Allurent Looks to Usher in the Next E-Commerce Era
It was with some nostalgia—and thirst—that I visited the Allurent headquarters in Harvard Square last week. That’s because the rapidly growing e-commerce software startup occupies two third-floor rooms off Church Street that peer down on the abandoned digs of an old haunt of mine—the Brew Moon restaurant. It’s hard for me to drop by Allurent and not want a beer.
Even though Brew Moon shuttered a few years ago, I spotted a flurry of activity down there, and Allurent’s CEO, Joe Chung, told me they were about to auction off the pool table, barstools, and other items from the ill-fated brewpub. I digress, I know, but focus on the word “auction.” That evokes a sale, and maybe eBay, too. Put those together and you get e-commerce—and we’re back on track: e-commerce is what Allurent’s all about.
The company aims to help usher in what Chung, an Xconomist, calls Shopping 3.0. The first era was the local market. Shopping 2.0 began with the Sears catalog in the 1800s. The 1990s Internet boom? A mere extension of Sears to the Web. The next e-commerce transformation, Chung believes, is only now beginning. Hence Allurent. As Chung puts it, “I’ve always believed that the best time to create a startup is around one of these discontinuities.”
A few days before I visited, Allurent closed a $7.5 million Series B funding round led by Polaris Venture Partners that Chung says should position Allurent to capitalize on the transformation. It wouldn’t be the first discontinuity that the 43-year-old Chung, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from MIT and is notorious for his exotic shirts, has successfully exploited. In late 1991, when he was 27, Chung and Jeet Singh foresaw the coming of the consumer Internet itself; working from Singh’s Brookline living room, they launched e-commerce software firm Art Technology Group (NASDAQ:ATG), which went public in 1999 and now stands as one of the few New England Internet high-flyers to survive the crash. “It’s us, Akamai…” says Chung. He can’t think of another.
He and Singh stayed on at ATG until 2002, long enough to help it weather the storm, then retired. Singh, famously, moved to St. Bart’s to pursue his passion for music. Chung hung out mainly in Cambridge, playing video games and spending time with family. Then, towards the end of 2004, he was bitten anew by the startup bug. As the post-bubble recovery kicked into gear, Chung started weekly meetings in his Brattle Street living room (a far cry from Singh’s Brookline flat) with a core group of ATG veterans. They included Fumi Matsumoto, now Allurent’s co-founder and CTO; Joe Berkovitz, Allurent VP of engineering; and Bob Mason, who has since become CTO at Brightcove, working with Jeremy Allaire. Naturally enough, the group dove back into e-commerce.
Chung says the group had “unfinished business with the Web.” In particular, they believed it was time to stop thinking of websites as a series of static pages electronically linked together. Around this time, for instance, Google Maps appeared as one of the first widely used applications that broke the page metaphor: you could scroll to the edges of a map and it would keep on going, revealing more detail. “Instead of a page, it was an application that gave you a window into a larger map,” notes Chung. Similarly, he says, “The core idea behind Allurent was that Web pages were going away and [would] be replaced by these purpose-built, Web-distributed applications.”
Even though economic recovery was at hand, venture firms weren’t too keen on a new e-commerce company back in late 2004. “‘Been there, done that, got our asses kicked,’” is how Chung sums up the typical reaction to his idea. Still, he had a track record of success. With the founders putting in some of their own money, joined by family and friends who included Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte, he launched Allurent in early 2005. About a year later, he closed a … Next Page »