Seattle-based Wishpot Inc. (www.wishpot.com) operates a free social shopping Web service that helps consumers create, share and compare shopping lists. As users navigate the Internet, they can utilize Wishpot’s browser plug-in to bookmark and organize the merchandise they find most appealing, thereby creating virtual wishlists that they can keep to themselves or discuss with others. The venture-backed company was founded in 2006 by a pair of Microsoft alums and native Italians, CEO Max Ciccotosto and CTO Alexis Campailla. We recently chatted with Ciccotosto about his fledgling firm, its business model and its recent closing of a Series A effort that yielded $1 million.
For starters, please describe what Wishpot does. Why does it exist?
Max Ciccotosto: At eye level, Wishpot makes it very easy for people to get the things that they like or want. It does this in several ways.
First, it allows users to collect the things they like from anywhere. Say the user is browsing the Web and finds an item that she likes on Nordstrom.com or Macys.com. Our browser plug-in makes it easy for her to add that product to her Wishpot account.
Or maybe she is walking in downtown Seattle and she takes a picture of something she likes in front of a store and then sends that picture to her Wishpot account.
Or she can be on Wishpot and see what a friend likes or what the community is discussing and add that item to her account.
After that user collects all the things she likes, she can actually share that list with a friend. There are many reasons why she may want to do that. She may want to get some feedback about which dress to wear for a specific event, or she might get some advice on what to buy someone for a birthday, or maybe she just gets some comments about what her friends think of her list.
Another thing that Wishpot does is it makes it easy for the user to purchase the items that are on their lists. Right now, we have a partnership with Shopping.com. We provide a price-monitoring service. Say you want to know when the price of an item you’re interested in drops. Wishpot will track that item on your behalf so you can buy that item when it’s on sale.
Stepping back and summarizing, Wishpot makes it easy for users to collect, share and purchase the items they like or want.
You mentioned a browser plug-in. How does that work?
Max Ciccotosto: The plug-in sits on top of the browser, in your links, and when you see a product you like, you just click [the product], and our plug-in will examine the content of the page and will go, “Oh, you are on Best Buy, and this is the product you want to buy.” And you can review the product, insert your own comments and add it to your Wishpot. It’s a semantic bookmark. That’s where the magic is.
Please explain the meaning behind the Wishpot name.
Max Ciccotosto: It was mostly a convergence of different factors that led to the name. We wanted to have a name that, from a fundamental marketing standpoint, was simple, short, fun and represented our brand.
We also wanted to use the word “wish,” but we didn’t want to make it too inspirational and have people confuse us for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We wanted to keep it a little bit grounded, but we also wanted to capture this idea that it’s a collection place where you can put the stuff that you want.
So we drew up a list of what we thought would work best, and then checked to see what was available.
So was Wishpot your first choice?
Max Ciccotosto: It was among our top choices. We liked how it sounded. We liked the simplicity of the name, as in, “If you can hear it, you can spell it.”
We always said our brand should be about fun, simplicity and utility. And that’s a name that we felt represented the brand.
Switching gears, I see you and Alexis worked at Microsoft before founding Wishpot. What convinced you to leave one of the world’s largest, most successful companies to start one of your own?
Max Ciccotosto: There’s not one single reason. It’s a convergence of multiple things. From one perspective, I was intrigued by the perspective of bringing together shopping and the social-networking experience. It just seemed a natural process that those two things would converge.
Another thing is I was an entrepreneur and I wanted to get back to the excitement of creating something, building something.
This is your third company, isn’t it? How have the previous two ventures prepared you for Wishpot?
Max Ciccotosto: The first venture, which I started when I was really young, when I was 17, it taught me a lot, like how to deal with customers and how to manage a team of people. It taught me the basics of running a business. The second business taught me how to build relationships with people.
I would say both were a great gym to practice the skills that you need to become a fundamental business owner. You have to be a little bit of everything. You have to be flexible and able to do whatever the business needs on a day-by-day basis.
I also learned some interesting lessons early on that I tried not to repeat as we moved forward with other ventures.
Would you share some of those lessons with us?
Max Ciccotosto: I think the most interesting one, something I haven’t shared much, was with the first company I started. We managed sporting events, concerts, big festivals—events like that.
During our first year, we had a big sponsor, an automaker, and we had these gigantic banners hanging in the background for one of these events we were putting on. But a storm hit and knocked down the banner, and we left it down in that state and didn’t fix it.
The representative of the company, the sponsor, he saw that and he ripped me one. He abused me verbally, saying stuff like, “You guys are amateurs! You guys don’t know what you are doing!” and a lot of things you probably couldn’t print. He went on like that for a good while, and I understand why.
I thought it was a great lesson because it was the first time that I had failed one of my customers. It taught me that, “These guys are paying for this stuff and you cannot mess around!” You have to be on the ball.
Can you talk about your recent funding round? How were you able to attract the interest of Monster Venture Partner and H-Farm?
Max Ciccotosto: For one, we have a good business plan in place. Both investors were impressed by some of the behind-the-scenes stuff we were doing, the intellectual property we were putting in place. I cannot comment too much on that, though.
They also liked the fact that they could help us scale our technology globally fairly easily. What we do isn’t just limited to the U.S. marketplace.
How do you plan to put those funds to use?
Max Ciccotosto: To get to where we want to be, we need to grow the team a bit from an engineering standpoint. That’s something we are doing right now.
We are also looking to create new partnerships. We are already reaching out to potential partners and hope to start executing some new partnerships in the near future.
We are also about to launch the baby area of the Web site.
Max Ciccotosto: It’s a follow-on to our wedding area. Fundamentally, we believe it’s very difficult for parents to know what to buy for their kids. They have to decide what to put on the baby registry or for the baby shower, or maybe the grandparents live across the country and don’t know what to buy. Our new service will allow parents to collect a list of things for their babies.
It will also serve as a shopping space for parents to discuss products that their kids may need. They can log in and see what expert moms--who have already been there and had children—are sharing and what those moms would recommend.
Thanks for your time!