Search and shopping are two universal online activities. As the process typically goes, a user will pull up a search engine with a purchase already in mind, looking for a place to buy it. But when Simon Vielma was approached by a girlfriend for help finding a pair of shoes she’d seen on a friend’s Facebook, he began to wonder whether the two could be combined.
Venezuelan-born Vielma first came to the U.S. at age 17 to attend college. After earning degrees in computer science and economics, he began graduate school at Harvard University in 2005. His graduate study also coincided with his first exposure to startups. It was during this time he founded an Internet search company of his own that was focused on search and affiliate marketing. But after cycling through various iterations and ideas, it became clear the company would ultimately not be successful. Upset by the defeat, Vielma began to look for a new venture.
In 2011, when a girlfriend asked him how she might go about purchasing a pair of shoes based on nothing more than a picture, Vielma knew he had his answer. Combining the functional shopping “list” with the universal symbol for bookmarking, Listar was born. The business is “social shopping,” which is an approach intended to improve the discovery factor associated with online shopping. The foundation of the site is social comparison shopping engine that allows users to find the best price and ideal merchant for their desired item. With Listar, shoppers use photos of friends or others in their social network to discover new products, and are then provided with both online and offline locations to purchase these items. Users can share shopping lists and create alerts for their favorite products in categories that range from school supplies to auto parts.
The Miami, Florida–based company comprises an intimate five-person team. Vielma is constantly searching for new members to complement the staff drawn from Google, Baidu, and Microsoft. Further, small group has already gained significant user engagement. Listar has four million users and fans on Facebook, with a blog and a Twitter feed for additional outreach.
After purchasing their domain, Listar raised a round $250,000 in seed funding through two investors. Vielma says that as the company has not yet needed much of that capital, it will not be looking for additional funding any time soon. Although company revenue currently is around $1 million, Vielma expects Listar will hit $2 million per year run rate in the next year. The team also anticipates continued growth in the number of users, as the total addressable market (TAM) is essentially the entire e-commerce market.
Listar was released in an alpha version in November 2012, and a beta version that draws strongly on user feedback is already underway. According to the Listar blog, the beta version will incorporate features that include a points reward system and crowd-sourced gift capabilities. The primary component of the present business model is performance-based advertising. In other words, Listar receives a commission from e-commerce retailers for each successful referral.
For the time being, growth is organic while the company continues to build momentum. Listar hopes to globalize the site as soon as possible in order to reach its secondary targets, Brazil and the U.S. Hispanic market. In addition to intensive work on translation and similar adaptations, the company is in the process of acquiring the domain “compras.com,” or shopping.com, in Spanish and Portuguese.
Vielma has no exit strategy in mind at this time, as he instead focuses on the long term and on upcoming new projects. Though he will consider proposals on behalf of his investors, he is optimistic about building a successful and independent company.