TECH SPOTLIGHT: RealSelf aims to help its users navigate the plastic-surgery experience, the perception of which, it says, has changed over the years.
What: RealSelf, a Seattle online review site and forum for plastic-surgery procedures and doctors.
Who: Tom Seery, founder and CEO.
Started with a brochure: Seery came up with the idea for RealSelf when his wife returned from a spa with a brochure about laser surgery. She was skeptical of the idea, and Seery saw parallels with how people thought about travel before the arrival of Expedia, where he worked at the time.
Six-month crunch: Seery spent six months with a friend building a prototype of the website before deciding to leave Expedia to start RealSelf. Expedia founder Rich Barton, who also co-founded Zillow and Glassdoor, heard of Seery’s idea and helped launch RealSelf.
Strength in the known: As with Zillow and Expedia, RealSelf allows people to post online reviews. In its case, the focus is on doctors and plastic-surgery procedures. It also has forums where site users can discuss the surgeries. The company has profiles of more than 60,000 doctors, and 77 million people visited the site last year. “We help people find each other and hear each other’s experiences,” Seery said.
Evaporating stigma:Perceptions of plastic surgery have changed dramatically since Seery started RealSelf in 2006. People are more used to the idea, especially minimally invasive procedures such as Botox injections.
Deliberate pace: RealSelf has continued to grow slowly for the past 10 years, as the company figures out how to operate a social network that doesn’t have the advantage of being easily shared across networks. People generally want to keep their involvement on the site private because it involves medical procedures.
Working with doctors: Doctors were appalled by the online reviews when RealSelf launched, Seery said. Over time, the majority have come around, and Seery makes sure to give at least 25 talks a year to doctor associations.
Fitting in: Many people assume RealSelf is based in New York because of the website’s cosmetic focus, not a common business in Seattle. Seery said the company likes being slightly unusual for Seattle.
Self-sustained growth: By design, RealSelf has raised only $1.95 million from investors, less than many tech startups of its size. The company wants to support itself and grow slowly. RealSelf had revenue of more than $20 million last year, and it has been profitable for five years. The company just hired its 100th employee.
What’s next: RealSelf is working to build its mobile app and a new feature that helps connect potential patients with doctors through a phone call facilitated by RealSelf employees.
— Rachel Lerman