Andrew Gadson doesn’t love shopping, but that hasn’t stopped him from building HeartThis. It’s a Pinterest-style app that allows users to discover and curate products, but goes a step farther by linking directly to the stores that sell them. After all, product discovery isn’t that useful if you can’t actually buy the things you want.
“We saw what already existed, and we saw the potential to do something new,” he says. “This is one of those verticals that has the potential to grow rapidly.”
Gadson and his two cofounders (pictured above) built the San Francisco-based company last year, raising a round of seed funding in August. They came to the company from three different perspectives.
From his time working on games and apps for RockYou, a social gaming company, Gadson understood the habits of their key demographic: women between the ages of 25 and 45 who love to shop. “The great thing is there was some carry over from my experience,” he says. “The people who are using social apps end up being a lot of middle aged women. I have some degree of understanding their habits online and how they share.”
Co-founder, chief product officer, and fellow Stanford alumna Jennifer Gee had always had “a longstanding interest in e-commerce and all its forms,” and actually ran her own online store as a high-schooler.
The third co-founder and chief marketing officer, Lance Tokuda, understood how to create viral growth from his time as CEO and founder at RockYou. Together, they thought, they had the perfect skillset to build HeartThis.
The three cofounders decided to go after what Gadson calls “the accessible fashion range.” They chose to target stores where average Americans spend most of their shopping money, as opposed to more high-end, specialized stores.
Instead of creating partnerships with different retailers, the company spent two months creating scraper software that crawls retail sites and shows their products within HeartThis. The company specifically targets stores that already have affiliate links in place, so that when it drives consumers to purchase items on other sites, it gets a 4 to 12 percent commission. “We’re using that for now [as a revenue source] as we try to build an engaging product,” Gadson says. “Once we start to scale, we’ll experiment with other business models.”
The company is also still playing around with how users will interact with the content. In a product like Pinterest, for example, users add their own content and repin items from other users’ boards. HeartThis plans to allow its users to do the same, but for now all the content comes in through the scraper.
Pinterest also lets users built boards for different topics—anything from food and recipes to how-to to books and gardening—and lets fellow users follow those boards, so their pins also show up in a followers’ feed. HeartThis works slightly differently: when one user “hearts” a product, their followers will see it show up in their own feeds.
Though Pinterest could easily add affiliate links into its own site, Gadson feels that the products have unique properties as pinned items. “We liken Pinterest to a magazine in that they focus on a broad range of items—recipes, travel, articles, products, beautiful photos. Whereas we’re more like a product catalog—entirely focused on products you can buy,” he says. “Whether or not they turn on affiliate links, it’s still a very different experience.”
So far the HeartThis team is pretty small—there are currently eight employees—but they’re looking to grow their team soon.
The company opened in public beta in January 2014, and has been conducting a lot of testing to make sure the product fits user needs. “We want to make sure HeartThis resonates with our demographic,” Gadson says. “Which are the brands they really like? We’re not done, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Gadson and his colleagues also had to think about what they could add to the online shopping experience beyond creating a marketplace where shoppers can peruse goods from say, Nordstrom and J Crew and H&M at the same time. Recently, they’ve been working to add consumer reviews throughout the site, and they plan to add more elements that consumers are used to seeing on their favorite stores’ sites.
Product reviews also differentiate HeartThis from competing sites like Wanelo, an online product-sharing forum. “Wanelo has done a great job of creating a dedicated community, but there’s still room for someone to hit the sweet spot between the current wave of social shopping sites and traditional online retailers,” Gadson says. “We think a greater emphasis on product reviews is one piece of the puzzle, and we have number of others we’re going to test with our users as well.”
Even though HeartThis has focused on women thus far, men’s products are also a part of the experience. “We would eventually like to resonate with men, too,” Gadson says. “But if we can’t make this work with women, this isn’t going to work.”
In broad terms, HeartThis has found that men also tend to shop differently. They often aren’t big fans of shopping for shopping’s sake. Often they know they need a specific thing like jeans or a belt, and that’s all they want to look for.
As a non-shopper himself, Gadson understands the impulse, and eventually would like to see the site evolve on the recommendation side, making it easier for users to get a curated list of things they’re looking for. But at the moment, the main goal is to tailor HeartThis to the startup’s core audience. “Right now, we’re focused on building a product people like,” Gadson says.
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