Wishpot Wants Your Wish List to Go Everywhere With You on the Web
Max Ciccotosto has entrepreneurship in his blood. A native of Italy, his parents ran a business in the old country. While in college at the University of Bologna, Ciccotosto ran a “junior enterprise” company (the system no longer exists in Italy) that handled networking and IT for small companies. He came to Seattle in 1999 to do his master’s in electrical engineering at the University of Washington. Microsoft offered him a job the day after he graduated, to work in the Microsoft Exchange Server division, which develops messaging and collaborative software products.
After six and a half years at Microsoft, the last three in mobile technologies, Ciccotosto decided to go back to his entrepreneurial roots. His eureka moment happened at a Barnes & Noble. He was browsing a book and thought, “This looks good, but can I get it cheaper? And is it the right book [on the topic]?” He realized this sort of thing happens frequently—he calls it “transient wishes,” when you see or hear about something interesting but don’t close the deal then and there, and end up forgetting about it. (I won’t let that happen with Ciccotosto’s recommendation for best Italian food in town, Pian Pianino.) He thought, why not set up a service that keeps track of things you like and might want to buy, and make it social, so your friends and family can be part of it and see what’s on other people’s wish lists?
That’s the idea behind Wishpot, a Seattle-based startup founded by Ciccotosto and fellow Microsoftie Alexis Campailla. Their social-shopping service is coming out of beta in the next few weeks, and is currently available as a browser plug-in and a Facebook application. They already have many thousands of users, says Ciccotosto. Yesterday, I stopped by the new Wishpot digs near Pioneer Square (they moved this summer from Lower Queen Anne) to get more of the company’s story from him.
In terms of getting off the ground, Ciccotosto recalls a pivotal lunch meeting with Seattle-based Alliance of Angels in 2006. Although Wishpot didn’t get capital then, he says, they got “fundamentally solid feedback” and after that their pitch was “20 times better.” “We were two guys from Microsoft, nobody knew us, so they weren’t going to throw money at us,” says Ciccotosto. By early 2007, the startup had a prototype, and in March 2007, they were able to secure seed money from angels. They followed that up earlier this year with a $1 million round led by Monster Venture Partners, with Curious Office Partners and the Italian “startup designer” H-Farm also participating (more on the latter soon).
Ciccotosto showed me a demo of the latest Wishpot features and how it works. The service helps you “discover, save, and share the stuff you want” in an easier way, he says. Going to Nordstrom’s website and browsing some fashionable suits, a Wishpot window pops up, stores a particular suit in his wish list, and allows him to set up an alert when the price drops by a certain amount, or when another store has it for cheaper. But the most popular applications so far, he says, are baby and wedding-gift registries. The business model is based on transactions—Wishpot has relationships with vendors (like Nordstrom) so that when users buy items, Wishpot gets paid.
Wishpot competes with Amazon’s product wish lists—which Ciccotosto points out are not social or interactive—and a slew of startups (mostly from the San Francisco Bay Area) like Kaboodle, StyleHive, and ThisNext. Time will tell which comes out on top, but Wishpot is now up to seven employees and is gearing up for marketing promotions, a full product launch, and international expansion. “With the holiday season coming, we want to make sure we have the right content and the right product in place,” says Ciccotosto.
“I love working on products, that’s my thing,” he says. “Once you’re an engineer, it’s hard not to go back and build things.”