Sep. 13, 2012 1:00 pm

Urban Outfitters’ Free People, Whims, Alphabuyer present at Philly Tech Meetup

Philly Tech Meetup shook things up last night. Instead of the three standard startup demos from entrepreneurs, the final presentation was from Devin Concannon, an SEO manager at Urban Outfitters’ Free People, who spoke about the retailer’s effort to market its new denim line by crowdsourcing photos from shoppers. For the uninitiated, the monthly Philly […]

The monthly Philly Tech Meetup is one of the events that takes place in the Science Center's Quorum facility.

Philly Tech Meetup shook things up last night.

Instead of the three standard startup demos from entrepreneurs, the final presentation was from Devin Concannon, an SEO manager at Urban Outfitters’ Free People, who spoke about the retailer’s effort to market its new denim line by crowdsourcing photos from shoppers.

For the uninitiated, the monthly Philly Tech Meetups at the University City Science Center’s Quorum go something like this:

  • A quick show of hands to determine who’s in the audience — developers, designers, investors. Last night was unusually light on the investor front with only two in the audience, by our count.
  • Three startup demos each followed by questions from the audience. Questions range from innocuous to more aggressive. One audience member essentially asked Alex Pooyan Khorram — who presented a startup called Whims — Won’t people get bored of your product?
  • Community announcements, which are mostly startups looking to hire.  Last night, two current DreamIt Ventures companies — Charlie and FlagTap — said they were looking for more team members. Recently, PTM organizer Rohan Mehta has been cracking the whip on entrepreneurs trying to plug their businesses and those trying to talk for more than 20 seconds. This isn’t an elevator pitch, he says.

Here’s more on last night’s presentations:

Alphabuyer — John Raisch, cofounder of the Paoli-based group-buying service for utilities, demoed the product and spoke about the company’s progress. Check out our coverage of the startup here.

Raisch, who previously worked at GSI Commerce and early Philly tech company CDNow, said that as of Q4 in 2011, Alphabuyer had over four million accounts. The company’s “bread and butter,” as Raisch put it, is electricity and it’s working on partnerships with companies like WattzOn, a service that helps you save money on your utility bills.

Alphabuyer’s offering a special promotion for PTM-ers. Sign up for the service and Alphabuyer will donate $20 to PTM.

An example of a “Whim” created with mobile app Whims.

Whims — Presented by Alex Pooyan Khorram, who founded startup CliqSearch (find our previous coverage here), Whims is an app that could be described as Instagram for text.  Instead of filters, Whims offers templates. There’s a Phillies template, a James Bond template, a Hans Solo template. Confused? See the above image.

Khorram says Whims can turn anyone into a graphic designer.

Whims is close to launch, Khorram says, and you can sign up here to be the first to use the app.

Urban Outfitters’ Free People — We’ll start by saying that with all the models in Free People jeans, Urban Outfitters wins the award for PTM PowerPoint with the most attractive women (though to be true, there wasn’t much competition).

To promote its new denim line, Free People launched a crowdsourced, social photo campaign with New York City-based startup Olapic, said Devin Concannon, Free People’s Associate Manager of Site Optimization, who used to work at interactive marketing shop Razorfish (see our previous coverage here).

He pre-empted people’s groans about using a NYC firm, saying that there wasn’t any shop in Philly that did what Olapic did: aggregate images based on a hashtag.

The campaign encouraged shoppers to take photos of themselves wearing Free People’s jeans and hashtag them. Free People then aggregated the images on its own website to show how real women were wearing the brand’s clothes.  The campaign was a success, Concannon said, with more than 600 people submitting photos and denim sales rising.

“This is kind of a big deal,” Concannon said, adding that there’s not many ecommerce approaching marketing in this way.

Free People got nods in Mashable, Business Insider and Inc., and Olapic raised $1 million shortly after the campaign.

It was such a success that Free People has already launched a second iteration of the campaign to promote its new ecommerce site for the U.K.

Concannon says Urban Outfitters usually gets noticed for its fashion, not its technology, but with initiatives like this and its recent strong ecommerce push, that just might change.

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Juliana Reyes

Juliana Reyes began as lead reporter at Technical.ly Philly in July 2012. Previously, she was a city services beat reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, as part of a project called “It’s Our Money.” She is learning to drive, learning to bike (in the city) but is an expert at taking SEPTA. She grew up in North Jersey and Manila, Philippines but she left the tropics for Bryn Mawr College, where she majored in linguistics. She now lives in West Philly.

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