Ideo Spinoff ShopWell Says Better Health Starts at the Supermarket; Part 2: Ingredients of a Startup

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print out for reference. If you’re at a supermarket and you’ve got the ShopWell app installed on your iPhone, you can get ratings for a specific product by pointing the phone’s camera at its UPC barcode. (There are no versions of the app yet for Android phones or other platforms.)

One interesting use of the ShopWell database is as a discovery engine for people looking for safe alternatives to foods they know they shouldn’t eat. “Let’s say I have a lactose issue,” says Witlin, as he walks me through a site demo. “I love yogurt, but it’s been giving me stomach aches. When I search for yogurt, wow, look at all these zeroes—it’s telling me that all of these contain lactose. But if I sort by highest score, here’s something called Wildwood’s Probiotic Soy Yogurt. I didn’t even know that soy yogurt existed! I’ll add that to my shopping list.”

There are many, many features that haven’t yet made it into the live version of ShopWell, as a quick glance at all the Post-It Notes around the office illustrates. On Witlin’s triangle diagram of health, taste, and value (see Part 1), the company is really only tackling one corner so far—health. Kim says the company will eventually offer electronic coupons for items that users put on their shopping lists, which would begin to address the value corner of the triangle, while also bringing the company an additional revenue stream. (The coupons would essentially be pay-per-click advertisements bought by grocery chains or manufacturers, but would likely bring ShopWell far higher rates than typical display or search ads).

But now that the site is up and the company is attracting users, ShopWell “is no longer an experiment,” Kim asserts. “It was spun out as a company, and the funding is validation in itself. We recently celebrated our 1-year anniversary. We have an incredible team, and we’re getting consumer traction.”

To Witlin, the serial entrepreneur who still has Golaces on his own shoes, ShopWell feels like a bet that could pay off both personally and socially. “One of my long term goals, separate from launching a lot of things, is being part of something that’s much bigger than me,” he says. “Ideo was willing to take a leap of faith in a difficult economy, when no one was getting funded, with a side project that was unrelated to their standard consulting work, just to see what would happen. Having Ideo and New Venture Partners looking out for us, it’s like we’re set up to win.”

Coming tomorrow in Part 3: How ShopWell plans to put a price tag on consumer data, and whether shoppers will really eat what they’re putting on the table.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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