Social Shopping App Snapette’s “Unexpected” Journey Takes It To NY

2/2/12Follow @xconomy

Snapette was supposed to be an unusual way for Sarah Paiji to spend the summer between her two years at Harvard Business School. It was a mobile app idea she started working on last winter with Harvard alum Jinhee Ahn Kim, aimed at enabling women to better share and find fashion products in brick-and-mortar stores.

Then, two days before school was set to wrap up that first year, a Twitter interaction with the colorful Silicon Valley investor Dave McClure more or less changed all that, Paiji says. She tweeted an infographic about local shopping, which McClure then retweeted. He also directed his Twitter followers to sign up for the Snapette fashion app. The resulting traffic clued Paiji in to the fact that McClure was someone important in the startup world.

At the suggestion of friends, Paiji reached out to McClure, who runs the 500 Startups seed fund and accelerator in Mountain View, CA, to share some more information on her company. “He liked the idea but said he doesn’t know anything about fashion,” she says. So McClure passed Snapette along to his 500 Startups partner Christine Tsai and Jess Lee, founder of fashion tech startup Polyvore, to take a look at the company. Snapette got the OK, the 500 Startups fund invested an initial $50,000, and Snapette left its digs at Boston’s MassChallenge program to join McClure’s accelerator—three weeks after it had already started.

Now, Paiji is working full-time on Snapette and has no foreseeable plans to return to business school. The 500 Startups demo day in August put Snapette in front of 700 investors.”If they’re interested, it’s hard to say you’re going to back to school and will do this on the side,” says Paiji.

“It was very thematic of the whole journey: unexpected,” she says.

(And this isn’t the first startup I’ve written about whose Twitter interactions with McClure ultimately led to inking an investment from him. The other one would be Cambridge, MA-founded and now San Francisco-based Baydin.)

Snapette officially launched its app in late August in conjunction with demo day, and Kim and Paiji finished up the year at Dogpatch Labs in Palo Alto, CA. The company also continued to be a part of the MassChallenge program remotely, Paiji says.

Just last month, it made the move to New York City (to Dogpatch Labs, again) to be near the “high shopping density of boutiques and users,” says Paiji, who I caught up with in Boston this week.

There’s plenty of buzz around social, local, mobile, and even fashion tech startups. So what makes Snapette different? Most of the plug-ins and apps and platforms aimed at better tailoring shopping to consumer preferences exist in the online world. Not so much for the physical world. “Our idea was, we would love to help women find great products in stores using crowdsourcing,” Paiji says.

Snapette’s iPhone and iPad interface provides a stream of product pictures that have been uploaded by the user community, with information on the brand, price, and store that carries it. Users can search streams near them, and get directions to the store selling the products nearby. They can also interact with and follow others in the Snapette community, share products to other social media outlets, and view a stream of what products are hot and trending based on likes and comments on Snapette.

“It feels like Pinterest for the real world,” says Paiji. (The comparison had to be drawn.)

Snapette has since expanded beyond this crowdsourced content, and is explicitly partnering with brands and boutiques looking to promote their content.

“With boutiques, you don’t know what they have unless you go in,” Paiji says. “It would be great to be able to window-shop these boutiques easily.”

Because Snapette photos are designed to be on the go and from your smartphone’s camera, boutiques don’t have to put energy into elaborate product photo shoots to advertise their inventory, Paiji says.

Snapette is backed by $1.4 million in funding, which it raised in the form of a convertible note last fall. Investors included McClure’s fund, Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures (an investor in beauty tech startup Birchbox and e-commerce site Bonobos), Shoedazzle.com founder Brian Lee, and Digital Garage, which helped expand Twitter’s and LinkedIn’s services to Japan, Paiji says.

The company has racked up about 40 boutiques as partners, with 30 of those in New York, says Paiji. It also runs promotions with specific designers, like Vince Camuto, who gave away give pairs of shoes to Snapette users that posted pictures of its products.

“It’s great brand marketing for them,” Paiji says. “It’s a campaign that had more of an authentic voice.”

Paiji ultimately sees Snapette as another avenue for brands to allocate their advertising budget to. It won’t be making money this year, though—Paiji says the company is cautious of “monetizing too early.”

“We want to make sure we’re partnering with the right brands, the right designers,” she says.

Does that mean a focus on luxury goods? Not so much. Paiji says Snapette would like to host “more accessible products,” ranging from $50 to $200. And a large chunk of the site’s content already comes from the more bargain-level retailers such as H&M and Forever21.

“But you do find a lot of very expensive products on the app, driven by the fact that some fashion is always aspirational,” Paiji says.

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