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Tisket, which was born out of Harvard Business School's Innovation Lab, aims to take the experience of shopping with friends and translate it to the internet. The site allows shoppers to collect products from online retailers in one easy place, then invite their social connections to comment on their choices.
Anyone who's ever spent a post-brunch Saturday browsing with a bestie understands the appeal of social shopping, but will it be enough to pull consumers away from giants like Pinterest? Tisket founder Frank Chen thinks so. With an eclectic sense of personal style and time logged in product management at Rue La La, Chen feels like he knows what savvy shoppers want when they go online.
We spoke with Chen to find out what inspired him to launch the company (which is still in beta) and how he hopes shoppers will use it.—Kara Weymouth
There are so many opportunities in technology. Why get involved with fashion?
I was working at EnerNOC, an energy management company in Boston, and was part of a group called The Sartorial Advisory Board. People would come and ask us for style advice, and I took it pretty seriously! I have always been one to dress a bit eclectically. If I'm not experimenting, or pushing the norm, I feel like something is missing. So when the opportunity came to [go from] the energy industry to Rue La La, I jumped at the chance.
Where did the idea for Tisket come from?
I knew how uncomfortable and difficult it was for most people to shop online. There are so many great products and brands out there that it can be intimidating.
One night, my mom went to a Tupperware-esque party for boutique dresses. She's not one to typically make impulse purchases, but she bought three dresses that night. When I asked her why, she mentioned that all of her best friends were there to help her pick out the pieces that fit her, so she was able to feel comfortable buying.
I was happy with how satisfied she was with her purchases and really wanted to bring people and shopping together again in the online world.
Give us an overview: How does Tisket work?
The primary purpose of Tisket is to provide a framework that optimizes the way people collect and manage the items they want, and subsequently share them with the people who care.
Find and add the products you're interested in from anywhere, and our technology will quickly collect all the product information from the retail website. The products are presented in a way that makes you easy for you to manage your finds, so that you can keep track of the ones that you love, and remove the ones that you don't.
When you've narrowed down the items that you want, you can share them with specific friends if you need some advice, or share it publicly through custom fashion blogging widgets. We want to replicate the feeling of walking into a store, pulling items off of the rack, narrowing items down, asking your friends for advice, and getting to the purchase.
Many women (myself included) already have specific Pinterest boards where they add items that they want from multiple retailers. Why should shoppers turn to Tisket instead of Pinterest?
From inspiration and discovery to the actual purchase point, the act of browsing and shopping has a lot of layers to it. Pinterest and Tisket are capturing different layers. Though you can use Pinterest in many different ways, you can compare the primary use of Pinterest to having a stack of amazing magazines and catalogues, saving the pages that you love, and sharing them with the world.
On the other hand, using Tisket is like walking into the world's biggest mall, picking out the products you want to buy, and sharing them with people who care. In the end, these are two different use cases, and there's room for both.
What has been the biggest surprise so far?
I have come to realize how much fashion bloggers are changing the way that people consume fashion content. By democratizing the way that you and I find out about new brands, products, and styles, fashion bloggers are truly disrupting the industry. By putting fashion in the hands of people who want to be tastemakers, they have more influence than ever.
Bloggers are the leaders of social shopping, and we have really enjoyed working with them to help define a product that fits their needs. With all of the conversations we've had, our team has really gathered some great insights on the business of fashion blogging, and we want to help each other succeed.
Sure. The fashion industry has really embraced fashion bloggers in the last few years because of their power to drive sales. And bloggers already have tools like RewardStyle and ShopSense to monetize their content and links, so why will they want to use Tisket?
We are working on a potential affiliate model for the future. At this stage of our growth, we want to build a user experience so simple and seamless that any person who loves to shop can use our tool to collect, manage, and share the items they love. From there, we will work on affiliate programs and other innovative blogging tools that will help bloggers do what they love to do.
But this isn't a tool just for bloggers.
No! If you're looking at your computer screen right now and you have 10-15 tabs open from retail websites plus one tab with your Gchat open discussing what you should, buy then you're our target user.
In the last year two social shopping websites and their apps (Fashism and Svpply) have gone under. Pose has saved itself by shifting away from style advice to allowing users to buy and sell items in a marketplace. How do you plan to differentiate yourself from those websites and attract users?
There are many social shopping websites that have risen and subsequently fallen into the startup graveyard. It's not because social shopping isn't popular—it's because no one has gotten it right yet.
Social shopping is not an easy concept to define. If it were, there would be an amazing solution out there already. We have an eye out for the other applications in our space, but in the end we aren't concerned. We learn from their successes and failures, continue to truly understand our users' needs, and focus on building a tool that works for them.
Tisket is currently available for public use with an official launch expected this fall.
· All Boston start-up coverage [Racked]
· Tisket [Official Site]
· Harvard Innovation Lab [Official Site]