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Local Startup Takes Word of Mouth to Next Level

The following is a feature from Volume 1 of the 2015 Memphis Crossroads Magazines. Click here to view the full magazine and all of its features.

Optometrist Dr. Chris Cooper had his own eye-opening experience a few years ago when he met with a sales representative from a well-known website that lists highly rated local service providers. 

“They said quite frankly, ‘Dr. Cooper, sign up. We’ll make your good reviews show up and your bad reviews go down.’ At that moment, to me as a small business owner, it felt like extortion,” he said. 

It was a defining moment in Cooper’s journey to the current stage in his career: entrepreneur and chief operating officer of Go Where I Go (GWIG), a new digital referral app he launched last September with company co-founder and GWIG CEO Charlie Turner, a fellow optometrist in Charleston, N.C.

Many consumers increasingly are turning to consumer ratings and review websites – currently more than 80 exist – to find a service provider. However, most consumers aren’t aware of the behind-the-scenes workings of these sites. Yes, the recommended providers there have high ratings, but businesses often have to fork over a small fortune to ensure that any low ratings – often sparked by rarely occurring misunderstandings – get buried on those sites. 

More simply put, most ratings sites are just another form of paid advertising (and legally categorized as such) presented to the public under the guise of a high number of enthusiastic consumer reviews.

Cooper and Turner wanted a process with more integrity.

“When you think about small businesses, every small business for hundreds of years has grown by that word-of-mouth experience – a happy customer saying, ‘Go where I go,’ be it to the florist, the eye doctor, the dentist, it doesn’t matter,” said Cooper, who also is a senior partner at West Tennessee Eye, although his primary focus now is on the success of GWIG. “We realized that no one had ever digitized the process to make it easier for small business owners to harness that power of word of mouth, to recognize their advocates and to enable them to show appreciation for that loyalty and those referrals.”

Free to consumer users, GWIG allows people to connect with friends and share business referrals with a few quick swipes on their mobile devices. They can save a business’ digital business card in their Favorites list. They can also search for businesses by category, location or by viewing their contacts’ favorite businesses. If they find a business they’d like to try, they can even use the app to request an appointment, phone call or service. 

Meanwhile, business owners who subscribe to GWIG get access to a dashboard with tools that include referral metrics, a real-time feed that displays the names of the customers who are referring them and an action area that lets them quickly respond to inquiries from potential new customers.

“Market research shows that about one-third of your happy customers are willing to refer you to someone else. GWIG is the tool that empowers those happy customers to do that easily through a digital alternative,” Cooper said. “In turn, businesses can see who those customers are and thank them for those referrals.”

Memphis optometrist Dr. Greg Talley is a GWIG business subscriber who recognized the app’s value immediately. 

"Referrals drive new growth in our business, and GWIG is an excellent tool to help our patients refer others to our practice,” Talley said. “Additionally, GWIG shows us who is doing the referring so we can proactively reach out to those people and thank them for their support.”

Convenience and accessibility are key elements to the success of the app, which already has subscribers from all over the world.

“Now when I’m networking at Chamber events or even at Kroger, I have my digital business card on me at all times,” Cooper said. “And by sharing it with others digitally, I don’t run the risk of it getting lost and forgotten in someone’s pocket or handbag.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Cooper and Turner created the app to fill what they saw was an obvious need in the small-business arena. Cooper said he also was sparked by his commitment for making a difference in the lives of others. Giving back has been a constant theme in his life, reflected now in the company’s GWIG Gives Back component, which supports nonprofits, as well as its overall mission. 

“I just have a passion for people, especially for the underdog, and I see small business owners as the underdogs out there. We don’t have endless budgets, yet we’re the ones who are supporting Girl Scouts, the Little Leagues, our churches, our synagogues, our community organizations,” he said. “When it comes down to the grassroots level, it’s about small business owners fueling our economy as well as our communities, so it all comes back to my passion for making a difference.”

A former member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Cooper is one of only two Memphians to receive that organization’s Ten Outstanding Young Americans award for his humanitarian service. The other award-winning Memphian was Elvis Presley. 

Originally from North Carolina, Cooper moved to Memphis in 1993. As a transplant, he said one of the resources that deepened his feeling of connectivity to the city was attending one of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chamber 101 events.

“I think the average Memphian isn’t aware of the huge impact the Chamber makes in our community,” Cooper said. “When I attended Chamber 101, I was blown away by the leadership, everything the Chamber does to attract and grow local businesses, its international campaigns. It really impressed me and now drives my commitment to the Chamber.”

Cooper said he never originally planned to live in Memphis. Now a resident of 22 years, he’s proud to call himself a Memphian.

“I absolutely love Memphis. Memphis is about the people. Memphis is a city with soul and, most important for me, Memphis is a great place to call home.” 

Story by: Erinn Figg
Photos by: Troy Glasgow
Posted: 7/14/2015 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments
Filed under: Chris, Cooper, Crossroads, Dr., Entrepreneurship, Go, GWIG, I, Memphis, Where

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