Paragon Lake Out to Dazzle Jewelry Buyers with Virtual Customization
You could say that her love of jewelry brought Deborah Besemer out of early retirement. But while that might have a certain, shall we say, ring of truth to it, it’s really only one facet of the story. There were other, more important factors, such as the opportunity to challenge herself in a new arena and to revolutionize how people buy and sell jewelry, a $60 billion market in the U.S. alone.
Oh, and then there was the chance to mentor a 23-year-old entrepreneur whom she paints as the next great entrepreneur in New England. As she boldly puts it, “I’m going to be a part of helping make Matt the most successful entrepreneur ever to hit the software industry.”
Matt is Matt Lauzon, the co-founder of Paragon Lake, a startup housed in incubator space at Highland Capital Partners’ headquarters off Route 2 in Lexington, MA. I guess you could call him a diamond in the rough, only he seems pretty polished. Lauzon recently gave me a quick tour of his already impressive operation. And when I heard that Besemer—who sold the last startup she ran, BrassRing, for $115 million and previously headed worldwide field operations for Lotus—was coming on board as the new CEO, I dove in to learn more about Paragon Lake.
The company was founded in August 2006 by Lauzon (who moved from CEO to COO with Besemer’s arrival) and Jason Reuben (who’s no longer with the company), when they were undergraduate students at Babson College. They chose “Paragon” for the company name because it “means the perfect embodiment of a concept,” says Lauzon. “Admittedly, there was not a lot of science behind ‘Lake.’” In 2007, the startup became part of the Summer@Highland incubator program—and hasn’t strayed from the Highland fold since. Last July, the company received $5.8 million in Series A funding, led by Highland and Canaan Partners in Westport, CT.
Lauzon’s gem of an idea is to bring a new era of customization and personalization to jewelry shopping. And the first step toward doing this is the Virtual Display Case, which launched with the company’s first retail partner this March.
The case is essentially a computer interface that allows customers to browse thousands of pieces of jewelry from up-and-coming designers. Think of it as a virtual inventory—and this is important, because as Besemer points out, the jewelry market “is still predominantly small, locally owned businesses.” These businesses are largely clueless about using the Internet to boost sales, she says, and “their inventory carrying costs are huge.”
The case, though, goes way beyond allowing store owners to display more items for sale. Paragon Lake’s proprietary platform involves digitally rendering each design so realistically it is difficult to tell them from a photo. This digitization allows customers to easily play with designs and switch key parameters around. As Lauzon explains, a customer might see a platinum ring embedded with diamonds that he liked but couldn’t afford. But imagine if the shopper could replace the diamonds with his daughter’s birthstone and change the platinum to sterling, personally designing “that ring for that special someone.”
Both Besemer and Lauzon call this a “wow” experience. “The consumer sees … Next Page »