When it comes to entertainment content, we’ve all experienced something along the lines of choice paralysis. Be it movies, TV, books, or podcasts, there have never been so many choices. So we scroll and scroll, struggling to put our finger on exactly what it is we want. Sometimes, we just throw up our hands and rewatch an old favorite, or take to social media and put a call out to the people we know and trust:
“What should I have on my list?”
This is precisely the conundrum that Bellevue-based Likewise is designed to solve. The startup, not yet 2 years old, uses a combination of social- and algorithm-based recommendations to direct users to content they’ll love.
“Likewise was born out of a need we all saw for crowdsourcing that was more personalized, based off the opinions of people we know or trust,” said Ian Morris, a longtime entrepreneur and ex-Microsoftie who was recruited to head the company by Larry Cohen, Michael Dix, and Bill Gates, the three who initially developed the idea. The free app is funded by Gates and can be downloaded on any iPhone or Android device; from there, it asks for some quick user preferences and gives the options to invite friends, and also recommends content through an algorithm.
The interaction on the app with friends and other like-minded people, whom users can follow based on shared preferences, Morris said, formalizes and simplifies a process that is clunkier on other social media platforms.
“I can go on Likewise and say, ‘I’m looking for a book recommendation — I really love historical fiction,’ and post that on my profile,” Morris explained. “And people can recommend a book, and its cover will pop up. Then you’ve got this collaborative list that’s being created in real time and never goes away, and it’s easy to find even years later.”
If you don’t want to post and just want more casual browsing, Likewise can recommend book lists based off what you already like; you also can browse through celebrities’ recommended books, books to transport you to another world, and books for kiddos learning to read.
And it’s much more than books. Users can do the same kind of browsing and ask about TV, movies, podcasts, restaurants, and even places — such as, what are the best cafés to visit in Paris? Anything that is recommended by a person or that a user finds on a list also includes direct access to reviews, details, and where it can be found.
With all that valuable information aggregated in one place, Likewise has seen a huge surge in users since March, when COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and people across the globe were ordered to stay home.
The 30-person Likewise team has been hard at work to adapt to user needs in light of the crisis.
“We were seeing a very strong upswing before this happened,” Morris said. “But our daily active users quadrupled in March. So, we’ve been working extra hard through this to find content that will help people while they’re at home — content for kids, for fitness programs, for cooking shows, things we weren’t really focused on before.”
At the beginning of April, the company had a total of 5 million recommendations shared by its users; in the first 12 days of the month alone, 1 million recommendations were shared. List viewings are up 500 percent, and TV streaming-related lists are up almost 1,000 percent (popular content, Morris said, includes “31 reality shows to stream when you need a break from reality,” as well as, ironically, “the ultimate pandemic movie marathon”).
“All the lists we can create — whether it’s about movies or the best spots for takeout — they’re adding a lot of value for people,” Morris said.
Morris hopes that this ability to add value by making staying at home a little bit easier for people during the COVID-19 crisis will translate into continually wider visibility. Currently, Likewise is a pre-revenue company, focused entirely on building its user base and creating a compelling experience. Down the road, the company will look into partnerships with streaming services, restaurants, and more to help it get the word out about its products.
“Every startup has a risk; every startup is just an idea at first,” Morris said, “But we think there’s some huge opportunities for success here. We have an amazing team, they’re building a great vision, and we hope to work hard to create something that can eventually be a household name.”