OpenLabel, a startup that wants to augment everyday products’ barcodes with crowd-sourced information that helps you decide whether to buy, has raised $80,000 in seed funding in a round led by Peter Kirwan, also an investor in IFTTT. Also participating in the round were Tim Drees and Doug Taylor. According to OpenLabel co-founder Scott Kennedy, this $80K is just the first part of a larger $300,000 seed round, which the company expects to close prior to the April launch of the mobile application.
The app, previously in stealth mode, can best be thought of as a Twitter-like platform for sharing information around products. Unlike other barcode scanning applications like RedLaser or ShopSavvy, OpenLabel isn’t about delivering pricing information or product reviews, it’s about giving consumers the ability to share other information.
“We’re about everything but price,” says Kennedy, “we’re about actual information.”
For example, users could add notes about the manufacturer’s use of child labor, sweat shops, animal testing, toxic chemicals, and more, and then give the product a thumbs-down. While those types of things sound like they may give OpenLabel somewhat of an activist slant, there are other types of things that could be shared, too, like the company’s political leaning and donations, its support for or stance against particular political or rights issues, like SOPA or employees benefits for same-sex couples. OpenLabel could also be used to share information about whether the product was recalled or had child safety issues, contained allergens like gluten, or whether it was derived from GMOs.
However, the process of accessing this information wouldn’t be different than when you use a barcode scanning application. You would launch the app, scan the product’s barcode and then read the resulting comments or leave one of your own. All comments have to be accompanied by a buy/avoid selection, as well.
The Twitter model comes into play because users can choose to follow others also on the platform. So, for example, if animal rights was your hot button issue, you could follow PETA’s account or that of another animal rights supporter. (This is just an example – PETA has not stated it’s involved here).
OpenLabel doesn’t police the crowdsourced commentary beyond controlling for spam and profanity, but instead uses Reddit-like up and down vote buttons to help surface the best reasons to either buy or avoid the product in question.
The idea for a crowdsourced “Internet of Things” type product has been tried before, perhaps most notably with Stickybits, before its creator Billy Chasen pivoted to build Turntable.fm. Says Kennedy, things like Stickybits (“they abandoned it too early”) and similar efforts failed due to timing, passion or both. However with his non-profit background and interest in transparency, OpenLabel is a project that’s right in Kennedy’s wheelhouse.
That said, the focus here is on building a for-profit platform that attracts the interest of brands, something that Kennedy says will come naturally.
“Once we get everyone out there scanning items and exchanging data about those items, the brands are going to want to be there. Mostly for damage control, at first, but also because you’re putting a sponsored message into someone’s hand at this really critical point.”
Besides Kennedy, who was the founder of Axcelis and BitStar, OpenLabel’s other co-founder is David Ng, the lead mobile developer from TomTom. In addition, the startup has lined up an advisory board that includes a wide range of folks from NASA Ph.D.’s to retail CEO’s, plus Tapulous co-founder Mike Lee, MacBrain creator Matt Jensen, Green Drinks NYC founder Margaret Lydecker, and others.
The application will launch first on the iPhone, but will also be available on Android. In its ramp up to public launch, OpenLabel is staying in a private beta, where only those interested in contributing to building the crowdsourced database are participating.
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