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Earning Consumers' Trust

Earning Consumers' TrustAs CEO of a popular camcorder review website, Tufts graduate Robin Liss says earning consumers’ trust is her top priority.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.02.07] On the homepage, it’s hard to miss the link to the company’s ethics policy, which describes the site’s content as “independent, unbiased, accurate and based solely on the merits of the products we review.” Robin Liss, founder and CEO, wrote in a recent article in Fortune Small Business Magazine that she believes the company’s commitment to earning consumers’trust is a main factor in its success.

“Our major selling point is our reputation,” the 2006 Tufts graduate wrote in the magazine. “Some reviewers in this field have damaged their credibility through cozy relationships with big manufacturers. We maintain our independence—and publicize it.”

According to Liss, who started the camcorder review website in 1997 when she was a senior in high school, some folks in her business accept free products from manufacturers or allow companies to pay their way to conferences and conventions. In the interest of maintaining the site’s independence, she said that has strict policies against accepting gifts from manufacturers.

“We practice the same separation of church and state that major publications do,” Liss wrote in the magazine. “We do not let our contributors keep any equipment. We either buy the gadgets, borrow and return them, or donate them to charity. We also pay our own way to conventions and manufacturers' headquarters.”

Liss, who studied political science at Tufts while also growing her company, noted that does rely on advertising dollars as a main source of revenue. But the quality of the site’s content comes first, she wrote in the magazine, noting that it can sometimes be difficult to strike that balance.

The young entrepreneur remembers an encounter a few years ago with an executive at a major electronics manufacturer, who accused her of stealing information about a new product in order to publish an advance review of it on her site. He demanded that she reveal the “anonymous source” she had interviewed at the company.

It was “a moment of terror,” she wrote in the magazine, pointing out that the information about the product had been obtained from the manufacturer’s website. “He claimed that the review, which I considered to be neutral, had forced his employer to release a rudimentary version of the product early and damaged sales,” she wrote.

The executive threatened to report Liss to the FBI. After consulting with lawyers, she decided to stand her ground.

“I didn't want to compromise our reporting because I was being bullied,” she wrote in Forbes Small Business. “It was a tough call.”

To make matters even more complicated, had an advertising deal pending with the company. But Liss said that her firm’s commitment to ethics outweighed any potential financial gain.

“I knew I would lose the deal—and I did,” Liss wrote in the magazine. But that was a small price to pay to protect’s reputation, she said. “Three-quarters of our visitors are new to the site, and we want them to trust us—and come back,” she wrote in the magazine.

Ironically, the same company later made Liss another offer to advertise on her site, which she pointed out has 20,000 visitors a day. “Because of our popularity…it couldn't afford to avoid us anymore,” Liss wrote in the article. “It has since become one of our largest clients.”

Liss, who never did hear from the FBI, later learned that the executive who had been angry with her did, indeed, report her to the federal authorities.

“He said the agency found me guilty of nothing except a passion to build a reliable company,” she wrote in the magazine.

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