Angus Davis just bought a Quarter Pounder at McDonald's during his bachelor party in Vermont, following a purchase of a Cafe Mocha at Starbucks, a power cord from Staples and a Boston-SF ticket from Virgin America. This, I know, not because I follow him on Twitter or am friends with him on Facebook, but because I follow his purchases, or "swipes" on Swipely.
Swipely is Angus' latest company, which is riding the re-emergence of a wave called "social commerce" - the use of social networking to aggregate relevant information about commerce transactions, to ultimately encourage or influence commerce. Swipely raised $8.5 million, with $7.5 million coming just last month from leading venture capitalists, Greylock and First Round Capital. Prior to this Series A, Swipely raised $1 million from high-profile angel investors, such as Ron Conway.
"Why not follow your friends and discover new places and products through your friends?" explained the 32-year-old Angus, an Internet veteran I first met 10 years ago while filming a profile on his then company - TellMe - while I was a reporter for CBS MarketWatch. At the time I conducted my report at TellMe's offices, Angus' bed featured prominently as a symbol of the dot-com work-play-sleep environment.
The new, new social commerce
Discovering products to buy through friends is hardly new. But social commerce has never really gained much traction as it's evolved and iterated in various forms throughout the last decade. Two very early attempts at social commerce that come to mind include VStore, a Benchmark-backed startup that launched in 1999 and enabled users to create their own personalized stores, and get a cut for everything they recommended and sold. In 2005, Yahoo's Shoposphere tried to harness the opinions of bloggers through their personalized shopping lists.
For many reasons - from technological to cultural - there hasn't been a social commerce company to dominate this category, though a whole slew appear to be cropping up of late, including Swipely, and its leading rival Blippy, which has raised $11.2 million.
In this interview, Angus talks about his vision with Swipely, as well as the differences between Swipely and Blippy - which is mainly that Blippy reveals the prices people pay, whereas Swipely is only concerned with the "story behind the purchase."
Angus also talks about why he believes people will share their purchase information and why we - the public - would feel compelled to share our information or even get much value from knowing, say, that hundreds of people bought pizza from the local pizzeria, especially if we know the local pizzeria is the place to buy pizzas.
People talk about what restaurants they went to on Yelp; they talk about their trips on TripAdvisor and the movies they watched on Flixster, Angus explained, adding that Swipely just wants to put it all together in one place.
Fair enough, I said. But what's the real incentive? Groupon appears to have a great incentive to get people to collectively opt-in to buy something, I pointed out. Is there a similar model that Swipely can integrate or a relattionship with Groupon in the future? I asked. "There's a lot of oppportunities through coupons and offers... down the line," Angus replied.
Watch the interview to hear more of Angus' answer and why he decided to take outside funding rather than fund the venture himself. After all, Angus' last company he founded - TellMe - was sold to Microsoft for some $1 billion.
Editor's note: During the next segment, Angus talks about how retailers, who are rightful owners of the content he's collecting - namely purchase information - are working with Swipely.