If it’s successful, a new social shopping network could add another meaning to the word “bark.”
For Chicago-based startup StrongBark, barking means sharing a discount coupon with your friends. It’s kinda like tweeting, but with a bargain attached.
And it’s potentially a lot of barking. The new site, which has been released today as a beta, expects to soon have more than 20 million products and 75,000+ daily offers from over 2,500 regional and national retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and Nordstrom. Currently, the community has about 500 users.
Strong barking also describes the occupational requirements of its two founders, who are venture capitalists.
“We met at a panel of young companies,” CEO and co-founder David Beazley told VentureBeat, describing his first encounter with co-founder and chairman Les Teichner.
Beazley is a former principal at the Chicago-based Synergy Financial Group private capital and consulting firm, and a former football star at Northwestern. Non-football player Teichner is a private investor, the founder of Strategic Processing Corporation — sold to Oracle in 2001 — and a developer of one of the earliest e-commerce patents.
Seeing a lot of companies “lacking commercial development,” the pair decided to research the opportunities for starting their own.
The search led them to question whether online shoppers were getting the experience they wanted. “We thought that people’s online shopping and sharing experiences were being compromised,” Beazley told us.
‘Lead with Friends First’
“We knew everything shoppers did was being tracked, tagged, and targeted,” he said, adding that this “was compromising the experience.”
“For people that were just [on a site] to browse and then have these things [like ads] follow you was creepy,” Beazley said.
The opportunity was the “inability to find a single product, a discount code, and then share that,” while social networks had become “the place to serve up ads.” Strongbark, which has been financed by about $700,000 from friends and family, pledges to allow no ads, email spam, or sales of user data.
Users can follow other users, companies, or categories like toys, and control the multiuse coupons they can share with a friend or group via a My Bark page. A small percentage of the offers are Strongbark-exclusive, while most are obtained through affiliate marketing. Instead of ads, Strongbark’s revenue comes from a cut of each sale.
Three gamification elements — Bark Score, Influence Ratio, and Loyalty Bones — add incentives to users’ sharing.
A Bark Score indicates the shared offers redeemed by friends, and an Influence Ratio shows your impact on others’ buying. You can earn Loyalty Bones by being active on the site; these can be traded for e-books, digital music, and other rewards in the site’s marketplace.
There are dedicated coupon sites, Beazley noted, like RetailMeNot, Ebates, and Coupons.com, but they lack the social side. Social shopping sites, like Wanelo, OpenSky and Etsy “have taken RetailMeNot and overlaid a private social network,” he said, mostly by using Twitter and Facebook.
By contrast, he said, “we have everything inside of a single app [and] lead with friends first, rather than products.”
When his time with Strongbark is done, Beazley said “it’s possible” he could return to venture capitalism.
But if he does re-enter that dog-eat-dog world, he might want to avoid mentioning Strongbark’s trademarked tagline:
“All Bark. No Bite.”