Google Ventures-Backed Nifti: Another Entrant in the Price-Tracking Wars
Google essentially owns the Web, but Amazon owns online shopping. And if a startup company can put itself between those two forces, there’s a good bet it’ll attract some interest from a big name in the tech industry—even if others have been trying something similar for a while now.
That’s part of the story for Boston-based Nifti, a price-tracking software startup that is publicly unveiling its service today. The company, which was founded last year, is also touting an $800,000 seed investment from Google Ventures, Otto Capital, and angel investors including Andy Palmer.
Nifti’s service helps consumers save money on goods they want to buy through automatic online price-tracking. Follow a product with one of Nifti’s web tools, and the startup will e-mail you when the price drops or hits a target you’ve set. There’s no mobile app yet, but founder Nathan Sharp says it’s in development now.
Users also can play around with the up-and-down nature of consumer pricing, using graphs to visualize Nifti’s price-tracking data and see just how often retailers are jacking up (and then discounting) the price tag on things they might want to buy.
The company’s overall mission, Sharp says, is to even the playing field a bit by giving users “price transparency.”
“You’re not just comparing prices in any one snapshot in time,” he says. “You’re comparing prices to past prices. Is now the right time to buy, and if not, when is the right time to buy?”
If that sounds familiar, it’s because several teams of digital entrepreneurs have emerged around the country, all racing to crack the code of a successful consumer tool for online price-tracking.
One leader is Decide, a Seattle-based startup that takes things a step further by using sophisticated software to actually predict when prices on goods will change. Decide has raised more than $16 million from venture investors, including Madrona Venture Group, Maveron, and Vulcan Capital.
Other companies offering similar services include New York-based Hukkster and Denver-based Digital Folio. And there have been flameouts, too: Seattle’s DailyCred, a backend service for Web developers, started out life as price-tracking service Shopobot—also funded by Google Ventures.
Google itself—which pays for, but doesn’t run Google Ventures—has made some stabs at this kind of service as well. One such effort is the credit-card deal shopping service offered through Google Advisor, an outgrowth of the company’s 2011 acquisition of Seattle price-comparison startup Sparkbuy.
So the question is, how can Nifti stand apart in this field? It’s too early to say, although Sharp thinks Decide’s decision to put up a subscription wall for its most powerful price-predicting services leaves some room for free-to-use competitors.
Sharp also thinks Nifti’s ability to let users play with price-change charts on its site makes the service more fun to use—the startup has found that early users are coming back to check out the cool-looking graphs on that portion of the site.
“They’d come just to see this weird, secret life of prices behind the products they wanted to buy,” he says. “The reality is, every merchant is experimenting with prices in different ways, and they’re not even consistent with it among products.”
But aside from differences in features or business models, this many people chipping away at the market means it’ll come down to who executes best. Right now, since it’s such a young company, Nifti can make some money through normal affiliate networks which give websites a piece of the action when they send a paying customer to an e-commerce site.
Sharp was one of the first borrowers accepted into Upstart, which lets wealthy people lend money to up-and-comers in exchange for a slice of their future income over a period of several years (with some caps).
Palmer, a high-profile Boston-area startup investor and founder, was among the people who backed Sharp with $50,000 to help pay off his business school debt and grease the skids into entrepreneurship. That led him and his co-founders to Nifti—and the crowded field of other upstarts trying to make a dent in online shopping.
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