iSchool spinout receives funding for Q&A technology

A spinout from the UW’s Information School (iSchool) has received nearly $3 million in a pair of financing rounds as it aims to change the way consumers interact with desktop and mobile websites.

The company, called Qazzow, was founded by UW professors Andy Ko and Jacob Wobbrock, along with University of Waterloo professor Dr. Parmit Chilana, who received her Ph.D. in Information Science from the UW. Qazzow offers a new system for consumers to have their questions answered on e-commerce sites.

Instead of directing customers to a separate question and answer page, Qazzow’s service allows consumers to ask questions about a product on the page they’re viewing. After the question is answered, it is then available for all to see, with the most viewed questions rising to the top of the page’s Q&A.

“We give people information at the point of action, where they’re actually trying to get something done,” said Wobbrock, who serves as the company’s CEO.

Qazzow is the result of approximately four years of research at the UW, funded by the National Science Foundation, on how people interact with both desktop and mobile websites. That research revealed that people are regularly confused online and prefer to select items they have questions about instead of describing their problems in text. Wobbrock said most services in the customer assistance base don’t allow for their kind of direct selection approach to getting help.

“The effort required for the user to get what they need [with our service] is much, much lower,” Wobbrock said.

To this point, customers piloting the service have included Ben Bridge Jeweler, PetHub, Yapta, and PlayOn. Qazzow gives customers a 60-day free trial, which includes a testing phase where half of the site’s visitors are shown the Qazzow system while the other half are not. The results are then used to evaluate how well the system converted the site’s visitors into buyers. According to their website, Qazzow customers have seen up to a 28 percent increase in conversion rates.

In November, the company announced that they had secured a $500,000 seed investment from the W Fund, which makes early-stage investments to accelerate the development of tech-based startups from research institutions and students in Washington state.

Wobbrock said the capital from the W Fund has been vital, allowing them to build their business, which they wouldn’t have been able to do right away without it.

“It’s allowed us to hit the ground running,” Wobbrock said.

Joe Horsman, a Bridge Funding Associate with the W Fund, said the fund wants to support researchers and Washington research institutes.

“We just really want to see them succeed and generate some enthusiasm from outside the W Fund,” Horsman said.

In mid-December, the company did just that, announcing $2.4 million in series A financing in a deal led by WRF Capital and Voyager Capital, which also included the W Fund, Summit Capital, and several strategic angel investors.

In a statement, Thong Le, managing director for WRF Capital, said many companies are looking to increase sales and reduce support costs as e-commerce increasingly moves to smartphones and tablets.

“We believe that the market will respond favorably to Qazzow’s desktop and mobile product offerings and that Qazzow will be well-positioned for rapid growth over years to come,” Le said.

Qazzow is the first financed startup to emerge from the iSchool.

Reach News Editor Joe Veyera at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @JosephVeyera

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