Would you be interested in a monstrous, larger than life bowling set that requires you do get in a huge, transparent ball to topple a set of foam pins? This isn’t a rhetorical question – though it easily could be – it’s something that Tip or Skip really, really wants you to decide.
Following a $2 million investment from 500 Startups, the Corinthian Group, and a number of angel investors, Tip or Skip is making its public debut and releasing its iPhone app. Tip or Skip is a Facebook-connected app and website that allows users to “tip” (like) or “skip” (dislike) products and share those products with their friends. Cofounders Michael Weiksner and Nathaniel McNamara are billing Tip or Skip as a mobile shopping game that will take some of the pain out of mobile commerce.
Tip or Skip certainly feels like a game, but it’s less “mobile commerce” and more “share the things you think are cool.” Dashlane, with its newly-updated iPhone app, is a real player in mobile commerce and has removed the main problem that consumers face when they shop on their phones. Braintree is solving this problem from the back-end, making it easier for developers to incorporate financial services into their apps and allowing them to spend less time dealing with financial regulations and more time building a solid app.
Tip or Skip doesn’t do either of those things. The company’s business model is based on users purchasing items through the service, but the actual shopping part of the service feels almost like an afterthought. The operating theory is that users will turn to Tip or Skip to find and purchase items, but the gamified approach to shopping quickly morphs from a mobile shopping solution to “I have to tip all of the things!”
Where sites like Fab are personally curated and carefully managed Tip or Skip is free-range and shaped by its users. And, really, Weiksner and McNamara are fine with that. Weiksner says that he sees Tip or Skip’s main draw being “the joy of serendipity; it’s finding something that you didn’t know you were looking for.”
Which explains the human bowling ball set. Users might not plan on purchasing every item that they tip, but Weiksner and McNamara say that isn’t the point of Tip or Skip in the first place. McNamara says that Tip or Skip is ”giving you a sense of the things that you love,” and that ”it’s really amazing when you look at one user versus another,” emphasizing the diversity of items on user’s pages.
The company has incorporated some elements of gamification, introducing a metric called “Sway” that acts as a form of online credibility. Sway is used every time an item is tipped and gained when a friend joins the service or someone re-tips one of your products. Humans being the goal-driven animals that they are, Sway is a classic example of a company adding a points-based system to their product to sink their claws into a user and get them hooked on a product that they may have previously ignored.
Without Sway, Tip or Skip feels like a product torn between two different goals. McNamara and Weiksner say that Tip or Skip has “nailed” mobile commerce, but the product itself seems more like a small, product-based social network that people can use to tell people what they like. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this before; people are already adding the items that they like to their Pinterest boards, using Thumb to provide quick, binary feedback on anything, or using Jotly to rate the entire world on a sliding scale. Hell, Facebook would only need to add a dislike button to effectively neuter Tip or Skip.
Tip or Skip is a fine product, for what it is. Unfortunately the company seems to have focused so much on gamifying mobile commerce that it neglected building a solid mobile shopping base in the first place.