Elephanti, a startup that’s supposed to make it easier for physical stores to connect with shoppers online, is announcing that it has raised $4.5 million in seed funding from LMJ Holdings.
The basic selling point for consumers, according to founder and CEO Lalin Michael Jinasena, is avoiding situations where you end up wandering from store to store, asking, “Do you sell Item X?” Instead, you can just visit the website or open the app, then search for a specific item, bringing up a list of stores that carry it. Or you can look up a retailer and browse a catalog of in-store items.
The concept isn’t too different from Milo, the local shopping startup that was acquired by eBay back in 2010, but Elephanti has a number of additional features that make it more than just a product search engine.
For one thing, after shoppers identify their interests, Elephanti can show them recommendations and offers from nearby stores. Users can also build shopping lists with multiple items, and the app will point to stores where they can buy all the items on the list. Plus, shoppers can check-in at stores and, in a promised update, share photos of what they’ve purchased, so their friends will know that something is really in-stock and available at a certain price.
Since the company is working directly with merchants, Jinasena said it’s focused on a specific geography (namely, San Francisco) for now, although it works in other cities. In fact, I tested it out today in Los Angeles, and it would have saved my mother some time — a few days ago, she was hopping from store to store in search of baklava. When I opened the app, it instantly identified the restaurant where she eventually found what she was looking for. (By the way, the site’s product catalogs include menus, too.)
The product search isn’t perfect. I also tried to find a mop (don’t ask), but the app would only recommend places where I could buy Mophies and albums by the band Moped.
As far as I can tell, Elephanti doesn’t incorporate real-time inventory data, and instead asks stores to manually build and update their catalogs, but I’m confirming that with a company spokesperson.
Update 1: A spokesperson said stores can choose to connect their inventory systems to Elephanti.
Update 2: After a tipster told us that they were suspicious about the investment, I got more details from the company. They said that LMJ Holdings is “an investment / holdings company owned by the Jinasena family” — namely, the family of the CEO (that’s something I should have caught when I wrote the initial post). However, they said Elephanti is a separate business entity that received money from LMJ for a stake in the company, i.e., it was a standard equity investment. (I’ve tried and failed so far to find a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission about the deal.) You can read more about LMJ and see other investments here.