AHAlife has acquired the photo-sharing service Kaptur and merged so that Kaptur’s engineers can drive traffic to the luxury e-commerce site.
This story first appeared in the August 2, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Kaptur’s seven staffers, including president Tej Bhatia, are now based in AHAlife’s offices on Bond Street in Manhattan, boosting the employee count there to 45. Said to be the largest photo-sharing service on Facebook, Kaptur has aggregated more than 250 million photos from 14 million events touching 60 million Facebook profiles in the past 18 months. Engineers are focusing on perfecting the viral growth mechanics for a brand where there are multiple clear monetization strategies, Bhatia said. (The Kaptur application will continue to service its users and fold into their commerce flow.)
Two months shy of its three-year anniversary, AHAlife.com has raised more than $20 million from three rounds of financing and has a total of 1.5 million registered users thanks to the Kaptur deal, said founder Shauna Mei, who declined to break down that figure. The aim is to have 2 million by the end of the year, by driving traffic through images, she said. AHAlife, a full-price site, currently sells 1,800 labels and expects to increase that figure to 2,000 before January.
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Reached in Capri via e-mail last week, Bhatia said the deal came together through AHAlife president Stephano Kim, a longtime friend and adviser of Kaptur. “By combining Kaptur’s patent-pending viral growth engineering technologies with AHAlife’s proprietary commerce platform, we will be growing a marketplace focused on sharing unique and undiscovered brands. My team and I will continue to focus on what we do best, growth engineering for a robust platform as we are now one company,” he said. “By coming together, we can make a bigger impact on helping each brand on AHAlife reach as many consumers as possible.”
Mei said, “Most luxury brands don’t know how to drive this kind of traffic. They will launch a Web site with pretty photos, and it’s a little like opening a beautiful luxury store in the middle of the forest.”
An MIT grad who studied computer science, electrical engineering and artificial intelligence, Mei said her first job, working with Goldman Sachs, opened her eyes to the opportunities in luxury retail. As Goldman Sachs advised the Neiman Marcus Group on its 2005 sale, Mei realized how old school the luxury retail world was when it came to online retailing. “Luxury really has been the last beacon of retail to innovate,” she said.
Another aspect of online shopping that seems to be lacking is a sense of discovery, Mei said. Noting that most consumers hit the Internet to find specific brands or items, they are less inclined to stumble upon lesser-known brands as they might while shopping in a freestanding store, she said. “A lot of women don’t shop offline, especially ones in their 20s and 30s. How many women already know what they want when they go online? That experience of discovery doesn’t exist online.”
In addition to its institutional investors, AHAlife has individual ones like former French Minister of Commerce Renaud Dutreil and philanthropist and filmmaker Abigail Disney. Iman, Donna Karan and Rachel Roy are a few of its curators, and advisers include Fern Mallis and Deepak Chopra, among others.
Although Mei has been regularly approached about selling the business, she said she has no intention of doing so anytime soon. “I always say that we are the anti-Wal-Mart or anti-Amazon, because I feel all these niche brands need a place to sell their unique products and offer a unique store experience,” she said.