Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Interview with Chris Teso, Chirpify
This morning, Portland-based Chirpify (www.chirpify.com) announced its first funding round, for its platform which enables e-commerce transactions directly over Twitter. We talked with CEO and Founder Chris Teso, who explained how the company's service really makes it easier to sell and purchase items directly from Twitter, and how the company came about.
Can you explain how Chirpify works?
Chris Teso: What we do, at our core, is enable transactions in your stream on Twitter. We're calling it conversational commerce. We do this in three different areas. One, is in commerce. Brands, musicians, artists, and individual sellers can get up on Chirpify, sign up, and list items for sale on Twitter. When they list an item for sale, that goes out on their Twitter stream, and it will include an image, a price, and a brief description. When their followers respond with "buy", it happens instantly in the background, between whoever is selling and the purchaser. It's totally in the stream, and there's no five-step check out process. It's just one response, with "buy", which makes that transaction happen. So, if you've just dropped your latest track, on Twitter you can sell that track directly to your fans. It eliminates the middle man from the process, as well. You can also do this in the fund raising realm. An example is, if Barack Obama wants to raise funds for his campaign, he can tweet out a request for a donation, and followers can respond to donate. This also works in the peer-to-peer realm, where you can send a direct payment to a friend, split a check, or pay for a purchase via your mobile phone at a hot dog cart.
What's the story behind the company and how you started?
Chris Teso: I'm a solo founder. About a year ago, I came up with the concept while I was selling stuff on Craigslist. I also have various friends and relatives selling things on Etsy. I noticed that when they were selling or listing items on eBay, they'd also go to Twitter and tweet about them. But, all of those tweets would lead you back to the five step checkout process. I saw that there was something there to eliminate. I meshed those together, and enabled those actions to happen on Twitter.
How do you eliminate all those steps and deal with handling payment?
Chris Teso: When you sign up for Chirpify, you have to authorize both your Twitter and Paypal account. Once you do that, we essentially allow you to control Paypal using your Twitter account. When you Tweet various commands to buy or pay or donate, on the back end, we're able to track those Tweets and make a transaction happen appropriately.
It looks like this has been adopted in particular by musicians, were you specifically targeting them with this?
Chris Teso: It was an unexpected vertical. We were really focused on brands, talking to big brands, and working with Nestle and others who had signed up to sell on Twitter. We ran into this as an unexpected vertical, when we found that we were getting lots of contacts form musicians. In particular, we ran into Rhymesayers, a label out of Minneapolis, who contact us, and asked us if we could do digital tracks. We were able to build that an basically enable any musician or artist to sell MP3s or other digital content over our platform. More and more, musicians want to control their own distribution and sell directly to fans. They've built up a massive following on Twitter, and spent lots of time and energy doing so, but they have no way to sell directly to those fans. What we've built, is it enables them to upload their MP3 or concert tickets, or any bit of digital content, and when a fan replies with the word buy, we make that transaction happen and automatically respond, delivering the track, a download link. It's listing and fulfillment in one tweet, and those download links are gated to the specific Twitter account, secure, and only can be accessed by the content purchaser.
Great idea, it looks like all digital purchases like digital music are ideal for your platform?
Chris Teso: Yes, it is ideal because there is no physical fulfillment required at the other end. While we do enable purchases for physical items as well, and let you set a default shipping address, it's so much smoother when it's a digital delivery. For an artist, it's just so appealing. If you look at iTunes, an artist selling through iTunes doesn't get any of their own data, they don't know who they're selling to, plus iTunes takes a large portion of that transaction fee.
How did the new funding happen?
Chris Teso: We had initially raised a seed round from the incubator Upstart Labs in Portland. That was about five months ago. From there, the platform starting getting lots of attention and traction, and started to attract interest form VCs. About two months ago, those VCs really started knocking on our door, and we started raising more funds. We've proven out the model, and are now looking to scale. We had lots of interest, and the round was moving very quickly. Voyager was the one that put in the most hustle, and we were impressed and landed with them.
Was there any point where you saw you were getting traction on this?
Chris Teso: It was SXSW. We had a third party build an API, which enabled people to sell beer to each other, Tweet-a-Beer. That enabled people to buy beer at certain locations for a friend over Twitter. During SXSW, we were seeing two new signups every minute, and we had 1500 beers sold overnight. That was kind of the aha moment, which brought it into the consumer's mind what you could do with this. It's a whimsical app, but it did cement in the consumer mind how easy it is to do, and it took off, and the amount of our signups started to grow exponentially. It was quite overwhelming.