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Welcome to the Racked Awards, our annual celebration of the best in fashion, beauty, shopping, and health. Below, meet Ben Pieratt, who we've dubbed the Person Most Likely to Change the Way You Shop.
Photo: Paul Reinheimer
In 2009, Ben Pieratt was a 27-year-old graphic designer who spent a lot of time bumming around the internet.
His online habit led him to FFFFound, a visual bookmark tool and design inspiration site that functions as something of a minimalist, highbrow Pinterest. "It was the first time I'd ever seen a bookmarklet used, and it blew me away. I used to get lost on it for hours," he says. "I realized if you were to build a retail experience that essentially borrowed the social and design mechanics of FFFFound, you'd have the experience of online window shopping unlike anything else. It would encourage you to get lost."
He put together a team, got a little money, and launched Svpply, an innovative but easy-to-use site that bridged the gap between shoppers, retailers, and tastemakers. Debuting right before "curation" became an inescapable, oft-mocked buzzword, the social shopping site encouraged users to, yes, curate collections of products. It raised half a million dollars in funding right off the bat, and users became fanatically addicted to it.
eBay acquired the startup in 2012, keeping Pieratt and his team on to continue working on the product they created. Shortly after the acquisition, Svpply published a blog post promising that, acquisitions aside, the site wasn't going anywhere: "We'll continue to bring our users new products each day—allowing our loyal fans to explore beautiful products and stores, all of them hand selected by the community."
This summer, just over two years after the ink dried on the business deal, eBay announced that the site would be no more. Within hours, a project called Very Goods popped up on Kickstarter. Pieratt was behind it. "Svpply is being shut down and that sucks. Let's get together and make a new one," he wrote at the time. It was fully funded within a month, reaching 125% of its goal.
Pieratt hasn't slept much since. Very Goods will launch in November to just over 1,200 users, most of whom backed the Kickstarter. "I'm really looking back to the original Svpply. It doesn't have to do much more than it did back in 2009, which is kind of crazy," he says of what to expect from the venture. "When it came out, there were no sites that did what Svpply did. It provided a new function and packaged it in a fairly modern way. Between the functionality and the aesthetic, it hit some pretty good notes."
The internet has changed a lot during the last five years, but he believes Svpply-style sites have remained relevant, partly because web browsers haven't evolved much, but mostly because "people have different taste and Svpply provided a unique viewpoint that wasn't being provided elsewhere." That unique viewpoint is largely created by careful curation, something Pieratt hopes to retain—and maintain—on the new site.
"If you were to talk to any retail startup, their ultimate goal would be total market dominance. I think that's what hurt Svpply," he explains. "We had a pure product, and then we had funding, and then we had to scale, but we didn't know how to do that. We lost what had been the primary driver of interest to begin with, which was an exclusive community with very specific tastes." Putting a membership cap in place will help Very Goods (which Pieratt describes as "niche interest" and compares to magazines like Vogue) achieve that same insider appeal Svpply had when it first launched.
Of course, Very Goods won't just be about community and curation—it'll be about buying stuff, too. "The fact is there's still no Fifth Avenue of the internet," he said. "There's not a place I can go to see lots of stores and products, and know that they're all going be a certain level of quality because they're there. The laws of real estate do not apply online yet. Svpply was trying to get there and didn't work. The idea is that Very Goods will be a place to see some of the best stores with great presentation of products."
And if Very Goods doesn't become Svpply 2.0, Pieratt has many, many more ideas up his sleeve. "What's wrong with e-commerce is what's wrong with the internet in general," he said. "I don't see enough people empowering themselves to do crazy shit. There's not enough fun on the internet. There's not enough breaking stuff. There's lots of things to be tried yet. Sky's the limit."