CityPockets, Reborn as Reclip.it, Puts a Pinteresting Spin on Saving

7/5/12Follow @wroush

If you blinked during the second week of May, you might have missed the fact that a Silicon Alley daily-deals-resale company called CityPockets had disappeared from the New York startup scene, only turn up in Silicon Valley a week later with a new name, Reclip.it, and a new focus, as a sort of Pinterest for coupons.

It’s one of the most sudden and drastic startup reinvention stories I’ve come across lately; if pivoting is like stepping off a cliff into the unknown, then Reclip.it’s founders are doing it in true Wile E. Coyote fashion. I met with co-founder Cheryl Yeoh recently to find out exactly how it went down.

“In April I was out in California and I caught up with Dave McClure,” Yeoh says. McClure, of course, is the prolific angel investor and founder of the Mountain View, CA-based startup accelerator 500 Startups; Yeoh had met him at South by Southwest in 2011. “I told him what we were working on [with the new coupon service]. He has a lot of companies that he has funded that work with moms, so he saw a good fit. He was like, ‘I will invest in you. Can you move here next week?’”

Yeoh’s answer: “I certainly can.”

That was on Sunday, May 6. Yeoh flew back to New York that night and convinced her team to move to California with her. By Wednesday, May 9, they’d signed a term sheet and bought their tickets back to the West Coast. And by the following Sunday, May 13, the team was in Mountain View, in time to join the summer term at 500 Startups.

“It was pretty sudden,” says Yeoh. “I didn’t even have time to tell my friends that I was moving.”

CityPockets and Reclip.it founders Cheryl Yeoh and Jhony Fung

It’s not unusual for a startup to throw out its original product and start over, or to change its name, or to move from one city to another. But Reclip.it did all three at once—which makes it an interesting case study in what you might call “the power of the pivot.”

To rewind the story a bit: Yeoh and her co-founder Jhony Fung, both former management consultants, started CityPockets in 2010 as a kind of online wallet and marketplace for daily-deals vouchers. This was back before the bloom had come off the rose for giant daily-deals sites like Groupon and LivingSocial; Yeoh and Fung had observed that some people were buying so many vouchers that they’d forget about them or fail to use them before they expired. “We offered a place to resell the vouchers they couldn’t use,” says Yeoh.

It was an interesting idea, and one that that a number of other daily deals resale sites, such as CoupFlip, CoupRecoup, DealsGoRound, and LifeSta, also pursued. But it turned out that it wasn’t a big enough idea to live up to the dreams Yeoh and Fung had for the company. So they decided to explore a related area: the world of coupons offered by manufacturers and chain stores.

“We found that there was this whole community of people using coupons, and it was a way bigger market,” says Yeoh. “Daily deals are still an evolving market, whereas couponing has been going on for decades. And with the downturn in the economy, people are looking for a way to stretch their dollars, which makes people who aren’t normally into coupons look at them.

Yeoh credits shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing” and even Groupon itself with removing the taboos around coupons and vouchers and making it cool again to save money. Once you start looking for coupons online, you can find them everywhere— thousands of coupon-clippers share their best finds on their personal blogs, for example. The problem, says Yeoh, was that there wasn’t a good place for coupon clippers to track or share these deals. “All the big coupon sites were built in the 90s and are cluttered, text-based, and hard to read,” she says. “Then there are millions of coupon blogs, with moms curating coupons, and they have a huge readership but they are all really old-fashioned. It’s a really bad user experience.”

Yeoh says she and Fung wanted to build a coupon curation site that would be social, fun to use, and appealing to younger consumers. Inspired by the success of Pinterest, the online pinboard service where people share images of everything from to DIY crafts to exotic vacation spots, they built a site that amounts to a pinboard for deals. If you find a great deal on the Web, you can paste its URL into Reclip.it (or use the “Clip It” browser bookmarklet), and the offer will show up in your personal clips folder, which your friends can also follow. Reclip.it automatically figures out when the deal will expire, and removes it from the site at the appropriate time.

Yeoh calls Reclip.it “a social discovery site for the deals that matter to you.” Given that most of the images in coupons are canned product shots or brand logos, the site isn’t as nice to look at as Pinterest. But it’s far more visual than traditional coupon sites. (Coupons are one category of things, by the way, that people don’t seem to share much on Pinterest itself. “Pinterest is about pretty pictures, and a coupon is not pretty,” says Yeoh. “It’s a different mentality.”)

Yeoh and Fung opened the site to a group of beta testers in March, and they’ve already attracted a community of coupon bloggers who are using Reclip.it as a new social-media promotion tool for their own blogs. One of the most popular coupon bloggers using Reclip.it is “Cents”able Momma, aka Corrie Cole, a stay-at-home mom in Livonia, MI, who runs a popular coupon blog for Lifetime Digital Media, the Web wing of the Lifetime cable network. Cole’s Reclip.it folder has nearly 5,000 followers and showcases everything from $4.99-per-year magazine subscriptions to free MP3s at Amazon.

Many coupon bloggers formerly re-posted some of the deals they discovered on Facebook, but Yeoh says that channel has become less effective as Facebook as altered its “EdgeRank” algorithm to throttle back the number of updates that show up in bloggers’ friends’ news feeds. “People follow these sites to find promotions, but fans can only see about 6 percent of their updates on Facebook now,” says Yeoh. “That’s why we felt like there needs to be a separate service [for coupons]. On Facebook, you are there to see funny pictures, you are not there to pull out your wallet. Same thing for Twitter—you are reading articles and following celebrities, not shopping.”

Reclip.it is a free service, and Yeoh says the company isn’t focusing yet on earning revenue. When the time comes, the startup has several options. One would be to collect affiliate fees on e-commerce purchases initiated through the site, as Pinterest does. Another would be to let brands and chain stores set up their own folders on the site for a fee.

But what’s most interesting is the data the company is collecting on its users and the type of products they’re clipping and browsing. That’s information that could eventually be used for targeted advertising by big brands. “There are a lot of people who want to reach our audience of moms,” Yeoh says. “It’s the demographic that controls 85 percent of household spending power and the one making the purchasing decisions.”

Speaking of coupon clippers, Yeoh says she’s been surprised to find just as many frugal moms in upscale Mountain View as she did in diverse New York City. “You would think that here in the heart of Silicon Valley, that there are no coupon clippers because everyone is pretty well to do,” she says. “But we found out that there are thousands of insanely obsessed coupon clippers here. One of our users is a woman whose husband works at a startup that just raised $24 million and makes six figures. She doesn’t need to clip coupons, but it’s the thrill of it, the psychology of saving money. So we are not just making a Pinterest for coupons—-there is a real offline behavior here that we are trying to bring online.”

Yeoh and her team shut down CityPockets at the end of June, and they’re now busy finishing up the 500 Startups curriculum. (Demo Day for the summer term is coming up July 17-18.) Eventually, Yeoh says, Reclip.it could come full circle and start featuring daily deals from Groupon, LivingSocial, and other services—but first they’ll need to add a way to filter deals by geography, since most daily deals are local.

Eventually, Yeoh hopes Reclip.it’s pivot will turn it into “the first destination that somebody comes to online when they want to buy something.” That’s a bold ambition—but the company has moved a long way to make it happen.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • Rita

    They key to their success hasn’t changed. They need to become the next CouponCabin. Not just in product, but in actual dominance of search engine results. The problem is they once again have no unique “content” (product doesn’t count, Googlebot is dumb like that). I think they will fail in 1.5 – 2 years, but their optimism will cloud their judgement for at least a year.

    • Vicky

      So I was right and wrong. They failed but it took them just a year. All the talk of term sheets, and venture capital, and Silicon Valley really clouded their judgment, didn’t they also claim their users “engaged more” with Reclipit than Pinterest? Again, all ego metrics, and no revenue.