Posse, a local discovery platform for web and mobile, is today arriving in the U.S. and making its iPhone app debut. The company has also just raised another $500,000 in additional funding from existing investors including Lars Rasmussen, Google Maps creator and currently Facebook’s Director of Engineering, as well as Silicon Valley angel investor Bill Tai. Rasmussen also sits on the company’s board.
To date, Posse has raised over $3.5 million from investors like Bill Lee (Remarq), Australian fund Elevation Capital, Simon Rothman (founder of eBay Motors) and Dave Sibley (MTV). Super Fund MLC and EMI Music‘s UK HQ have also participated, and founder Rebekah Campbell has put in $150,000 of her own money as well.
When the startup first got off the ground in Sydney, Australia, the focus was on building a concert ticket sales platform. CEO Campbell, a former band manager who founded Scorpio Music in Australia, said she was originally motivated to build a startup because of the difficulties in marketing events. But following technical frustrations with major ticketing platforms and the increasingly competitive landscape, Campbell decided to make a shift to refocus Posse’s efforts to marketing non-ticketed venues like nightclubs.
“That worked pretty well,” she says, “and then we thought, if we can do nightclubs, then we could shops. There’s no reason it couldn’t work exactly the same for a hairdresser or a restaurant.”
When pitching merchants, Campbell found that businesses were eager to try something that would help them market their business outside of Groupon and other daily deals. “They rely much on word of mouth,” she tells us, “but they had no idea how to encourage word of mouth and how to manage it.”
Back at the drawing board again, Campbell created what’s now Posse, a mobile app and website that lets users build lists of their favorite places to shop, dine, be entertained and more. Although there are a lot of services which do the same – you can create lists on Foursquare, for example, or bookmark places on Yelp or Google+ Local, the difference with Posse is that it has taken this list-making feature and turned it into a dedicated service.
“PLAYLISTS” OF SHOPS
The new version of Posse was also inspired by Campbell’s music background, as it turns out.
“We took a lot of what we learned in music, in terms of why people like to create and share playlists, and then applied that shopping,” she says. “Everybody has these little lists…but nobody has ever really created a place where everybody wants to share those lists,” Campbell adds.
Posse has also been designed in a way that may appeal more to women than men – the service has users building virtual “streets” with shops, restaurants, bars, clubs and any other business they want to recommend. Campbell explains that before going this route, the company spent months interviewing Foursquare users about what they liked about the service. They found that men were more drawn to the competitive elements – like the badges, mayorships and other game-like elements, while the women were using it more for social recommendations.
“When women compete it’s not about points and badges and mayorships – it’s about status.” So Campbell thought to herself that they should make something beautiful that also leveraged that same desire.
Posse is building its own database of places, so when users add a business, they may have to enter store names manually. But then that shop is added to the virtual street, and is represented by a cute, hand-drawn version of itself. For businesses not yet in the database, Posse will acquire the store’s logo and photos from the merchant, and will use Google Street View to find which hand-drawn store template best represents that business for its hand-drawn representation.
The business is also contacted to make them aware of the review, and informed that they can sign up for free to keep an eye on who’s recommending them to others. During its private beta, 17,000 shops signed up, 4,000 of which are in the U.S., primarily in New York and San Francisco. The merchants have access to an online dashboard where they can see everyone who has nominated them, what’s been said, and can see those who have added the shop to their wish list of places they want to visit. Businesses can also then reach out to those prospective customers with offers.
The pricing model, which is kicking in soon, will allow businesses to see the first five customers for free before having to upgrade to either a $50 or $100 per month plan which would allow them to view and reach out to the users recommending them, as well as those favoriting their stores by added them to their own wish lists. In April, it will also introduce another advertising platform, which will allow the businesses to target those who are friends of their current customers who are searching for a particular type of business, (e.g. salon, shoes, sushi, etc.).
The company is also now in the process of moving to New York, and is closing on the rest of its second series seed round of $1.5 million. The iOS app is available here in iTunes and the Android version will follow in a few months time.