When we first wrote about Joe Einhorn’s company, thingd, it was mostly flying below the radar, and surprised the blogosphere with its all star cast of investors and board members. This week, Betabeat has learned, Mr. Einhorn will be surprising the NY tech scene a second time. The Fancy, one of the consumer facing projects under the thingd umbrella, has secured a $10 million round of financing at a valuation north of $100 million.
Interestingly, the big bucks don’t come from a typical venture investor, but from a new lead investor PPR, the $16 billion French multi-national run by Francois Henri-Pinault, which owns the globe’s biggest fashion brands, including Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga. PPR has earned a reputation for its smart, aggressive acquisition strategy and saw its stock jump after an impressive third quarter, but is little known in the tech world.
Why the big interest from the world of high fashion? The Fancy is part of a new breed of startups that encourage users to clip and share their favorite images from the web. Tumblr is the originator of this behavior, and generated a lot of interest among big fashion brands. Pinterest, which just raised a large round of its own, was the evolution of this business to a much more product-focused service.
Like both these sites, the Fancy is about visual discovery and has become a natural home for fashion brands, which see a high level of engagement from tastemakers around their goods. Clicking around the site a bit, we discovered that Mr. Pinault, husband of Salma Hayek, is quite the active user himself. You can see how the site showcases fashion goods, and easily imagine how it might work for fine art, since Mr. Pinault also owns a majority stake in Christie’s auction house.
What makes The Fancy different is that it did not begin as a blogging platform like Tumblr or a bookmarking tool like Pinterest, but as an extension of Mr. Einhorn’s ambitious project to create the web’s best database of “things”. If Facebook is the social layer on the web, thingd aims to be the object layer, the platform that identifies images and collects metadata around everything from Gucci sunglasses to comic book collectibles.
The Fancy is a slick-looking product, not surprising considering that design guru Jack Dorsey is on the board. And like its peers, the site generates a ton of user activity, with some items collecting thousands of “fancies” and hundreds of comments.
But PPR likely chose The Fancy to partner with over more established competitors like Pinterest and Tumblr because of the backend. Semil Shah, writing in TechCrunch about this new class of startups, noted that Pinterest will monetize by driving traffic to shopping sites and collecting affiliate fees. Farther down the road, it may attempt to enable the “internet of things” by matching pictures taken offline to items in user online collections. But, said Mr. Shah, “My suspicion is that Pinterest will focus entirely on product for some time. Any site like this has a long way to to go.”
In that respect, The Fancy has a big head start. Thingd was built from the ground up to enable exactly this kind of behavior and already has a massive dataset of hundreds of millions of objects that ties together their online images and their offline IDs. With under ten employees last we heard, The Fancy now has serious capital and the best brand partnerships a tech company could hope for. The world of fashion startups in New York just got a lot more interesting.
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