Cirqls.com is an online marketplace that leverages off social connections in order to create a trustful environment for product purchasing and give visitors a personalized shopping experience.
Backed by Seed Engine South Africa, Cirqls.com enables stores to set-up online storefronts, engage with their fans and followers, reach a bigger market through existing customers and manage their orders and payments easily and conveniently online using social networks.
Cirqls opened a public beta on the 5th of March and has steadily grown through word of mouth and social engagement. Currently the platform is focusing on South Africa, but has plans to expand to other markets in Africa.
Cirqls.com was founded by Mark Karimov (CEO) and Donovan Solms (CTO), both from tech backgrounds, previously working for Archer Inc., a mobile marketing company, where they built high-load distributed messaging systems, allowing Archer to submit over 120 million MMS messages to mobile phones in it’s first year, and forcing some mobile networks to upgrade their servers in order to handle the pressure our systems were putting on their load-balancers.
They are also involved in numerous start-ups locally and internationally working with multi-touch technologies, NFC and mobile solutions.
TechMoran caught up with them and here is what they had to say.
What problem do you solve?
We tackle one of the biggest problem spots on the internet; one that has been there since the beginning of e-commerce – trust in purchase. It takes years for online retailers to build a reputation online and create brand awareness, grow their rating on other marketplaces and compete with long running businesses with high ratings and reviews.
We give an opportunity for such stores to boost their credibility through already established internet presence – social media. Every business has a real person behind it, and we encourage such businesses to be more transparent and show their potential customers that they are real people by linking their social accounts such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, by verifying their phone number and using other tools that help buyers to make an informed decision whether or not they are comfortable to buy from the store. Besides that we provide an extended customer reach for stores through their existing customers.
When someone makes a purchase at your store and happy with the service, then if any of his friends or friends of friends would be looking for something similar, your shop will be on top of the search results for them – they will be more comfortable buying from you because they know someone who bought from you before. Think of it as your store going viral – if one of your customers has only 20 friends on Cirqls, and each of them has just 20 friends, then through 3 levels of friendship your store gets exposed to 8,000 people.
That exposure works even if someone just hits the “love” button on your product – friends will see what their friends are liking and might become your customers. Other than that we aim to give businesses an easy and quick way of creating their online stores, where we take care of all the complicated stuff such as payments and delivery, allowing store owners to focus on what they do the best – their product.
How does it work?
At the heart of our marketplace we put users and their social circles. We enable users to follow shops and friends, like the items, specify interests and based on that information create a personalised shopping experience where you see your own version of marketplace and can be confident when buying from someone. Our TRUST-O-METER algorithm calculates the trust level between two parties and takes into account multiple factors such as social presence, degree of separation between two users, identity verification and many more. It’s our intellectual property and we constantly work on improving our algorithms in order to create a safer environment.
Why social networks ?
Social networks play a big part in our lives and we already transferred our personas and connections into a digital world. By leveraging those connections we can create a trustful community where we link buyers and sellers through their social circles and can help each other to discover great stores and products.
Besides storefronts we enable users to sell their second-hand goods on our marketplace through their social circles – that’s where classified websites fail in terms of giving confidence in selling to stranger or buying from stranger.
On our marketplace you can see who wants to buy from you and what is his trust level, therefore you can approve a buyer, or reject him if feeling uncomfortable. We also first try to find what you are looking for within your social circles as close to you as possible to give you more confidence in purchase – maybe your friend sells something you need, or a shop that friend of a friend bought from before. In terms of features, a lot of stuff still in development and will be released soon, so I would recommend just joining the website and stay up to date with our community. We also like to surprise our early adopters, so make sure you don’t miss the opportunity to be rewarded for using our marketplace.
How many users and store fronts so far?
For about a month of running we have 120 users and 18 storefronts set-up with us. The interesting fact is that it’s all organic traffic and we didn’t do any marketing yet. All early birds stores have an advantage of getting better pricing options from us, free featuring and promotion. We also can send a photographer to take photos of your items, without charge, but only for Johannesburg and Pretoria.
Why eCommerce when there are thousands things to do?
There are thousands things to do in all areas of web, we decided to focus on e-commerce because it shows stable growth and there is a big room for improvements. We believe that there should be an easier way of taking your retail business online, and we need more safe and trustworthy environment to do P2P transactions as well as have a fun and engaging way to discover products we love.
What is your business model?
We take commission from each successful transaction from stores, but don’t charge registration fees or listing fees. We also don’t charge anything for second-hand sales, even commission. So we make money only when we drive customers to your store and you successfuly sell at our marketplace.
Any competition in Southern Africa? How unique are you from them?
There are other marketplaces on the web, but none of them do what we do – there are no social integrations and none of them give an ability to set-up a flexible storefront where items are available in public marketplace. They also do very poor job in terms of recommendations and personalization of the shopping experience.
Any funding yet?
We have a couple of angel investors who are interested in our product, and we are in the process of negotiations and discussions.
We also have a demo day on the 3rd of May that is happening under the Seed Engine accelerator program that we are running through, you can find out more at Seedengine.co.za.
Challenges and future plans
The challenges we have come down to a typical chicken and egg problem where we are going after two markets – sellers and buyers, but we are managing it very well by providing a good value for both segments. We have big plans on extending functionality of the website and expanding to other countries, and all of that will come with time. Mobile apps are on the way, we are constantly working on our TRUST-O-METER algorithm as well as tools for stores to help them better manage their orders, stock and monitor performance.
Who inspires you in the business world?
There are way too many entrepreneurs out there that make things happen, and that what inspires me the most – not people, but actions. Not necessarily in tech world, but all over the world of business. Anything that changes the way we work, live or communicate, anything that make things better.