YC alum Shopular wants to be your location-aware retail couponing butler

By Michael Carney , written on December 14, 2012

From The News Desk

Congratulations consumers, things are about to get really, really easy. We’re are currently entering the golden age of the smartphone-era, where hardware quality, broadband coverage, and now software innovation are converging at a level that is going to make life dramatically easier and more magical than ever before.

No longer is it necessary to actively reach into our pockets to deliberately launch a shopping app in order to receive its value. Three weeks ago, Y-Combinator alumni Shopular launched a location-aware smart couponing and deals app that is making saving money an effortless experience. Shopular runs persistently in the background and automagically serves up the best coupons and offers for a user’s favorite stores when a user reaches a shopping mall. And it does so, shockingly, with negligible impact on battery life.

In the three weeks since launching into public beta for both iOS and Android, Shopular has been downloaded 250,000 times. The company’s early users, which are 80 percent female, have given the app a 5-star rating in the iTunes App Store and a 4.7-star rating in Google Play marketplace, with more than 1,000 combined reviews.

Today’s formal announcement of the Shopular platform coincides with its national rollout to more than 1,000 malls, outlet centers, and big-box superstores in all 50 states – previously it was limited to Westfield- and Simon-owned malls in select states. The app currently supports over 100 of the biggest brands and nationwide retailers in the US and continues to add more daily. The founders believe that even at its early stage, Shopular already offers the broadest coverage of any smart couponing app on iOS or Android.

Shopular manually scrapes its coupon content from each retailer’s website, social channels, and email distributions, and both algorithmically and then manually verifies its validity before delivering it to users. In this way, the company believes that it has largely solved the “dirty data” problem that plagues the couponing space and typically results in users finding more invalid, expired, or mis-labeled coupons than those which work as advertised.

Shopular is the product of two extremely high-caliber founders. Navneet Loiwal was the first engineer at Google India, where he co-founded Google Finance, after which he joined mobile shopping startup Shopkick as an early engineer. Loiwal’s co-founder Tommy Tsai was the first engineer at Shopkick, before which he was an early engineer at mobile location startup Loopt. Needless to say, the pair know a thing or two about mobile commerce and location technology.

The real magic of their platform is its ability to recognize when a user is actively shopping and serendipitously surface relevant deals. As Loiwal tells me, “This is not a research app. It’s a set-and-forget experience.” Better yet, it learns from each user’s behavior, as well as their existing Facebook interest graph, to improve and personalize the smart notifications to them. Therefore, a user who regularly engages with The Gap, is likely to see Gap-related offers surfaced more prominently and frequently than those for other less-relevant retailers.

As beneficial as Shopular stands to be for consumers, it offers brick-and-mortar retailers the holy grail of delivering direct, real-time offers to consumers as they shop in their own, or even a competing retailers’ stores. Macy’s, for example, could choose to offer a 30 percent off coupon to a loyal Gap shopper the second they walk into a neighboring Gap store. If, by doing so, Macy’s can get a larger than otherwise available portion of that user’s daily spending activity, then the promotion was money well spent.

The company has not yet begun working directly with retailers to offer exclusive or promoted offers. Instead, the founders have chosen to focus on user acquisition and proving traction before entering these negotiations in the coming quarter. That said, by offering retailers the ability to communicate directly with consumers in real time at the point of decision making, Shopular has tremendous opportunity for monetization. Furthermore, in an era when too many brick-and-mortar retailers are combatting the connected consumer and showrooming trends, Shopular and the like provide an ideal opportunity to change this adversarial conversation.

Shopular has not yet disclosed financing beyond that received from Y-Combinator and its associated Start Fund. Even more surprisingly, the company currently consists of only Loiwal and Tsai on the technology side, while employing a domestic team of part-time content curators as well.

Shopular is joining a current wave of always-on smart apps, including Google Now, EasilyDo, and others that can consistently adapt to a person’s life and work for them, rather than mandate a change in a person’s behavior to benefit from an app. As a result, there is less and less friction at the point of purchase, than ever before. It's getting to the point that it’s getting almost too easy to justify shopping just to save money.