Organic Commerce Communities

Not organic as in no GMOs, but as in intrinsic or home-grown. On the Internet this refers to what Mary Meeker described in her Internet Trends report as the ‘Internet trifecta = content + community + commerce.’ Perhaps the ‘Holy Grail of web commerce’ would be simpler (but not in the Monty Python sense). We’re talking about platforms that are built and serviced by enthusiasts, where the content and community is naturally aligned with consumer purchases. The commerce is seamless — everything is for sale – and the subscribers welcome it.

Palo Alto based Houzz takes exactly this approach to the home remodeling and design space. The company reportedly raised $150 million (and just shy of $200 million to date) in a series D funding last week. The site provides advice as well as offers products, and for the consumer it is as much about inspiration and idea generation as a place to purchase goods. So, while the general category appears to be home furnishings or Internet retail, the more relevant category might be ‘Internet visual discovery’.

‘Enthusiasms’

Pinterest employed this approach for the mass market with great success – as measured by funding and web traffic metrics. Palo Alto based Polyvore also has successfully used visual discovery to drive purchasing in the fashion world, by creating ‘over 100 million collage-like sets for a global community of consumers’. Successful to the tune of $22 million in venture funding (including Goldman Sachs), the company still casts a very wide net – fashion – and may have difficulty retaining the more focused enthusiast.

Enthusiasts typically want to go right to the source — find a site dedicated to their pursuit, and spend a lot of their time on it (not during work hours, of course). Houzz is doing this for the homeowner. But one could argue that customers on Houzz may be somewhat fleeting. While professional designers represent a more sustainable user base, the core consumer is likely to utilize the site when undertaking a specific project, then move on to other things. Still a huge market, with a renewable base of fresh users, but somewhat transient in nature.

Motoroso

But how about amassing a passionate — and more loyal — customer base for a clearly defined category or lifestyle segment? Remember, enthusiasts not only dedicate a great deal of time to their passions, but they tend to shell out the cash as well. Motoroso is tackling the custom auto and motorcycle enthusiast market head-on. They’ve created a content offering and virtual community focusing on trends, opinion, custom parts, and direct manufacturer sales. The site is part-social, part-commerce (or perhaps, pure commerce in disguise), as pictures, high-quality content and community validation drive both the idea-generation and purchase decision processes.