7. February 2013–
Keeping track of receipts and purchases might not be the sexiest concept for a startup but there's no denying that it's appealing for other reasons: Practical, effective and time-saving are words that spring to mind when looking at Berlin-based startup Itembase.
These traits are arguably ones that will get the team of three cofounders further than their flashier counterparts. Itembase wants to be users "online inventory for everything", giving consumers the ability to organise their online purchase plus providing post-purchase support. And so far it's working: Itembase has lured close to 100,000 users to the service since launching last August.
We caught up cofounders Stefan Jørgensen and Per Meurling to find out more about Itembase's US expansion and how a Viking helmet could be partially responsible for their success...
Founders Ramo Karahasan, Stefan Jørgensen and Per Meurling
Who are you and what are you doing?
Stefan: Hi, I'm Stefan, one of the cofounders of Itembase. It is a startup that empowers shoppers and consumers. Right now shoppers are supported until they purchase something, but after that they're on their own – the purchase information is spread out.
We want to organise that information and build up a personal inventory for users, letting them do what they want to with the product they buy – we provide the information like receipts, warranties and manuals. We let them manage their purchased items by providing support, FAQs and facilitated reselling. So when the product gets old, instead of putting it under your bed, you can easily sell it – Itembase shows how much the product is worth. It is the digital collection for everything you own.
Per: We do this by giving users a dedicated shopping email address that enables automated extraction and sorting of their purchase data.
How did you come across your idea?
Per: Looking at the sheer amount of things we possess sparked Itembase. The average household has about 10,000 items. And you have no overview of these things. You have drawers full of things, I have a bag full of stuff I want to sell at Mauerpark, which is just never going to happen. We give you a possibility to get an overview and control your things in a very easy way, which makes ownership meaningful and provides a service for consumers. In a sense it's a social network based on ownership.
Who are the founders, what have you done before and how did you find each other?
Stefan: I founded Itembase with Rheingau Founders in 2011. There are three co-founders, us and Ramo Karahasan, our CTO. I studied law, but started my first startup in 2006, a social network which has now grown to more than ten million users.
Per: I am Swedish, but grew up in Germany. I did some consulting during my business studies, but it wasn’t my thing. I luckily got a job as one of the first employees at SponsorPay as an intern – I was there for three and a half years, in multiple executive roles. I met Stefen at some events in Berlin and really wanted to do my own thing, he was looking for someone for Itembase and it really struck me for being unique and not a clone.
What is your USP and what makes you different from everyone else?
Stefan: Some companies cover part of what we do, but no one focuses on management, an overview of everything – taking you from the moment you buy something until the moment you sell it. It is a broad offering, which makes it complex, but we believe it is the only way to bring enough value to the customer, so they decide to use this one app, instead of lots of different ones.
What is your business model?
Stefan: It's twofold – we offer the inventory service to consumers, which is always free. We then work together with eCommerce shops, which look at our inventory and make offers to user groups. So they offer an extra service, a better purchasing experience – and for that they pay us a monthly fee. People will also share things they buy, and there will be branding on that. Or when users look at the inventory from others, the branding of the shop they bought it from will be there.
Per: On top of that, over time, we will give recommendations based on the life cycle of products, so you have a MacBook Pro, we will send a notification saying there is a newer version out, or everyone is buying a certain new skin. So we let the shops give these offers to the customers. We aren't going to do any of the transactions ourselves, it will all come through the shops. At the moment, we have active partnerships with over 500 shops.
What about data privacy?
Per: The information is never based on you as a single person, it's always cluster data. On Itembase, you will never be your own name, you will be “the iPhone 4 owner”, so shops will be able to offer you the new cover, the iPhone 5 adaptor, but you will never be personally targeted.
Do you worry about annoying customers with these push notifications?
Stefan: We will control completely what will be sent to the user, and once we do more of them, we will let the customer control what is sent to them. At the moment this isn’t relevant at all, because we’re not sending push notifications.
Who is financing you?
Stefan: Rheingau Founders, our incubator, provided us with a small funding round. We've had two seed rounds since with angels like the Zanox founders and the German Startups Group.
Congratulations on winning a spot in the German Silicon Valley Accelerator, what does this mean for Itembase?
Stefan: We get free office space and American entrepreneurs as mentors, who can help us adapt to the US market. From the beginning, both from the consumer and VC side, we saw good traction in the US. Our desire to move over to the US is definitely also based on the size of the ticket. Getting big funding rounds over in Europe is just really tricky, not many will do it for something as visionary as us. We have a campaign for our US expansion, check it out here!
Is there something that you're missing?
Per: We're always looking for senior tech members, though we're pretty well staffed now. We need to work on building up a US staff – we need a good sales person there.
Per: Peter Thiel – his focus on execution and no bullshit is great!
Stefan: Richard Branson, I think he’s very inspiring. It's always interesting to hear from people who have everything and what they then want.
Any advice you'd give for fellow startups?
Stefan: Stay at it! Be persistent, lots of things won't work, but keep at it and listen to yourself.
Per: You need to build a harmonious team. A bad hire will set you back months. Look at team fit first and skills second, if the team enjoys being together, you’ll get good results.
Where will you be in a year's time?
Per: We'll have 75 staff and have launched well in the US.
Stefan: At the Founder competition in San Francisco, my pitch was built up around the Viking thing, because we are from Scandinavia. And the only thing that has ever been successful from Scandinavia has been the Vikings. We've lost every war we’ve ever been to, except when the Vikings conquered everything! We included that in the pitch, and I was pressured into wearing a Viking helmet. The final was between me and this guy who had a cooking startup – he had a chef hat on. So in the end, it was the chef vs. the Viking on stage. And obviously the Viking wins out!