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Is Quora failing some verticals?

That’s the question that Hannah Wright is trying to answer with her “Quora for beauty advice” site Makeoverly, which relaunched today. Wright believes that the inherent generality of Quora and rivals like Yahoo Answers makes them ill-suited for many topics. The fashion and beauty categories, for example, need compelling visuals, but images aren’t the focus on most other Q&A sites.

Wright is living out of a cabin in Alaska right now, boot-strapping her big startup experiment with funds from her day job working in loss prevention at Beauty.com. “I have a cautious personality,” she says. “Rather than quit my job and hope for the best, I’d rather have a backup.”

She’s may not be your classic startup founder, but Wright is committed to her cause and has put her own money into hiring freelance writers to pen content to fill out Makeoverly. They answer questions like, “How do you get rid of a foundation mustache?” or “What style of denim jeans suits my figure best?”

It’s the sort of bland, not-particularly compelling content you might find in Cosmo or Yahoo Answers. On the other hand, it’s a far cry from the funny or fascinating beauty questions posed by Quora users, like “Is there a tactful way to tell a young woman to shave her legs?, and “How do I know if I’m objectively ugly or if I’m just too critical about my looks?

But Wright believes there’s a market for this type of generic Q&A around beauty, and that brands will be willing to pay to target the audiences who come to the site.

She has designed an elegant interface and says that viewers spend an average of five minutes on the site. She’s reached out to YouTube and Instagram fashion and beauty influencers to encourage them to write content. Others can apply to contribute, but she vets them based on a writing sample first. “That’s not as scalable,” Wright admits. “For the future we’re looking at further options for automating the process.”

Although Makeoverly isn’t particularly revolutionary as a concept, it does raise a compelling question: Can a vertical Quora scale as a standalone business? In other words, can a Q&A site focused on a particular category and offering a premium experience rather than the shitty forum-like approach favored by Yahoo Answers, et al amount to a real business?

Quora has already faced an uphill battle for much of its own life, trying to maintain high quality questions and answers to make it worth people’s time. It has raised a huge chunk of venture capital — $151 million to be exact — to buy time to succeed at that. And to this day, almost five years after launching, it still has not even attempted monetization. Although Quora is decidedly on the up-and-up, with its user metrics tripling in 2013, it still hasn’t achieved sustainable success.

This hasn’t stopped Wright from attempting her own vertical Quora. Funny enough, the road to profitability and growth may be easier for her focused site than it is for Quora itself. Makeoverly can focus on catering to a single user demographic, with all the features and hooks they’ll appreciate, and then deliver that audience tied up in a nice little bow to brands.

We’ve seen this type of success with vertical LinkedIn’s. Professional networking sites that focus on a specific profession can onboard huge chunks of the industry with tailored features and technology that makes their lives easier. Doximity, the LinkedIn for doctors, has secure e-faxing system which lets doctors receive patient information securely on mobile devices. One third of the nation’s doctors are on it. Spiceworks, the LinkedIn for IT pros, has forums where people can post technical questions and get help from other people in the industry. One third of the world’s IT professionals are on it.

Once that huge chunk of professionals is onboarded, companies who sell products to said industry have proven willing to pay up for access to advertise to their potential customers. IT companies want IT professionals to know who they are, pharma and medical companies want to reach doctors, and so on and so forth. Likewise, vertical-focused Makeoverly could have a much easier time attracting beauty and fashion advertisers than Quora could, as Wright will be positioned to deliver them the perfect audience.

Wright’s real problem, though, will be scaling. She’s hiding away in an Alaskan cabin without access to a pipeline of venture investors or even advisors on growing the business, let alone the engineering and online marketing expertise she’ll need to attract. She’s vetting new writers by hand at this point and recruiting readers essentially through word of mouth.

Building a big content company in a vacuum will come with its share of nearly insurmountable challenges. Furthermore, it’s not like Makeoverly is offering content that can’t be found anywhere else. It’s just offering it in a prettier fashion.

Convincing potential readers — and writers — that it’s worth investing time in the site could leave its founder with the very type of stress wrinkles she teaches her readers to combat.

[Image via Desktopwallpapers4.me]

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