Monday, June 18, 2012
Interview with Rob Kramer, HipSwap
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Are you tired of the plain text interface on Craiglist? Think eBay is just too tough to use? Los Angeles-based HipSwap is trying to break the mold of online marketplaces, with its highly visual, mobile and online marketplace for fashion and other items. Rob Kramer, the firm's CEO, tells us about the inspiration behind the site, as well as its recent launch of what it calls a cross between Craiglist and Pinterest. HipSwap is venture funded by Founders Fund; Greycroft Partners; Barodo Ventures; Broadbeach Ventures and other angel investors.
What is HipSwap?
Rob Kramer: We connect buyers and sellers, locally and nationally. We have a very visual marketplace, that for the mobile and web, lets people show their closets, garages, homes, and stores. We showcase unique items in stores in neighborhoods across the country. We're kind of like a cross between Craigslist and Pinterest, as if the two had a baby, and you'd get Hipswap. It makes it very easy to sell, as well. In just three steps on our mobile app, you can take a photo, price it, and put it on the marketplace. People will see things for sale based on their location, anywhere in their neighborhood, and around the country. We do the same thing on the web, making selling really easy. It's a very visual marketplace, a very curated marketplace. The notion is that you really want a geat experience shopping in a peer to peer market, something that's never been done before.
What's the story behind the company?
Rob Kramer: My partner and I had been developing apps and platforms for year, and had been Craiglist and eBay users, but only reluctantly. Those have been the only marketplaces available for the past fifteen to eighteen years, but they are frustrating experiences. Being more tech oriented, we still had a problem with Craiglist, which is just a bad user experience. Obviously, it also tends to be creepier, and it's not a visual medium for buying and selling, which is only okay if you know what you want, and want to search for something. On eBay, it's very complex to sell something if you're not a power user. It's very difficult to figure out the matrix of what eBay needs for you to sell things or buy things, and it gets to be very frustrating. After trying to sell a bike on Craiglist and eBay, I thought there had got to be a better way, and that we could disrupt the local marketplace and make it easier for people to buy and sell things. I though selling something should be as easy as taking a photo, and that's kind of where we started with our iPhone app.
Your firm is venture backed, isn't it?
Rob Kramer: We did an angel round with Allen & Company out of New York; the Founders Fund, Sean Parkers fund; Greycroft here in Los Angeles and in New York; and Baroda Ventures, David Bohnett's fund; plus Hank Vigil, a former Microsoft exec, who was also an angel investor in Pinterest; and Allen Morgan, who is here at Idealab in Southern California, and who was a longtime partner at Mayfield in Silicon Valley. It's a good group.
Can you talk a little bit about the new features you just launched?
Rob Kramer: We are announcing a more curated, more intimate, and personalized selling and shopping experience. We were in beta for a few months, and one of the things we learned and received from feedback, was that people really wanted a curated and personalized experience. In other words, people were interested in only certain types of products, and they wanted that to be reflected in their experience going forward. If they only wanted to interact or buy shoes and bags, they pretty much only wanted to see those shoes and bags. So it's now a combination of a curated experience on the front end, showing products that people are really interested in, and at the same time, a back end marketplace where people transact things like bikes, appliances, furniture, etc.
Another feature we have coming out is Hip or Skip. There's a screen that we throw a product at you, an image of that product, which lets you "hip it" -- similar to a favorite or like -- or "skip it". We put that into a grid of nine things you collect which are things you like, and share those things as a collection. You can share those via Twitter, Pinterest, or Facebook, and that also lets us learn about the things you're interested in. Over time, we are going to start customizing the marketplace for you. That's something that has never been done with a Peer-to-Peer marketplace. The Hipswap experience for you, or for me, is completely different, because of the things that I interact with and that you might like (hip) or skip.
It looks like a lot of these are geared more toward repeat visitors, rather than one shot, transactions?
Rob Kramer: Absolutely. The entire platform, both on mobile and web, is built for having one experience. On something like Craiglist, you go in, and you get out. The entire Hipswap platform is predicated on the fact that people will want to hang out there. It's a very social experience, and we allow people to show who they are, and share that on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. We even allow video to be uploaded, which shows you in the video, and what you're selling. The notion is that people are interested in hanging out and interacting with each other, asking questions not only about what things they sell and buy. It might be you're a designer for a product line who lives in New Jersey, and might not necessarily have a shop, but with this marketplace you can interact with the customer. You could be a local merchant in Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, we have over 130 merchants selling unique products. Hip or skip will create a deeper experience with people's tastes and interests.