Hilmi Ozguc founded Swirl with the goal of revolutionizing the retail shopping experience by making in-store shopping more inspiring and productive through the use of mobile technology. He has been a successful entrepreneur and executive in the software industry for the past 20 years, having created groundbreaking companies that realize the Internet’s potential as a global communications and marketing vehicle. Hilmi previously founded Maven Networks, an early leader in Internet video, which was acquired by Yahoo! in 2008 and today powers the video content and advertising infrastructure for the world’s largest network of Internet media properties.
Swirl is a fast-growing tech startup that is harnessing the power of mobile and social technologies to reignite consumers’ love of in-store shopping. The company is led by an accomplished entrepreneurial team with deep consumer mobile, digital media, social marketing and e-commerce experience. Swirl is backed by top-tier investors including Softbank Capital, General Catalyst and Longworth Venture Partners.
MO: How did you come up with the concept for Swirl?
Hilmi: In the past 15 years, e-commerce and mobile commerce have dramatically advanced, yet they account for less than 10% of all retail sales. Our goal is to reinvent the consumer shopping experience where the vast majority of transactions take place – in the physical retail store.
Shopping for fashion has gotten harder thanks to a dizzying array of disjointed choices. From photo inspiration sites on the web, to brand-specific e-commerce sites and mobile apps, to in-store retail rewards programs. THE OPPORTUNITY for brands in today’s environment lies in providing a seamless experience that allows them to truly engage with avid shoppers anytime, anywhere.
The consumer needed a retailer-neutral advocate, which is why Swirl is unique. It’s focused on helping consumers find, love, and shop their favorite brands.
MO: Can you talk about the process from initially having the idea to bringing Swirl to market? What were some of the challenges that you encountered in the early days and how did you overcome them?
Hilmi: My startups are all about going out and bringing something to you, the consumer. The next revolution is mobile, so I asked myself, what can you do with it? Answer: Being a guide/assistant device that organizes the swirl of where to go and what to do, as applied to respective industries. The process involved discussing hundreds of ideas and then boiling them down to just one that withstands every process and passes every test. The challenge is that most people are looking to make the shopping experience more virtual, but in reality, it’s a personal experience, so online is unfulfilling in this way. We had to convince people that consumers would appreciate a better in-store shopping experience.
MO: What advice would you pass onto our readers seeking investment?
Hilmi: To have a very solid value proposition as to why what you’re building is a “must-have” for a consumer or business, and then why people would pay money to use it or spend a lot of time with it.
MO: How does Swirl work?
Hilmi: Swirl unifies the consumer experience, similar to what iTunes did to music. It puts it all in one place via one platform for consumers to use. Swirl curates all brand content into one place and then locates your style inspirations, personal collections and current offers at the retail locations nearest you. It helps consumers in a few ways:
o Gives consumers a way to cut through the dizzying array of “inspirational content” by allowing consumers to curate and discover but also turn it into an actionable purchase/retail sale by allowing them to locate the same item they discover or “clip” in-store.
o Helps streamline sale offers they receive via email by combining it into one place – eliminates the need to subscribe to all brand emails, and mitigates the stress one receives when logging on to your email to find 300 emails about sales and new collections. With Swirl, it’s all in one place, on your timeframe, no matter where you are.
o Swirl also allows the user to shop in the way that they feel most comfortable – whether that be via discovery, offers, or specific retailers or brands.
o Swirl offers a great opportunity for consumers to discover brands they may not have considered. Similar to Pandora, Swirl gets smarter as you use it and curates edited items that show a high-correlation with previous pieces you’ve selected – whether by brand, style or price point. The more you use it, the more applicable the suggestions will be.
o Consumers like to shop for fashion in-store to try on the clothes, check the material, see how it fits. This isn’t possible online. With Swirl, you can clip an item to a collection from a website online, and then locate it in a store near you.
o Allows consumers to make collections of gifts they’d want – eliminating the stress and confusion for shopping for the most difficult person on your list for birthdays or the holidays. Just follow them on Swirl and check out their collection of clips for what they’re hoping to get for gifts!
MO: Where does your passion for entrepreneurship come from? What was your first business and what did you learn from it?
Hilmi: I love creating new things and questioning the status quo. I also love working with smart, creative, talented people in small groups. My first business was Narrative, where I learned to give something to consumers or businesses that they don’t even know they’re missing, but that would make life easier for them, and have incorporated this idea into each of my start-ups.
MO: What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for Swirl in 2013?
Hilmi: Rapid changing consumer behavior in-store or in malls. We are building something for the intersection of location, mobility and smart data content.
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