There must be some pins in the water over at Bessemer Venture Partners. Back in May, Sarah Tavel, the former Bessemer VP who led the firm’s prescient early investment in Pinterest, left to head up “business” at the social network for “regular people” connoisseurs of pretty, special things.
Now, founder and CEO Michael Segal, a former Bessemer analyst, also finds himself going after the exact same target market that Pinterest helped define. Yesterday, he launched Curio Road, a New York-based “curated discovery site” (i.e. online shop of rotating collections of jewelry, accesories, home decor, and gifts) heavily influenced by his ecommerce training at Bessemer, he told Betabeat.
“We are saying to the Pinterest user–hey, here is an end-to-end shopping experience where you can channel your love for unique, creative stuff,” Mr. Segal explained.
Despite the fact that any juxtaposition of “ecommerce” and “Pinterest” is likely to pique investor interest these days, Mr. Segal has stayed noticeably quiet about a seed round he raised in June from local investors, including SeamlessWeb founder Jason Finger, Gary Vanerchuk, Josh Abramowitz of Deep Creek Capital, Fabrice Grinda, Josh Reznick, and more.
Over gChat, Mr. Segal explained that Curio Road skips the “regular old ‘browse our whole inventory’ experience” for a weekly “showroom of finds from artists in a range of categories.” In that way, it’s similar to Of a Kind, a New York based newsletter and website, except with a different (less urban) customer in mind and a focus on existing lines over of Of a Kind’s limited-edition, exclusive pieces.
For the startup’s initial offering, users can shop a cutesy collection of affordable necklaces and a sweet set of brightly-patterned scarves, in addition to a series of twee prints tailor made for a starter apartment, featuring every hipster’s favorite animal, and more.
Much like your standard retail store, Curio Road employs a merchandising team, but in the startup’s case, the team members are all “mavens of Etsy, Pinterest, and the lifestyle blogosphere. So they spend their days scouring the world for the most inspiring, unique and beautiful products,” said Mr. Segal. Most of the artists Curio Road features are full-time designers who sell to offline boutiques and lack visibility. “We help them get discovered, so it’s not tiny Etsy sellers or anything,” he said.
Mr. Segal said his cofounder Sonali Bloom, the startup’s chief merchandising officer, is “pretty much the most gifted Pinterester ever. She is in many ways our target customer. Obsessed with the unique find. And what we realized is, wait a minute, there are MILLIONS of women who are obsessed with the unique find. Not just big brands like you’ll find on Gilt etc. But finding unique stuff is a pain–even on Pinterest.”
Bessemer is a large firm and Mr. Segal emphasized that he was not on the Pinterest investment team. Any overlap with Ben Silberman’s team, we asked? “Only in that we’re going after the exact same target market. And at Bessemer we thought a LOT about that target market,” he said, dismissing the notion that Curio Road could be viewed as unfriendly competition. “Pinterest is like the giant social network sending clicks to retailers that have great, beautiful stuff. So they WANT retailers to cater to their customers. Our customers are going to pin up a storm with our stuff.”
Knowing your audience was a key principle at Bessemer, Mr. Segal noted. “Most online retailers are kind of soulless–they try to get out of the way. We are the opposite–we are a sensual, highly visual shopping experience.” Visuals are key, he added, because ecommerce players don’t understand that how their industry is converging with media. In this new model, an e-tailer’s “content” is the products it sells.
“On tablets, people browse shopping sites that are ‘lean back’ and highly entertaining. So we’ve essentially built that lean-back, effortless shopping experience for the lover of unique finds,” he explained.
Curio Road takes a varying share of revenue from each of its sellers. Although Mr. Segal wouldn’t disclose the range, he did note that it was “substantial,” since, unlike Etsy, his site takes a more direct role in bringing buyers to the designer.
Although there are deals, Mr. Segal is keeping his difference from the Gilt Groupe approach. “We want our customer to look at all of our stuff and with Gilt, you get on this crazy treadmill. Fifty new things each day, and so the customer just tunes them out and try not to miss a brand you know you want,” he reasoned. “That’s not real discovery shopping!”