In the land of the Internet startup, it seems the latest discovery is… well… the discovery. The algorithm is king in the quest to give users exactly what they want in order to (hopefully) turn a profit. SparkRebel, a Pinterest-like (but not Pinterest! they insist) fashion discovery site, is the latest fashion-focused social media startup to crop up out of New York.
Although founder and CEO Elad Baron insists SparkRebel is different from “other websites” (“Pinterest” never crossed his lips in our conversation), the similarities between the two sites are striking. On Pinterest, you “pin” images which go on your “boards,” pages on which you can arrange images of things you like. On SparkRebel, you can add “sparks” or “respark” items to your “collections,” which is the same basic idea. You can follow users and their collections on SparkRebel just as you can on Pinterest.
“The next wave is in discovery, and fashion is a great candidate,” Mr. Barons said. “You’re not looking for a specific cardigan. You’re looking for ideas and inspiration. You need to get inspired and discover things.”
The new site, which opened up this week from a private beta, looks like it’s designed for teens and those suffering from MySpace nostalgia: charcoal gray background, funky geometric logo in neon colors, hot pink hover links, and bright backgrounds. Unlike other fashion startups, SparkRebel seems to appeal directly to a youthful set who shop at the mall.
But while Pinterest may be overrun by photos of food and wedding updos, SparkRebel is devoted exclusively to fashion. SparkRebel makes money off affiliate designers and retailers when a SparkRebel user clicks through to buy. But only a small amount of the content on SparkRebel is for sale, and is wedged between artful editorials snagged from fashion websites and pictures of celebs on the red carpet.
With the ability to import images from anywhere on the Internet, SparkRebel runs the risk of having a site whose merchandise is engulfed by outside content. SparkRebel does not plan to curate or police the content on the suggestion-driven pages, Mr. Baron said; thus the merchandise that SparkRebel needs to sell to get revenue for their site may not be prominent–or even visible– for some users.
The site could also do with a more comprehensive sidebar of categories. Though you can search through shoes fairly easily, you can only filter the 200-plus pages of dresses by brand or budget, and 79 pages of swimsuits by price. The site may be about fashion discovery, but some people know what they want without clicking through endless pages. Using it as an actual shopping resource is barely possible. This is definitely for the grazers who probably have Pinterest up in the next tab of their browsers.
SparkRebel is new enough that it can still live off of the funding it received from its investors (over $1 million from angels and venture capitalists in its seed round). However, to be lucrative past the point of survival, SparkRebel needs to make money off of its affiliate networks.
SparkRebel may not have to go head-to-head with better-funded and established fashion startups if users are attracted to its Pinterest-like fashion discovery features—the “trending” page looks like a direct knock-off—and will buy merchandise from the brands in SparkRebel’s stable, much of which holds appeal for middle and upper class teenagers and twenty-somethings.
Just like in fashion, a bit of borrowing—or stealing—is bound to occur. SparkRebel’s youthful niche may give it raison d’etre. But with new Pinterest-like sites practically raining from the sky, SparkRebel is easily lost in the flood.