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Website Offers Platform for ‘Selfies’ to Break Down Social Barriers

Some businesses depend on great technology or a great location. Duncan McLaren’s Encinitas-based business rides on the strength of the selfie.

He and his co-founders at DifferenceLab Inc. — which runs GetMeRated.com, a social media app and website — may be on to something. Oxford University Press reported in November that the use of the term selfie, meaning a snapshot of yourself, grew 17,000 percent over the course of 2013.

Smartphone self-portraits make up a good percentage of the content on GetMeRated.com, where a compelling photo can be a starting point for a conversation. Next to each photo, GetMeRated poses a “What do you think of … ?” question, usually with buttons to click to indicate an answer.

“What do you think of my new niece?” shows a photo of a young man with a tiny baby.

“What do you think of my passion?” shows a man driving a dogsled.

“What do you think of my haircut?” shows a woman wearing waist-length tresses in one photo and a pageboy cut in the next. “Donated 14 inches to Locks of Love,” wrote the post’s author, Ruthievon, referring to the charity that makes wigs for children who have lost their hair. As of March 4, the ratings for Ruthie’s haircut were 36-3 in favor.

“Sick!” wrote LonnytheShark. There’s a space for running commentary under the photos.

“You kinda look like Velma from ‘Scooby Doo’ but that’s awesome,” wrote another person.

“A photo tells a thousand words,” said McLaren, who started DifferenceLab in 2011. And a photo is a great conversation starter, he said.


Offering Way to Reach Millennials

McLaren recalled seeing the potential of his app when a co-worker moved to a new city and wanted to meet people. The easy way to do that was through online dating sites, but that wasn’t a good solution for her: She was engaged.

Meanwhile, Instagram and Snapchat offer camaraderie, but within an existing circle of friends, McLaren observed.

GetMeRated, which is also at the Web address gmr.me, enables strangers to meet for potential friendships, using a photo to start a discussion. The website “breaks down social barriers,” McLaren said. “We don’t see anyone else doing this.”

McLaren plans to monetize the service in two ways: selling access to premium content and selling advertising, saying he has a better way for advertisers to reach millennials.

GetMeRated’s core demographic is ages 15 to 24 — a generation that is desensitized to conventional Web advertising.

“Brands have noticed that they are so used to seeing [banner advertising]. The eye rolls over it,” McLaren said. Advertisers, he said, need an authentic way to engage with the viewer.

So if a user comes to the site with the question, “What do you think of my hair?” McLaren said it might be an opportunity for a major cosmetics manufacturer to run a message next to it. McLaren described melding user-generated content with messages from brands.

Capital Needed to Realize Vision

McLaren and co-founder Dan Flanegan already have some serious marketing chops. They co-founded Soapbox Mobile, a mobile marketing firm that has served brands such as those sold by Procter & Gamble Co. Soapbox Mobile was acquired in 2007 by Single Touch Systems Inc.

In addition to McLaren and Flanegan, DifferenceLab’s co-founders are Chris Kansaki and Kelsey Greenberg. The founders, friends and family have put up money for DifferenceLab. Mucker Capital also has a small stake. That business hosted DifferenceLab for a while in its Santa Monica accelerator, MuckerLab.

McLaren said the company is looking to the San Francisco Bay Area for more investment.

“We need to be properly capitalized to realize our vision,” he said. Although the Bay Area has more sources of venture capital than San Diego, Mucker said he’d prefer to keep DifferenceLab here, where the workforce turnover is lower.

GetMeRated has a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

Some 60 percent of GetMeRated users are in the United States; another 20 percent are in the United Kingdom. Other English-speaking countries such as Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are represented. McLaren also reports participation in Latin America and Southeast Asia.

DIFFERENCE LAB INC.

CEO: Duncan McLaren

Revenue: Pre-revenue

No. of local employees: Four

Investors: The founders, friends, family and Mucker Capital

Headquarters: Encinitas

Year founded: 2011

What makes the company innovative: Operates an alternative, photo-centric social media site with its own flavor and marketing potential

Key factors for success: Engineering talent and capital

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