Have you always felt lonely while shopping online? Have you ever wished you could ask for someone’s opinion before buying that dress on Amazon?
If you have, Josh Bochner, the CEO and founder of Boston, Massachusetts-based Friendshopper.com, promises to revolutionize your online shopping experience. Friendshopper is an online social shopping platform that connects friends in a real-time web environment so that you don’t have to shop alone.
“The goal of Friendshopper is to bring back the fun and interactivity that was always part of the shopping experience, before e-commerce was born,” said says Josh. “While some call themselves ‘social shopping’ websites by aspiring to create a mash-up of social networking and shopping, we believe that shopping is, at its essence, a social experience. We’ve targeted that experience and re-created it for the web.” Josh says Friendshopper differs from its closest competitors, Kaboodle.com and Thisnext.com, because it works on bringing users a live shopping experience as opposed to just creating an open social shopping network.
Online Shopping Made Easy – and Social
Friendshopper focuses on real-time content sharing so friends shopping online can instantaneously share finds, interact, view and add friends to conversations and search retailers and products – all from the comfort of the browser window. Users can manipulate integrated social tools like instant messaging and content sharing in a highly targeted, custom-built environment meant to simulate the live shopping experience. Indeed, the site claims to be the first to offer the social perks of shopping in real-time on the web.
An example of how it works: After signing up, shoppers simply drag-and-drop a Friendshopper bookmarklet into their browser toolbars. As they surf any online storefront they can click the bookmarklet button whenever they find an item they would like to save or share with friends, and Friendshopper will simply add the item to a user’s page. Clicking on another button allows the user to instantaneously share that item with a friend, along with notifications and thumbnail images.
Josh’s online pedigree is impressive. He was previously a web manager overseeing operations at online gift registry service MyRegistry.com, as well as an internet marketing consultant and web development specialist for eight years. He’s also been working on Jigadig.com, an auction search engine that aggregates results from eBay, Overstock and Ubid.
He says the opportunity to start Friendshopper was exciting because it wasn’t just another idea that can potentially earn nice revenues.He was looking for an industry that was lacking a new and interactive experience when he stumbled on online shopping. “I’m an internet entrepreneur, my brain is always going,” he laughs.
When Josh compared online shopping and its offline experience, it was, as he describes it, blatant that shopping lost its social and interactive elements when e-commerce came about. “Friendshopper would transform the way people shop online, really giving them a new experience that is more fun. The shopping and e-commerce industry is where the revenue is generated online, so I wasn’t worried about where the profits would come from; I am more focused on providing the right experience,” he says.
Other than Josh, the Friendshopper team – all mid-to-late twenties – consists of Argentinian-based developer Daniel Magliola and as well as a small team of developers based in Santa Monica, California.
Strategies, Opportunities and Challenges
According to Josh Friendshopper has four revenue streams planned, of which two are currently implemented. “One is the product search, which we partner with Shopzilla and have a revenue share agreement. The other is our store search and building affiliate relationships.” Two other possible revenue sources will be based around its Shoplication merchant program and recommended/sponsored products.
Josh, who is married with three children, admits that his key challenge is keeping the venture afloat. “It’s not easy bootstrapping especially with a family. Taking no salary for over a year, raising money to pay everyone else and working part time to keep the sharks away is a big challenge when starting a web business today.” Josh says he’s extremely thankful that he’s been able to get to this point so far, and is looking forward to building more new features that will ‘knock the socks off everyone watching and using the site’.
“We’re going to keep our eye on the ball, staying true to our unique selling point (USP). I’ve seen many entrepreneurs launch great ideas and diversify so fast that the core functionality and company was diluted. I don’t want that to happen,” he explains.
“We’re always looking to push the bar and will launch new features, often and aggressively. We’ll listen to what our users want.” They’ll be working on public relations and its Shoplication merchant program for merchant partners as a growth strategy, Josh adds.
Friendshopper has two private investors with some US$65,000 pumped into the venture to date, and is currently raising a new round.
Views on Entrepreneurship
Josh says he chose the entrepreneurial path because he has many other goals in life that he’d like to achieve which needs his time. “A salaried job won’t allow me the freedom to explore them, I’ll get lost in the 9-to-5. I’ve been hoping being an entrepreneur will pay off well one day or that the Internet would help automate much of my day-to-day.”
He reveals that he’s learnt so many personal and business lessons that he’s actually in the process of putting them all into a book. One of the business lessons about partnerships and raising money over the years, which he has applied to Friendshopper, is to ‘not get desperate’ and settling for less.
His biggest lesson? “It’s all faith. I can only do my best and my higher power takes care of the rest. I needed to learn that to be able to let go and give attention to the rest of my life.”
“That doesn’t mean you don’t have to work damned hard!”
Josh’s tip for other entrepreneurs: “Don’t give up, but don’t hurt anyone to get there.”