject experts money

By Editor September 19, 2013
Klaas Joosten, ZEEF

Klaas Joosten, ZEEFBy Klaas Joosten, ZEEF founder and CEO

Elevator Pitch: ZEEF is an expert filtered, curated and categorized link directory, built to help consumers find the most relevant information and to support their buying decisions. The top links are ranked by experts and performance metrics from the platform.

Product/Service Description

People are still dealing with online information overload—particularly when searching outside their comfort zone. We believe that using human expertise as a filter is the ultimate solution. Crowdsourcing of knowledge and curation is made practically achievable and easy with ZEEF.

Our mission is to help experts create subject pages, share their knowledge, and help consumers find the right information—quickly, easily, and effectively.

While algorithmic search has come a long way, the Internet still presents people with serious information overload. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) experts are manipulating Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) to obtain or increase free traffic. SEO has become a significant industry and search engines have difficulty filtering this out. Especially when searching outside their areas of expertise, just like in normal life, people like to rely on expert knowledge.

Finding expertise online currently requires searching the Internet for blogs or review sites, then searching these for relevant information, which altogether takes a considerable amount of time. Once you’ve done this, you often still don’t know how reliable this information is.

Founder’s Story

I’m a mechanical engineer by education and have over 14 years of experience in affiliate marketing. In 1999, together with my brother, I founded M4N—the first and biggest affiliate marketing network in the BeNeLux. As CTO, I built and led the development team. After a successful exit in 2011, I started dedicating 100 percent of my time to building ZEEF and its team.

I’m dyslectic and therefore very focused on getting dense, good quality information. In 1999, before the rise of Google, a friend pointed me towards a Dutch link directory (startpagina.nl), which proved to be perfect for me. Links are concise, a high-density information format, and they were well categorized and organized by knowledgeable people. Then Google came and made my things so much better. But now, with the possibilities of crowdsourced curation, I believe it is time for human knowledge to advance where algorithmic search seems to have reached its limitations.

On as well as off the web, you can best judge the quality of information by finding out whether or not the person who published it knows the subject well. It is my mission to facilitate this on the Internet.

Marketing/Promotion Strategy

The blocks of recommended links on ZEEF are ‘TopX’ lists—for example, ‘Top5’ or ‘Top10’ lists. The experts themselves, or anyone else who visits the ZEEF page, can embed these link blocks onto his/her blog or website. This block is automatically updated. Our tests suggest click through ratio improvements of over 400 percent compared to other advertising models like Google AdSense.

ZEEF is also reaching out to bloggers to get featured on blogs related to our industry. We expect a lot of cross-promotion from experts writing about their ZEEF page on their blogs. Next to this, ZEEF will be using affiliate programs to recruit affiliates to become an expert on our platform and set up quality pages. Because we’re aggregating and automating affiliate links, it will save them a lot of time compared to finding and implementing their own affiliate links.

Market Opportunity

We are targeting the U.S. online advertising market first, for the following reasons:

1. Market size. In 2012, the total online advertising market: $40 billion in the U.S. vs. $1.5 billion in the Netherlands, $7.9 billion in the UK, and $6.6 billion in Germany.

2. Market trends: the U.S. affiliate marketing spend is forecast (by Forrester Research) to reach $4 billion in 2014, up from $1.6 billion in 2007 CAGR = 14.4 percent. Dutch affiliate marketing spending in 2012 grew to around $172 million.

3. Highest concentration of most major potential clients and business partners (Silicon Valley).

4. The U.S. affiliate marketing market has a lot of advertisers and networks, while the EU market has networks and advertisers scattered because of issues surrounding differences in country/currency/language.

Launching ZEEF in North America shouldn’t necessarily be more difficult than, for instance, in the Netherlands, while the earnings potential is far greater. This effect is compounded by the economies of scale and network effects that apply to the ZEEF model. After the U.S./North America, ZEEF aims to expand internationally as soon as possible (Europe, Japan, emerging markets.). We’ve been working on and succeeded in taking ownership of most ZEEF.TLD domains, including ‘zeef.ch’ and ‘zeef.in.’

How ZEEF Differentiates From the Competition

ZEEF is a unique, new value proposition. We add the human touch of knowledgeable experts to affiliate marketing and helping consumers make choices when buying products or searching for information online. We have also developed a new method and process of filtering and curating links within a blog.

Categorization and ranking by experts

Instead of purely using algorithms to categorize and rank links, we use the knowledge of experts. Experts understand the linked information much better than computers do. This improves the quality of the directory. The categorization will be improved because experts are not restricted by a fixed categorization, which might not fit the subject.

ZEEF ‘AdSense’-style block for bloggers

Bloggers can replace banners or AdSense blocks with a ZEEF-curated links block to generate more revenue and have more relevant content on their sites. Very simple by embedding a link block (top 10 list widget ) from the expert’s ZEEF page onto his site. This block is automatically updated. Our model suggests click-through ratio improvements from 0.8-to-3.84 percent.

Reversed search

A consumer wants to know where a product is ranked, and whether or not it is the best product. The consumer types in the product name in ZEEF and will see on which position this product is placed within any of the relevant curated link blocks.

Multiple experts

To motivate experts to create the best possible pages, ZEEF introduces competition. Each subject can have multiple experts, each with his/her own page. The pages will all be tested against each other. The best performing page will be shown most to consumers. Other pages for the subject are easily available to the consumer.

Measure sales conversions

ZEEF connects to all possible affiliate networks (via API) so it will be able to measure and show the conversion to leads and sales for all links and advertisers. Using the results of these measurements, ZEEF offers the ability to have our system (automatically) rank links based on performance.

Links position improvement

ZEEF will help experts by suggesting links and blocks to move to a better location on a page. Suggestions are based on consumer usage of the page, which we analyze. So links and blocks beneath the page fold (not always visible with every page view) which have higher CTR and sales than expected can move up on the page.

Business Model

Revenue source one: Affiliate marketing commissions

Total U.S. affiliate marketing spending is forecast to reach $4 billion in 2014 (2009-2014 CAGR: 16 percent). Experts can setup their page for free. ZEEF offers the experts paid marketing services such as AdWords and ZEEF-embedded link blocks to drive paid traffic to their ZEEF page. Next, ZEEF pages are SEO-optimized to boost free traffic to the ZEEF expert page. The revenue share model is 25 percent for the affiliate network, 37.5 percent for the experts, 37.5 percent for ZEEF. Skimlinks has a revenue share model of 25 percent for the affiliate network, 18.75 percent for Skimlinks and 56.25 percent for affiliates.

For example, if we could get two percent of the affiliate market through the ZEEF platform, equaling $80 million in commissions in 2014, we believe ZEEF could retain 37.5 percent, i.e. $30 million.

Revenue source two: ZEEF embedded link blocks

Google had total advertising revenue of $43.7 billion in 2012, which is based mainly on the AdSense/AdWords model. There are no estimates on the revenues of our—AdSense-like—ZEEF embedded link blocks. The fundamental of this model is that affiliates can use ZEEF link blocks on their website. These link blocks can be tailored to the needs of the affiliates. As a result there is a higher relationship between the content of the affiliates’ websites and the link blocks displayed (advertisement) in comparison to the Google AdSense model.

Current Needs

ZEEF is currently looking for experts in all industries to join our platform and is looking for experienced Angel investors for a next funding round. We’re also looking for advisors that have extensive knowledge of the U.S. online market.

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ZEEF logoWebsite: www.zeef.com

Headquarters: Amsterdam

Founder: Klaas Joosten

Year Founded: 2013

Investors: Klaas Joosten, Andrei Joosten, Mathieu Loyen

Twitter: @ZEEFcom

Facebook: facebook.com/ZEEFcom

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/company/3011705

AngelList: angel.co/zeef-filters-the-world-s-information

CrunchBase: crunchbase.com/company/zeef-com