Startups
Ecommerce / Food and drink / Retail / Technology

This DC startup wants to slide into your DMs

Meet Shop Or Not, a new way to buy indie food products via text message.

Shop Or Not recently sold locally-made Chups by text. (Courtesy photo)
I have a new texting relationship, and the object of my attention wants to send me some fancy power bars. They come in Strawberry Coconut or Nori Sesame Sea Salt flavor. They’re (obviously) made in California. And if I want to buy ’em all I have to do is text back.

This is Shop Or Not, a newly D.C.-based startup working out of 1776.

The concept is this — sign up for the service and every week Shop or Not sends you a picture of a food with a short description. The food is always made by a small, hyper-local business somewhere in the U.S., but other than that it’s something different every week. Enticed by the offering? Simply text back “Yes” to buy it.

My budding text relationship. (Screenshot)

My budding text relationship. (Screenshot)

All products are under $20. The first time a user opts to buy a product they have to go through a process of filling out shipping and credit card information, but after that the process is as streamline as a text message. Have a question about a product? Just text and ask! There are real people at the other end of the line.

Kate Myers and Kelly O’Malley, the real people at the other end of the line, recently moved Shop Or Not to D.C. from Los Angeles, but Myers is originally from the area. Her background is in mobile apps, and “I wanted to do something that would cut through all the noise,” she told Technical.ly in a recent conversation. “We wanted to do something that would feel like a relationship.”

And so they settled on the humble text message — the place where you stay in touch with friends and family or flirt with that cute guy you’ve got a crush on.

For the consumer Shop Or Not introduces a kind of whimsy and intimacy into shopping — and exposes you to products you might not otherwise encounter. And for the food brands its a way to get national distribution, something none of the very small companies Shop Or Not works with have access to. There’s also this level of earnestness and legitimacy to Shop Or Not’s texting conversations, and Myers and O’Malley work diligently to harness that.

We're you're friend that texts you something great every week. We don't text out things that we're not actually fans of.

Shop Or Not runs using Twilio and Stripe for processing payments, but the team has also built a custom backend that helps tag users by location and preferences and anything else that helps Myers and O’Malley keep up a fairly real conversational relationship with their customers. For a startup in the internet age, Shop Or Not is impressively hands-on. When I mention to Myers and O’Malley that I often get overwhelmed just trying to stay on top of my personal texting relationships they laugh. “You wouldn’t like working here.”

Since sending its first text in May 2016 Shop Or Not has remained a small enterprise — just Myers, O’Malley and an engineer who works remotely from New York City. Moving forward the duo plans to expand into new verticals using the same concept — indie fashion for under $100, for example, or coffee.

For now the question is: Do I want those fancy power bars?

Companies: 76 Forward

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