June 13, 2013
What’s Hovr.it and how does it work?
HOVR.IT is a window shopping tool that is generally described as ‘Shazam for shopping.’ It’s currently a browser plug-in/add-on that helps online shoppers find retailers for items discovered in images anywhere online. It works by using proprietary visual search technology to make images clickable for product search. The experience works by revealing the HOVR.IT search icon on images when moused-over on Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram on web. When clicked, the program scans the image and matches it to retail products within the HOVR.IT catalogue. Matches are then displayed within an appearing browser sidebar, instantly allowing the shopper to capture inspirational moments around images, and convert them into comparison shopping moments. It really aims to address the product search pain online; particularly for items where traditional word search is not sufficient. It addresses the needs where shoppers ‘see something they like and don’t know where to find it,’ and ‘does the challenging comparison shopping homework’ all at the point of discovery. With HOVR.IT there is no word search, and users do not need to go to 3rd parties to start looking for retailers. The whole experience stems from the fact that ‘destinations of discovery’ (i.e. places where people discover ideas) are not naturally connected to retail, and so providing a medium to capture those ‘a-ha’ moments and do all the hard work around search and comparison helps fulfill the needs of today’s internet-enabled consumer.
What’s the social implication of Hovr.it?
Being socially aware is very important to us, although I’ll have to admit that we haven’t been able to really donate much to the causes around us just yet. We do donate time back to the startup community, but our greatest success will be when we have the capacity to really give back to the things we believe in a structured way.
How did you come up with the idea?
It’s actually the result of a significant pivot from a previous mobile app that a few of us were working on in the location-based networking space. We spent just over one year developing this app, but almost immediately after launch realized that we had created a solution to a problem that nobody had. A natural mistake I guess made by the enthusiasm for a cool concept but not enough of a pain in the market. However, we did spend that time educating ourselves on the geographic value of information. So in June of 2012, when we got into an incubator program in Toronto, we started to think about other tangible location-based problems. What we landed on was that people are discovering product ideas everywhere (specifically apparel on Pinterest at the time), and people (like my girlfriend) may want a way to find nearby retailers so that they could have the potential to try on an item and buy it. That sparked what has now become HOVR.IT.
Who’s behind the startup?
As a team of 6, we are pretty much obsessed with HOVR.IT (this happens to be a great thing for business; not quite a great thing for your significant others). We have a pretty diverse group from all over Southern Ontario, who all have a fairly long commute to meet in our office, again an indication of how much we enjoy what we do and each other. If I had to describe the team in 1 word, I’d say ‘ridiculous.’ This is what makes it such a great time to work on HOVR.IT with this group. Steve (our CTO) is super competitive. Every year he does the CN Tower climb for charity, and this year he was actually the 1st one to the top. Vick always has some kind of story to tell and Dave, aside from being a professional poker player, is probably the most distracting CMA you will ever meet (but in a good way). He’s like the energizer bunny. Chris is a jokester, and Kevin is probably the most down to earth guy on the team. Overall, we enjoy the simple things; like free food and booze when we can get it and fast internet connections.
How did you guys find/meet each other?
Vick, Dave and I all went to university together, so we’ve been friends for a long time. I actually know Vick all the way from primary school, but we never really knew each other back then. Only when we were in university did we start to really hang out. The 3 of us started working on a project together soon after graduation, and from there it snowballed to a few other ideas and finally led us to pursue our mobile app ideas. Steve joined us early on after we entered the incubator, and was a great addition to the team. We actually met him online – so for those who are skeptical about meeting people online, at least our story is an example that it can work. We were actually all science guys in undergrad too, so it was somewhat a tie that bound us.
Why did you decide to go down the startup-route instead of getting a (or keeping your) 9-5 job, perhaps in a large corporate?
You can learn a lot in large business, especially about corporate organization, the importance of placing processes around operational activities, and the importance of building teams and how to stay organized. However, the politics and slow-moving nature of big business is what left the sour taste for us. What probably sparked our interest for startup were those ‘what if’ and ‘wouldn’t it be cool if’ conversations we always had. After a few of those, eventually something sticks that gets people excited, and from there it kind of creates this motivation in your mind around an idea and then slowly started to execute it. As well, we were all in the mindset that if we wanted to do something like this, now is the time. We didn’t have huge responsibilities to other people, or mortgages etc, so we figured if not now then when? The excitement of the unknown was maybe too much for us to overlook, and we knew that no matter what happened, fail or success, we would have learned something more valuable than any job or class could teach us.
Are you guys angel funded or VC backed already? If not, are you looking to raise money and what expertise would you require from an investor?
We have raised a small angel round but most of our funding has been from government sources. There are some administrative requirements when spending government dollars, but the non-dilutive options are of course very attractive. The angels that we did raise from brought along their networks, and their access to certain verticals that we needed to supplement. I think it’s very important to raise money from people who can bring more value than just money, and of course align with your vision and believe in the team. The interesting thing about raising money is the search for the ‘partner’ – very much like getting married. You need to go on a lot of dates, and find that right person. For that reason it’s sometimes tricky.
What piece of advice would you give to 9-5ers who are dreaming to startup their own web venture?
You don’t need to build anything to validate if your idea has legs. Even if your idea isn’t’ completely crystallized, you can easily setup a website and circulate it to your existing social network to get an idea of if there is something there. Don’t be afraid to tell the world about your idea. If you’re worried that somebody is going to steal it, don’t be – because somebody somewhere is already doing it.
Always ask yourself – can you do it with less technology. For a non-technical person, getting technical support with little time/money is very hard. Figure out the least number of features to get the point across. Ask yourself again – can you do it with less technology.
Do something your passionate about. No matter what you read in tech-crunch, it’s a long road, so you need to stay motivated to really explore and uncover the value of your ideas. If you’re not passionate about it, then it can fizzle out, and again things don’t happen overnight.
You can’t do everything by yourself – so ask people for help and start by building a great team. Early days the team is all you have. In Toronto the startup community is large enough, and the events all happen after hours, so even if your 9-5 you can still hit up a few events, meet some people and start to get a taste for what is going on. It will be really helpful since you’ll be able to meet people who could help you in the short term as you continue to build out your concept and maybe even meet somebody who wants to join you.