Startup lessons: plantobuy.com
Back in 2010, an ambitious team, a great concept and big thinking around an innovative social commerce service.
This post summarizes the story of an ambitious social commerce project: plantobuy.com
Based in Athens, Greece, at the peak of the financial crisis (or what we thought it was the peak), this project had an additional challenge to face: extremely limited access to any form of funding.
What if consumers could anonymously publish their buying plans online? What if retailers could target specific buying plans with special, personalized offers?
The core concept focused on allowing consumers to organize and publish their buying plans anonymously. Then, benefit from highly targeted, personalized offers and social advice. The idea was to build an online platform to empower consumers to ‘tell the market about their buying plans’ while empowering retailers to perform intelligent, personalized or even 1–1 offerings.
A new communication channel enabling retailers to ‘talk to consumers’ who plan-to-buy what they sell
Retailers would use the platform to promote certain products to those consumers actually planning to buy them or, in a more aggressive scenario, to those planning to buy competitive ones. Furthermore, retailers would benefit from a new capability, enabling personalized offers directly to selected consumers.
Retailers no longer need to predict, estimate or guess what consumers need or looking for: they just define the target audience using as primary dimension the ‘buying plan’
Moreover, users would experience highly-related interactive ads with the ability to submit feedback to the advertiser anonymously.
To build a new SOCIAL COMMERCE platform enabling more effective communication between consumers and corporations
A SHOPPING ADVISOR for consumers
A free service for consumers offering a range of new capabilities, such as social advice and targeted personalized offers. The offers would be driven by consumer buying plans, offering rich-media content, and in many cases ‘interactive’, feedback-enabled ads.
A CAMPAIGNING platform for Retailers
Advanced functionality for Retailers, enabling accurate customer targeting, based on explicitly stated buying plans. Special functionality allowing retailers to get promoted via personalized offers, video ads, and product sponsorships; to get feedback, insights & analytics on each promotional activity.
The ASK.YOUR.NETWORK feature
The idea was to enable users, to ask advice from people they know and trust; to gather trustworthy hints, and recommendations regarding a significant, forthcoming purchasing decision.
With a click of a button, a user could ask for product advice from selected Facebook or Twitter connections and/or friends via e-mail. Feedback would then be presented to the user via an easy-to-read visualization of hints, and recommendations — as provided by user’s ‘circle of trust’.
A continuous flow of social advice & ideas through the ask.your.network ™ concept: a social utility empowering consumers to gather opinions, comments & ideas from people they know and trust
In absolute contrast with the %deal% range of services, plantobuy.com was about personalized experiences, intelligent offers and content delivery.
Plantobuy.com introduced highly targeted/ personalized offers on exactly what the user needed, timely and anonymously. Users were able to select the offers of interest and only then unveil their personal data to the retailers
Plantobuy.com supported registration and administration of virtually any buying plan across a large number of heterogeneous categories. This allowed consumers to do purchasing planning & budgeting for all personal, family and small business related expenses — a management tool for scheduling & administering spending.
RICH, INTERACTIVE ADS
Users had access to an ‘endless’ feed of rich video content, including ads, all matching the selected buying plan: highly-relevant ads, interactive and also allowing the user to submit feedback to the advertiser! Anonymously!
A small, but highly motivated and skilled team, with a clear vision and remarkable expertise in software engineering, large-scale Information Systems design & Web-development, Data mining, Business Intelligence, Analytics, and large Data store design.
Following real agile engineering principles, we delivered a fully functional MVP based on a highly engineered, scalable architecture using the latest tech stack available at the time — also leveraging cloud services and content delivery networks.
Plantobuy.com attracted attention and generated noise in the Greek market and appeared several times in major media channels — including Star Channel TV prime time News.
Our MVP ironically proved to be not really Viable nor Minimum: carried away by our passion for technological excellence, we over-engineered and possibly over-complicated particular components and processes.
This had a significant opportunity cost which, given the extremely limited resources, proved to be a critical factor for the success of the launch: Although there was remarkable interest from consumers and some tenths of thousands of users within the first couple of months, we failed to avoid the time gap, the disconnect between the user base growth and retailer engagement.
This gap was the main reason for low user engagement which impacted all our major KPIs. By the time we achieved to onboard a few hundreds of active retailers (a major achievement), we also had significant cash-flow issues along with extremely slow-moving negotiations for funding.
All the above combined with the financial crisis in Greece (+ the realization that the ‘crisis peak’ we have been experiencing was not really the peak) made service interruption the only meaningful option
The service was discontinued back in Feb 2014
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