Krush Comes Out of Stealth, Driving to Own the “Product Graph” for Action Sports Fans, Brands

What do you get when you cross a Jewish guy from Argentina with a Turkish Muslim from London, and a female entrepreneur from New York who, by all accounts, shouldn’t even be alive?

Answer: You get Krush.

The Cambridge, MA-based Internet startup is unveiling its new site today. The company has an intriguing vision for helping clothing and lifestyle brands tap into the 16-to-24-year-old consumer demographic. It doesn’t seem to matter that the company’s founders—Alexis Kopikis, Alan Osman, and Gina Ashe—are all well past that stage in their own lives. They have hired a growing staff that reflects the diversity of their target demographic, and they have done a year and a half of research to understand how young people find and share products that they choose to identify with.

In short, traditional ads don’t work with the younger set, Krush says. High-school to college-age kids decide what to buy by watching what products their friends like on Facebook; they watch what people they admire are wearing on YouTube; they share their brand likes and dislikes broadly via social media; and they decide together what’s cool and what to buy based on all of the above. It’s a far cry from checking out the local mall or watching TV ads, though there is surely some of that going on too.

As Krush would tell it, marketing-tech and customer-research firms like BzzAgent and Communispace are great for 25-to-40 year olds (and older consumers), who tend to be more traditional in how they find new products and make purchasing decisions. Their tastes also don’t change as fast. But with the younger set, “this is a really different market,” says Ashe, who is Krush’s CEO.

The startup chose to target action sports—snowboarding, skateboarding, surfing, BMX—and streetwear brands first, because consumers are particularly passionate and social about how these brands reflect their own lifestyles. You’ll see kids posting items from big brands like Nike SB, Oakley, and Quiksilver, and emerging brands like Skullcandy, 10Deep, and Obey.

Krush plans to make money by playing matchmaker and connecting young people with these brands. Its software platform lets brands tap into consumers and fans to predict demand for their upcoming lines. The approach is a mix of crowdsourcing, social networking, game mechanics, and e-commerce—but I’m showing my age with those descriptions. The idea is that users browse future styles and gear and vote for their favorite items online—which could potentially help brands make decisions about what to produce and how to capture the biggest market.

For instance, Krush wants brands to use its platform to see which particular model of sneaker, or color of watch or headphones, gets the best (or worst) response. Brands can then drill down into Krush’s database and see detailed breakouts of consumer preferences by product type, features, geography, and so forth.

A key component: Users compete to see who has the most influence among their peers in terms of starting fashion trends. The top performers in this lovefest between brands and their fans will get recognition—and free merchandise. (Indeed, according to Krush, “kids respond to two things: stuff and fame.”)

The overarching goal here is to own the “product graph,” which is analogous to … Next Page »

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