Canadian Start-Up Shop Together merges social influence with small business; creating a virtual marketplace that curates local businesses into the palm of your hand.
Shopping in the local community has been highlighted in the media since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic decreased Canadian business revenue up to 90 percent. Many companies less affected by the pandemic, like Uber, have hopped on expert recommendations building in ‘buy local’ options and providing benefits to consumers when doing so.
Taking it to the next level, three Canadian tech entrepreneurs have created Canada’s first and only local shopping application that allows consumers to buy the neighbourhood; curating new and established companies.
Shop Together is an online marketplace; like a farmers market in the palm of your hands. Collecting businesses and their best products into an application that provides solutions to everyday needs while in isolation. The app is available on both IOS and Android devices.
Users can create a profile, like on Instagram or Facebook, where you can follow community members and companies. Written and video reviews allow users earn points that can be used towards their next purchases while building reputation and trust for local businesses.
Making shopping in the neighbourhood easy, Shop Together hosts dozens of brands with over one thousand products ranging from pet needs to home decor. With a cumulative reach of over 5,000 users in a short three months, Shop Together is regularly launching new features to improve user experience and assist local merchants in keeping doors open.
For our weekly Start-Up Spotlight, we spoke with founders Jacqueline Chan, Jayanth Kottapalli and Sumit Pasupalak about centralizing the country’s marketplace, Shop Together and the importance of conducting research when optimizing user experience.
First, let’s start with what inspired this venture. This isn’t your first tech venture together, how did Shop Together come to be and how is it disrupting the market of online shopping?
While building Ubiq, our first venture, the intense lifestyle around trying to grow a startup found us building a lot of bad habits, mainly around nutrition. After a couple of health scares, we decided to focus on our health and a part of that was focusing on cleaner, better for you products. While researching online, there seemed to be a lack of information, leading us to reach out to random people on social media to learn more about their experiences. We wanted a different way of sourcing this information and finding the best products out there for us. This frustration led us to creating Shop Together, a social shopping app – a place where people can look for inspiration to make better shopping decisions by relying on the community, while also having instant access to shop these products.
Was Shop Together something that came to be as a result of COVID-19 and the current struggle local businesses are experiencing, or was this something in the works prior to the pandemic?
If you look at the Canadian CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) brands that have started in the last 5 years, a lot of them focus on better for you products. Many of these brands have focused on brick-and-mortar sales, as selling online on their own websites or through spaces like Amazon has been a growing struggle, specifically the challenge of how they can get people to discover their brand.
Our focus from the start has always been on supporting small businesses, but COVID-19 accelerated our plans. Once the pandemic hit, sales were heavily affected because they were mostly available at specialty and wellness stores, most of whom are still shut down. They were looking to transition online and we quickly reacted to help them transition.
Shop Together is now the only app of its kind offering a local marketplace to users. What can users expect from the app and what work went into creating user experience?
Before building the app, we talked to customers to try and understand how we can help them. We wanted to focus on two key experiences for the user that they can expect when coming onto the app.
Firstly, every time a user joins Shop Together, they know that they will be able to support local brands in all essential household categories. They can shop and champion local products
Secondly, we have a unique social element. The “social” comes from our community of users who have rich user profiles and can connect with other Shop Together users, leave video testimonials and how-to’s, and easily share their love for their favourite local brands (while discovering new ones!).
How do users earn credits?
Users can earn credits by gifting friends, family and their networks who are not already a part of the community $10 to join the app. Once their network has shopped the app, that user earns credits. We focus on peer-to-peer credit earning. In the next few weeks, we plan on adding more mechanisms including rewarding users with credits for community up-voted reviews.
How does Shop Together curate the shops and businesses it supports? What is the criteria and how can interested businesses get involved?
At the moment, our curation is focused on providing everyday essentials items that Canadian’s need in their household; from personal care, wellness, food, home goods, eco-friendly and select speciality items.
We look to partner with a range of local businesses from small batch, to emerging, and independent brands. We also ensure that they can support a growing volume of products. We have a “Contact Us” form on our website. That’d be the fastest way to talk.
What is the funding model of the app? Does the entirety of the revenue collected go back to the business or is a portion of the proceeds put back into funding the application?
We take a commission on every purchase which is directly used towards fulfillment – warehousing, packaging, next-day shipping. As we continue to grow and look ahead, we will be introducing more opportunities for revenue growth through unique marketing initiatives and partnership collaborations that will reach our amazing Shop Together community.
Shop Together centralizes a number of stores and businesses, providing users with updates on shipping in the app itself, what holes in the app and online shopping navigation did you seek to fix with this application?
The traditional way of shopping online has always been about people knowing exactly what to buy, going on Amazon and searching for it. The problem with this is newer brands coming to the market have no way of getting in front of customers unless they spend millions of dollars in marketing. Our goal is to change this by creating an experience that focuses on people discovering new products based on what the community thinks.
What is the importance of community to you all as founders?
As founders, community is important to us as it allows it fosters a place to support one another, interact, share experiences, build relationships and gain knowledge.
The Shop Together community is the most important part of the app, a space that allows the community to easily share their experience and knowledge, inspiring others to make better buying decisions.
It can be difficult to imagine the future in such uncertain times, but what is next for Shop Together? Where do you all hope to be in the next 5 years?
We are currently focused on making our customers happy. Looking ahead we want to continue to grow, ensuring we partner with more amazing brands. We also know that there is a huge demand to launch the app nation-wide. Stay Tuned!
What is interesting to us though is how the market is going to evolve in the future. For the last hundred years, people’s buying decisions have been driven by multi-million dollar advertising (paper – radio – tv – web – social media). We think this is going to continue to evolve over the next decade, with a larger focus on where and how buying decisions are going to be influenced, with ‘everyday’ people who are actually using and loving the products.
What is an attribute all entrepreneurs should have or work to cultivate within themselves?
The people you surround yourselves with around are much more important than what you build. These relationships will last much longer than the company so make sure you value that community.
Meet the Founders!
Hailing from a family of entrepreneurs, Jayanth has been working at start-ups most of his adult life. After dropping out of his University of Waterloo’s Masters program he co-founded Ubiq with Sumit and Jackie. He engineered the most advanced and seamless wireless presentation technology in the market at Ubiq. At Shop Together Jay leads the engineering team, building the interactive design you see on the app.
Jacqueline’s path to entrepreneurship started while she was a student at University of Waterloo where she worked for Microsoft and SAP, while simultaneously leading the ‘Nspire’ chapter at the univeristy. After graduating, she ran Enterprise Sales at Ubiq (goubiq.com) growing it from zero to 7-digit annual sales. At Shop Together, Jacqueline is responsible for supplier relationships and making Canadian brands are available for purchase on the app.
Sumit has worked in tech for over 10 years. His career includes working for companies like Microsoft, Amazon and IBM. Since graduating from University of Waterloo in 2019, Sumit co-founded Ubiq, an enterprise collaboration company which is now used in hundreds of companies around the world. He loves talking to existing customers to understand how Shop Together can help them. Sumit is responsible for guiding the direction of the product and making sure our customers love the user-app experience!