Joseph Einhorn started his first company in NYC when he was 16, which says a lot about his determination to be a game-changer in the tech world. He's since created the Fancy and is innovating e-commerce from the ground up.
The Fancy has key features that its competitors Pinterest and Amazon don't, including user-submitted inventory and image recognition for comparison between products. It doesn't hurt that Kanye West tweeted his admiration for the site last February, and that tons of celebrities are currently Fancying up a storm.
While a new product or app seems to hit the market hourly, Joseph is focused on the longevity, long-term impact, and immediate profitability of the Fancy. We sat down with him to talk about the importance of art, design, and sharing in a time where these three things seem to matter the most.
If it’s a quote, it’s for sale. If it’s a hot guy, he’s wearing something you can buy. If it’s a beautiful place, it’s a place you can book a trip to.
Where does the Fancy fit into the chronology of websites and start-ups that are out right now?
First there was Tumblr, where you see a cool image of something, and then you have a dead-end. Then there's Pinterest, which is similar, and then there's us, but we have a price tag. We've been laser-focused on stuff you can really buy and places you can actually visit or experience, but it's based on the social curation that users already know how to do from these other sites.
Think about us in the way you think of Amazon. They’ve done a lot of amazing things that other people haven’t done or aren’t able to do. The difference is that we believe searching is an old way to do commerce, and that our kind of discovery in the stream is the new way.
How do products or places get on the site?
Everything you see on the site is added by our users. We believe that visitors want a holistic, all-in-one site experience, but they want it curated by people who have great taste, so that’s what we offer. We have the best community, the best tastemakers, and a lot of great celebs, whether they make themselves public or not. We’re rolling out different languages from all over the world, which is really important, because half of our users are not in the U.S. We have about 9 now, but we’ll have over 100 in a few weeks.
That sounds like a huge endeavor.
These are the kind of things people write to us about; these are big challenges that matter. We just launched a slideshow feature to offer another viewing option. We also implemented image recognition so users can find items that look similar to other items. The big picture is that it’s interesting to find things with similar colors, but even more than that, we’re trying to build a unique catalog without duplication.
By doing this, we're asking, “What is the medium that people are ultimately going to be consuming this information in?” If we really know what things look like, their colors and their shapes (think of the Google Project Glass project), we can be a really rich data set. We’ve created a fun social commerce system, but we’re also really trying to take on challenges that will set us apart.
Are users on the Fancy still generating 22 times more content than Pinterest users?
Pinterest has done a great job of educating consumers on this kind of social curation paradigm. It’s showing up everywhere. The good news is that when consumers see our product, they know how to use it.
Our thing is that if it’s a quote, it’s for sale. If it’s a hot guy, he’s wearing something you can buy. If it’s a beautiful place, it’s a place you can book a trip to. In some ways, we’ve constrained our growth because we’re not super-broad self-expression. Ultimately, we’ve ended up with a community that knows we’re a shopping utility for consumers. For brands and merchants, it’s a really great way to access the interests and demand around your products.
The community reinforces what’s popular, and it works. The stuff that ends up in the featured section is always the best stuff.
What's the usage in terms of the site, its mobile apps, and its tablet apps?
We doubled our usage recently, and we’re continuing to sell more and more. We're about to release a massive update to our iPhone and iPad apps, which will allow you to purchase items without having to leave the application. Almost 1,000,000 people have installed our Android app. Each day, users press the Fancy button over 500,000 times, which is crazy.
I just think that Kanye’s the greatest artist ever. Our whole website is like a tiny version of his world.
Industrial design student, Jake Frey, listed his magnetic light switch cover (Neo-Cover) on the Fancy, received a ton of sales, and just got a $250,000 angel investment. Has the Fancy enabled other designers like Jake?
To be honest, I get emails about it happening all the time. With Jake, it’s still going; he’s such a creative kid, and his product is really taking off. We’re trying to figure out how we can be more responsive and helpful to designers like him. In a lot of ways, we’re really leveling the playing field between established brands and emerging artists like him.
In your opinion, what's the most exciting combination of art and technology, either historically or right now?
I'm really blown away by the Google Art Project. I thought that Street View was a funny gimic; it was a great project, but I didn’t think it was the best use case of the technology they developed. Now they’re showing us –- they took street view, and they put it in museums for the purpose of educating us and making our lives better. I’m a technologist so I know how they did it, but it’s the fact that they did it, and that they’re continuing to add more and more museums. If I’m ever really bored or uninspired, I’ll go on to visit an amazing museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, or something. It’s the fucking coolest thing ever…way cooler than our website. [Laughs]
What kind of music do you listen to?
I like mostly rap music.
Any one in particular?
Did you show him the site in order for him to tweet about it? What were his reactions to it?
I’m not really the one to speak on that, but I thought it was pretty incredible when he put it up on Twitter. His new song "Theraflu" “Way Too Cold” is amazing. I just think that Kanye’s the greatest artist ever. Our whole website is like a tiny version of his world.
Young people are exposed to so much information, and you have to filter out so much. Some people have really strong messages, but they can be so negative. No matter what anyone says, I think that Kanye is really, really positive, and that's important.
When I first saw the website…
You thought it looked like Kanye’s blog.
Yeah, and when he had his blog, I used to check it every single day.
I love all kinds of art. It’s one thing to do it or make it, but it’s another thing to think of the idea. I usually wouldn’t have done either.
Me, too. Well, we wanted to keep it going.
When I was younger, I used to look forward to the next Robert De Niro or Al Pacino movie. My favorite movie in the world is Heat with both of them in it. Now, I look forward to a song from Kanye. There’s nobody in the arts right now that impacts culture like he does.
There’s a lot of great music out there, obviously. I love Soulja Boy; he’s such a talent. He used the internet to propel himself, and he’s taking care of his family.
Who do you admire in the arts or fine art?
There’s an artist I found through our site, his name is Technodrome; he did this piece with Rick Ross. He’s a really nice person with a really great perspective on what could be considered art. There’s a little bit of color and a lot of humor. I also like Salehe Black, who designs for Cole Haan; he’s another really talented artist that I found through the site.
I also really love Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons. It’s one thing to do it or make it, but it’s another thing to think of the idea. I usually wouldn’t have done either. [Laughs]
What are the hardest and easiest parts of your job?
There’s nothing that’s really that hard, and everything is really easy. We’re all healthy. We’re mostly a technology company, so nothing is really that hard. Everything is doable with these sorts of projects. It just takes time, and we have an amazing team.
If you could have anybody Fancying who isn't already, who would it be? They can be alive or dead.
Did you see the kid, Caine, who made the cardboard arcade? We have to be careful about young people on the site, but when he’s older, I hope he gets the Fancy. He’s amazing. He’s a little boss.
As far as dead people, I could think of so many amazing people, who it would have been a dream for them to look at the website. I guess I would say everyone who’s not alive. I would have really gotten a chance to know them better.
Follow Complex on the Fancy: http://thefancy.com/complexmag