Site Lures Firms With Free Leads

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Imandi.com is in the middle of a two-month "name-grab" campaign to draw traffic to the start-up's online consumer services hub. If the push unfolds as CEO Raghav Kher hopes it will, landscapers, house cleaners and mortgage companies will be banging on its virtual doors hoping to cull their share of customer leads.


The Redmond, WA, company invites Web surfers to solicit quotes for goods and services that can't be bought "out of the box" - often contract work such as remodeling and moving services, but also offerings as varied as mortgages and vacation packages.


Potential customers enter their names, postal addresses and e-mail addresses to register. They have the option of periodically getting special offers sent on behalf of its merchant members.


On the merchant side, businesses register by listing contact information, the service categories they offer and special promotions they're running. Kher estimates imandi will begin charging businesses for local leads in the next six to nine months. Until then, the service is free.


"We'll take a survey and see what the market bears," Kher said. "Then we'll go back to the merchants and say, 'Mr. Merchant, we delivered you a hundred leads in the last three months. How much are they worth to you?' "


Kher previously served as director of strategic business decisions at Microsoft Corp., where he oversaw the software titan's acquisition of e-mail firm Hotmail. He founded imandi, a variation on the Hindi word for marketplace, in October. The company's ongoing campaign began in late May.


The point of the push is for imandi to collect enough customer names to begin charging merchants for its matchmaker services. The campaign's two-month first phase revolves around a "scratch and win" banner promotion. The company hopes the chance of winning $100,000 to $250,000 will tempt Netizens to click through its banners, for which imandi bought 8 million impressions on the Flycast network, supplemented by media buys on ValueClick and through media vendor Adauction.com, San Francisco.


The company's media buy totaled slightly more than $100,000 for the first 60 days, according to Blake Park, imandi vice president of marketing. The firm also is running a "refer-a-friend" sweepstakes in which it will give away $1,000 a week.


The privately funded company hopes to gather a round of capital in the next few months, Kher said. The executive de-clined to specify individual investors.


A broader branding phase begins in August, when imandi will buy space on gardening, home and consumer sites. The company plans radio advertising along the lines of the Priceline.com model in seven national markets, and environmental ads in suburban grocery store parking lots and outside home furnishing stores.


Park said imandi can't yet determine the best targets for the second-phase branding campaign until the initial name-grab phase is over. He anticipates a largely suburban, mostly female audience, but the sort of consumer most attracted to imandi's new Web business model won't be clear until after the first 60 days.


"It's untested waters," he said.
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