DVP-Backed Marxent Labs Wants to Augment Your Shopping Experience
Thanks to a $700,000 investment from Detroit Venture Partners, Detroit-based Marxent Labs launched its ShopWith.It app two weeks ago, right in time for the holidays. ShopWith.It allows consumers to scan product barcodes or take photos, then share and discuss those products with friends.
“Most of us have a network of friends and family who are in roughly the same life stage, but not many people share information about what they buy,” says Beck Besecker, CEO and co-founder (with his brother Barry Besecker) of Marxent Labs. “That kind of got us thinking about how we could make Facebook a really cool shopping experience.”
Besecker started experimenting within his own social networks, taking pictures of items he was buying and writing little blurbs about them. When someone he hadn’t talked to since high school responded enthusiastically to his first post, he realized he was onto something.
“People actually were very thoughtful and responsive,” Besecker says of his early experiments. “But I made the major observation that the process needs to be faster and easier. If you’re out walking around shopping, that’s a very busy and dynamic environment. To stop and take a picture and write something isn’t very practical.”
Marxent hit on using a barcode scanner to capture product images and descriptions, but Besecker still wanted something faster. ShopWith.It now allows users to “scan, tap, tap, share,” thanks to a series of pre-selected questions users can choose from to add to their posts, such as, “Taking a vote, HOT or NOT?” and “Never bought this brand before. How’s the quality?”
The ShopWith.It app came into existence because Besecker was in search of a new challenge in a career devoted to consumer marketing. In the 1990s, he founded Copient, which enabled large retailers to manage personalized promotions and was acquired by cash-register giant NCR in 2003. More recently, he led new product development at Catalina Marketing, the firm that prints colored coupons targeted to shoppers’ buying habits at the check-out terminals of stores such as Target and Walgreens.
“Since my life has been spent in marketing, I look at the entire world through that lens, to the annoyance of my wife,” Besecker says.
Besecker’s lens not only guided Marxent toward ShopWith.It, but also to an augmented reality project with the clothing company Moosejaw. Marxent developed a free app called X-Ray, which allowed users to “interact” with Moosejaw’s winter catalog; models in catalog images viewed through X-ray were shown in skimpy underwear. Not surprisingly for a store that targets young men, the app was a runaway success.
“It was a huge hit,” Besecker says. “We got more than 100,000 downloads. It’s one of the first examples where someone took old media and made it fun digitally. With that project, you see a hint of where we’re going with ShopWith.It.”
Marxent Labs has just moved into the Madison Building in downtown Detroit and has five employees, though Besecker expects that number to grow. Marxent will continue to build and expand ShopWith.It to encompass the possibilities of augmented-reality technology.
“Imagine being able to see inside a product before you buy it, or snapping a picture of a prepared dish and getting wine suggestions, or taking a picture of a couch and a set of suggested pillows appear,” Besecker says. “That’s where we’re going with this.”