When they launched, seed-funded startup Chatalog co-founder Natalie Gonzalez thought people would use the online social shopping tool to consult with their friends and family while shopping for clothes and fashion items. Turns out it’s a lot more popular for purchases such as home furnishings and gifts that call for collaboration. The Chatalog team accordingly modified their strategy and Chatalog is now popular as a platform that makes it fun and easy for close friends and family, experts and brands to make important shopping decisions together.
You and your siblings may be spread all over the map, but you can get together on Chatalog at any time to find the perfect gift for your parents’ 30th anniversary, and have a good time chatting about all the fun you had growing up.
The way it works is pretty simple. You drag and drop the Chatalog button onto your browser’s bookmarks bar. Once it’s installed, you can sign in, create new “Chatalogs,” start adding and inviting friends, and talk to them – all using the Chatalog button.
There are many startups toying with the idea of social shopping in one way or another with the ultimate aim of creating an online tool or platform that mirrors the meaningful shopping experiences you have in real-life with friends and family. What it comes down to is how easy and useful it is – ease of use of the tool, and its usefulness in finding the right product through online collaboration.
By that standard, Chatalog does pretty well because it’s easy enough for Grandma and the features are focused on the collaboration rather than on directing you towards products. People want the freedom to browse the net and look at products in their own way, and Chatalog is very good at what comes after that.
Chatalog received $100,000 in seed funding in Sept 2012. The founders are Natalie Gonzalez, her husband Alex Gonzalez who is also the startup’s CEO, and Tito Villalobos.
Here comes the Audio with the transcript
Xena: Hello all you wonderful followers of SFM. This is Xena and I welcome you to SFM Storytellers’ Live chat show – the place where we get to meet new startups everyday. Today we have with us Alex Gonzalez, founder of Chatalog.
Xena: Hi Alex.
Alex: Hi! How are you doing?
Xena: Am doing good Alex. So before we divulge into deeper contexts, could you introduce Chatalog to us?
Alex: Yes, sure. Chatalog is actually an online platform that enables collaboration between friends, family, experts and brands when making important shopping decisions. There are certain types of shopping decisions that you make online that typically are more considered that call for two or more people to collaborate and help each other out on that decision.
Xena: So, how did you get the idea of starting Chatalog? Are you the sole founder?
Alex: No, actually my co-founder is my wife. [laughs] I have to give her the credit. She is the one who identified the initial pain and came up with the idea of solving it. The way that we came up with it… we moved to New York about three years ago. I had a job opportunity here. When we first moved to New York and we moved into our apartment and we started looking for furniture, sort of the first time we moved into a really nice place and we wanted to furnish it and buy some nice furnishings. As we were doing that, trying to shop, trying to find different furniture, different accessories… with her working from home and me being at the office, she realized that the whole process of collaborating online between her, myself and even the stores that we were interacting with was really disjointed and not a fun experience. We figured that there had to be a better way to shop together with a small group of people online and that was sort of the beginning of us thinking about this problem and thinking about different ways to solve it with technology.
Xena: What is Chatalog? How did you plan it up completely? I found that it can be saved on your bookmarks’ bar through which you can bring in friends and decide on a particular shopping decision. So why did you think of such an idea when it comes to shopping online?
Alex: Chatalog is a collaborative platform that enables two or more people to shop online, at the highest level. There are certain types of purchases you make that we call considered purchases. Think of home furnishings, important outfits for special occasions, important gifts for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, big consumer electronic purchases – those are purchases that typically are not impulse buys, you don’t do them on a whim, you typically think about these purchases. Then you want to collaborate with people that can give you trusted advice -whether it’s a friend or family member or an expert. What the platform does is … it’s a simple platform helping you make those decisions. Imagine you were looking to buy a gift for a child during Christmas.
What you can do is set up a Chatalog and you can install the bookmark onto your browser and invite the people who will help with that shopping decision. That can be your wife or your parents. You can invite those 3, 4, 5, 6 people into the Chatalog. What happens is anytime anyone of them finds a product they want to suggest for that gift, they hit the Chatalog button and it adds it to your private Chatalog. It’s a collaborative page. You can then discuss or talk about it. It works in real time where if everyone is online at the same time it works as a real time chat. If not, it works asynchronously where the platform just notifies you that someone has added a product which you can view and then start a discussion about.
Xena: How does Chatalog eventually help in making the buying decision?
Alex: The actual decision is made between the group of people in selecting the product. Once you have decided which product you want that you have added to the Chatalog, then you can simply click on the product and it will return to the website from which you selected it. After that the buying procedure remains the same as you normally would make it on that site.
Xena: For any product we buy through Chatalog, do we need to be members of it? Do you have any kind of network you follow?
Alex: We make it easy and seamless. You can sign in with any account starting with Facebook/ Google/ Yahoo. You can simply authorize Amazon accounts as well. The reason we do this is we heard from our users that what they really liked about Chatalog is that it’s a private experience. You can share things on Facebook but all of your discussions remain public. However, Chatalog gives you the ability to make it a more private experience and an intimate discussion. Our users also told us that they were looking for such a platform where they could have private discussions. So we ask people to sign up to Chatalog to join in the discussion process.
Xena: Is this the first startup you are working on?
Alex: I have worked in startups pretty much my whole professional career. This is my second venture that I co-founded. Right out of college (I went to Harvard and was part of the golf team there), I started a company called chipshot.com along with two of my classmates who were on the golf team with me and we sold custom golf clubs directly over the internet. We did this for three to four years right out of college. It was a typical Silicon Valley dot com of the late 90s. That was my first entry into ecommerce and into the startup world.
Xena: What do you think are the emerging trends in e-commerce in the socially collaborative world. Why did you think of starting in an ecommerce centered startup after all?
Alex: I think there are few trends that are pretty interesting that I think led to us going after solving this problem. When we started our initial company where we sold golf clubs and accessories over internet, back then if you looked at ecommerce it was primarily built and optimized for shoppers who had already decided what they wanted to buy. A lot of the decision process still happened offline. Once decided, you could go online and buy it. So innovation was mainly around product search, one click ordering and making it easy and efficient for you to purchase it. Now, as you fast-forward into where we are now, there are a lot of things happening. A lot of what I call the consideration phase or decision phase is happening online. There are discovery platforms like Pinterest where you can actually start your shopping journey online. A lot of research and consumption of reviews and the collaboration with friends and family are all moving online. The challenge, or the opportunity we saw, was that ecommerce and online retailers have still not caught up to this. They are still focusing on the old ways of purchasing and selling i.e. on product search, efficient purchasing, back end supply chain, customer service. There are a few enabling the decision phase online. I think that’s a big trend in terms of how people are shopping. They are doing a lot of the consideration online.
Xena: Which features on Chatalog are the most popular amongst user? If you could share some of the best feedbacks you got from them.
Alex: To take a little bit of a step back, when we first built Chatalog we really focused on just building the technology that allows for two or more people to shop together online in private, that was the core focus. Now what we realized with time were a few things-
1. People really like their privacy. That’s what we focused on in the beginning. The users did not want to be on an open platform. They wanted a private platform. Chatalog is that. It’s private and secure.
2. What we learned once we launched and spoke to our users is that they really enjoyed the fact that they could shop with friends and family, but they also really liked that they could bring in an expert for advice. People buying fashion accessories love to have a stylist for an expert opinion. So what we’re bringing in a new feature is to “shop with an expert”, where not only can you shop with friends and family, but you can also insert a stylist into that conversation. This is in BETA right now but am happy to share it with you after this.
Xena: To date, what, according to you, is the best product that got sold through Chatalog?
Alex: I think this happened in the first two weeks after our launch, someone actually purchased an engagement ring using Chatalog. That person added his fiance, sister and trusted people. That was pretty exciting to see someone using Chatalog for such an important shopping decision..
Xena: We have recently launched a startup guide for NYC. Since you are based out of NYC too, I would like to ask you how was it like starting up there?
Alex: Being in NYC is huge and a positive thing. It has a great startup culture. There’s a great talent pool and resources. At the same time you really have to be carefully not to get lost in the hype. There’s a ton of startups in NYC and you need to be smart to know what you are trying to accomplish and what you’re trying to get out of the community. My biggest advice is NYC is great for a startup but you really need to focus on what you need to get out of all of the networking and socializing. I was focused on what kind of advisor I wanted for my company and I concentrated my energy on that. The biggest resource a startup needs is time and when you are not spending your time working on things directly related to your business, that can be disadvantageous.
Xena: While building a online network or a community, the first thing that comes to my mind is the chicken and egg problem – how to get the first user? How did you manage to get along with this age old problem?
Alex: What makes Chatalog really different from the otherwise typical community or networks is… I’d put us more as the “Path” for online shopping. Yes there is a network, there is a community but it’s about individual, small, private communities. So one individual can get value as long as they can bring in 2 -3 people to help them buy the products. The biggest thing for us was not to make a huge network of people, but how do we insert ourselves where someone is starting to purchase something. A few things we have done to do this: we work with different networks of bloggers, like mommy bloggers who help with advice on buying baby products. We are also starting to collaborate with retailers as well, where retailers use Chatalog as a platform to enable collaboration with their websites. A couple of retailers have launched our feature on their sites.
Xena: Where do you see Chatalog in the coming two years?
Alex: To put Chatalog in as many shoppers’ hands as possible! How do you make shopping for two or more people easy and fun? Anytime a person is making a difficult or meaningful purchase they come to Chatalog. How? One is through online retailers. We aim to partner with them and enable them to use Chatalog so that their users collaborate with them or with their friends and family. Chatalog in two years will build distribution of our technology to places where shoppers are making important shopping decisions – on retailers or content sites where research for products begins and make sure Chatalog is in the middle.
Xena: Before we wrap up the interview, a quick say on why you think our listeners should start using Chatalog from today?
Alex: Putting Chatalog on your bookmark is like having a window into getting help or advice you need from people you trust. Anytime you need advice on your shopping just click on the Chatalog button and in minutes you have your trusted people on board to help you out.
For more details, log onto www.chatalog.com NOW!