The hunt for new funding is on for community-driven shopping startup The Hunt, whose users seek out items like clothing with the help of other users.
The concept was inspired by the personal experience of founder and CEO Tim Weingarten, a former venture capitalist with Worldview Technology Partners. As Weingarten tells it, a few years ago, while surfing around Tumblr, he “happened to see pictures of a bunch of guys at a wedding wearing a really slick tux with a narrow cut and peaked lapels. I wanted one, but if you start looking for a tux, a billion options come up. It struck me that there was no good way to solve this problem.”
Investors apparently agreed it was a pain point in the market. In November, the now 17-person company closed on $5.5 million in funding from Javelin Partners, along with Ashton Kutcher, Tyra Banks, and other celebrity investors. Now, as Weingarten resumes talks with VCs — he says the company has “plenty of cash,” citing its “momentum” as a reason to reengage with investors – the question is whether The Hunt is growing fast enough.
Weingarten says that one million people have registered since the service launched last January and that 300,000 of them – 90 percent of them women between the ages of 15 and 30—actively use it.
Unlike platforms such as Pinterest, users’ “hunts” also demonstrate a stronger intent to purchase, says Weingarten, who compares the conversion rates to those of Google’s search results. “We don’t have to worry about proxies or guessing your intent based on what pages you’ve visited; we know what you want to buy, which puts us in a strong position.”
Indeed, Weingarten says the startup has already been approached by a number of brands looking to pay for greater visibility, with some, including clothiers Lulu’s and 22Singer.com, already actively jumping in to answer users’ searches. (Says Weingarten, “We encourage brands to solve hunts, though I let them know not to spam our users. I don’t want them posting 10 products in response to a user who’s looking for a certain kind of dress with stripes.”)
Naturally, the Hunt has plenty of challenges, including competition from other question-and-answer platforms. Just last week, Twitter cofounder Biz Stone launched a social search app called Jelly that invites users to ask their friends for help in finding information. The Hunt’s young demographic, while attractive to brands and advertisers, also tends to be fickle.
Perhaps most importantly, it still hasn’t established the kind of critical mass that is, in itself, a kind of defensibility.
Still, attempting from the outset to build a bridge between photo sharing and e-commerce is very likely refreshing to some VCs. Knowing that a former investor is at the helm may also hold special appeal.
I ask Weingarten whether The Hunt is spending on marketing, for example, and he tells me that it’s “much more interesting to have less growth and for that growth to be purely organic. As an investor,” he adds, “if I thought that a startup was buying a bunch of ads, I’d look at it differently.”
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