Alexis Maybank, co-founder of pioneering e-commerce site Gilt, saw the power of social media early on as millions of visitors arrived from Instagram and Pinterest to browse luxury products they saw there.
“It would account for huge surges in products,” she said in a recent interview.
Maybank sold Gilt to Hudson’s Bay Co. in January after nine years of holding various executive positions at the company. But after years of watching people discover products in social media, she sees opportunity in changing the way they’re sold. So Maybank, along with Gilt partner Leah Park, has been hard at work on a new shopping app, Project September, which launched Thursday.
The startup, named for the start of the fashion calendar, closed an undisclosed funding round earlier this year. The app, available for iOS, is a collage of fashion photos. Users can tap on a photo and will see one or more small green dots. Clicking on one of these dots will direct the user to an enlarged photo of the product. One more tap on a Buy Now button will direct the user to the retailer’s website. The button changes color if a product is no longer available.
Project September launched with more than 2,000 brands, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Matchesfashion, Coach and Nasty Gal. The app also has what Maybank calls a “launchsquad” of creators, including Marie Claire Creative Director Nina Garcia, model and activist Christy Turlington Burns and celebrity hair stylist and entrepreneur Frédéric Fekkai.
Creators on Project September will receive a majority share of the revenue brought in by each sale. The percentage depends on the product, due to shipping costs and other factors.
Maybank has nearly 20 years experience in the e-commerce industry. She joined eBay in 1998 after working in investment banking and later directed e-commerce at AOL. In 2007, she co-founded Gilt as an online shopping site for buying from top brands at a discounted price. The company raised more than $271 million before it was acquired by Hudson’s Bay in January 2016. Maybank has served as chief strategy officer, chief development officer, chief marketing officer and now president at Gilt.
With Project September, she’s returning to entrepreneurship. While she had a brand name to work with, Maybank chose to build Project September separate from Gilt. “When you’re doing something entirely new and you do it through the confines of an existing brand, it can be hard to shift consumer expectations,” Maybank said.
Project September is launching as its own app with no content provided from other social media apps. Users can log in through Facebook or Instagram, which will inform the app what accounts to suggest for the user to follow. Creators can share their products to other platforms, but the complete experience of tapping and shopping stays on Project September.
Project September secured funding from William Morris Endeavor, Venrock, Greylock Partners, First Round Capital, Montage Ventures and others in a seed round. Maybank declined to disclose the amount.
One of her investors, Nick Beim of Venrock, helped lead her Series A when she was fundraising for Gilt and served on the company’s board. Despite the potential of Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest eating into their business, Beim said he is not concerned. Beim said he has watched new businesses thrive by narrowing their focuses in the industry. The social networks “enter into conflict with their ecosystem. It’s a very awkward position,” Beim said.
Beim noted the rise of Houzz, a “lookbook” for home designing, despite Pinterest’s own offerings. Zillow and Trulia still thrive as real estate marketplaces despite Google having access to search data. Even so, Facebook released a shopping method with its chatbot store Tuesday and has been reworking Facebook pages for retailers.
Project September “responds to the cover psychology of the online fashion buyer who is plugged into social media. They want to be able to shop impulsively,” he said.
The future of the app, according to Beim, means building out the audience in the U.S. while also considering potential in overseas markets like Japan — a big division for Gilt — and Europe.