Luvocracy, a recently launched, Pinterest-like social marketplace where people can buy products recommended by friends and other tastemakers, has raised $11 million in funding from Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Marissa Mayer, Ali Pincus, Jim Lanzone, Tony Robbins, CrunchFund*, RPM Ventures and XG Ventures. Kleiner Perkins partner Bing Gordon is joining Luvocracy’s board.
Sharing products has become mainstream thanks to Pinterest and Facebook. But Pinterest lacks the ability to actually buy many of the products curated on the site by friends, and there is too much noise on Facebook to make it a dedicated e-commerce platform for recommendations. Enter Luvocracy, a startup co-founded by Nathan Stoll and Roger Barnett.
Stoll was an early Googler who ran and expanded Google News. The last company he co-founded, social search service Aardvark, was acquired in 2010 by Google. Barnett was the founder and CEO of Beauty.com and the CEO of Arcade Marketing, the largest perfume-sampling company in the world. He is also the chairman and CEO of Shaklee Corporation, the leading natural nutrition company in the U.S.
The premise around Luvocracy is to be the social marketplace where people can buy products recommended by those they trust. At a macro level, the startup is bringing the power of recommendations, which have driven purchase decisions for centuries, into the world of online shopping. Stoll recalls the story of his grandmother, who was a longtime Avon lady, as demonstrating the power of human recommendations. Even today, nearly 90 percent of all online and offline purchases (or 8 billion transactions) start with a word of mouth recommendation.
But there hasn’t been a streamlined way to easily share, discover and buy great products recommended by the friends you trust and tastemakers whose styles you admire.
Once you register for the site, you can check the products you are interested in (i.e. home goods, men’s style, women’s style), import your Facebook friends, and more. You can filter your shown product feeds by trending (by recommendations), the people you trust for recommendations, the latest product added, and featured products and tastemakers. When I first registered for the site, I immediately made my first Luvocracy purchase, a “Shopping Is My Cardio” sweatshirt.
Luvocracy lists a maximum you will pay for the product. To make buying a recommendation dead simple, Luvocracy created a “Buy It For Me” service. When there is something you “luv” from a trusted person, it’s as simple and easy as clicking the “Buy It For Me” button, and Luvocracy takes it from there, locating and purchasing the item and even dealing with any shipping or return issues on their behalf.
The startup will manage merchant returns for you, and offers a 30-day return policy.
Similar to Pinterest, Luvocracy also lets you easily create collections of products that you adore and want to recommend, so that others can discover and purchase from you. All recommenders receive a portion of the sales in Luvocracy (and Luvocracy makes a cut from each purchase) as well.
The challenge Luvocracy will face is to create an audience in a social commerce world that is already being dominated by Pinterest and the most recent up and comer Wanelo. But my immediate impression by Luvocracy is that it could accomplish this among the design-focused audience that e-commerce standout Fab has been able to tap into. The quality of the products posted on Luvocracy is high, and I had not seen most of the items I browsed through on other e-commerce sites (and as my purchase indicates, shopping is my cardio, especially online). Even the user experience itself of Luvocracy and the presentation of products is sleek.
If Luvocracy can maintain this quality and design-focused brand even as it grows, the site could create a loyal (and high-purchasing) user base. Based on my intial purchase, the startup already has my attention.
*TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington is a General Partner of CrunchFund.