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Winklevoss twins lead investment in start-up shopping site

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Wed, Nov 14, 2012 21:21 hrs

While many are still lamenting the failures of the Facebook's initial public offering, two of its most well-known shareholders are no longer wringing their hands.

Instead, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss — the twins referred to as the "Winklevii" in the movie "The Social Network" - are using prodigious winnings from their legal settlement with Facebook to build a portfolio of investments in start-up Internet businesses.

The Winklevosses recently led a $750,000 investment in Hukkster, a start-up shopping Web site based in New York. The site is a savings manager that allows shoppers to track online merchandise and then receive a notification when the price drops.

Hukkster, started by two former retail industry consultants, Katie Finnegan and Erica Bell, makes money by collecting a small referral fee for each sale it drives to retailers. It has more than 10,000 users and has had success working with the likes of J Crew, Bloomingdale's and ShopBop.

"Hukkster is about buying something that you really need and really want rather than buying something out of emotion," Finnegan said, comparing her service to the flood of e-mails from daily deals, flash sales and auctions.

The Hukkster stake is the second investment by Winklevoss Capital, a start-up venture firm that is putting money into early stage technology companies. The brothers' first investment this year was a $1 million stake in SumZero, a Web site that connects professional money managers. The 31-year-old twins — Olympic rowers who competed in the 2008 Games — have yet to open an office, but have secured space in Manhattan's Flatiron neighbourhood.

The Winklevosses were Harvard classmates of Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg. They created ConnectU, a social networking site at which Zuckerberg briefly worked. They then sued Zuckerberg, claiming he stole ideas and computer code from ConnectU.

In 2008, Zuckerberg and Facebook settled the case, paying the twins $65 million - $20 million in cash and $45 million in stock. At the social network's current share price, the stock portion is worth about $150 million.

The two learned about Hukkster over the summer, after a friend sat next to Bell at a wedding on the Jersey Shore. Impressed with the Hukkster concept, the friend - "he's in private equity, so he'd rather not be mentioned," Cameron said - introduced Bell and Finnegan to the Winklevosses.

"We started digging in and using the site," Cameron said. "We then had dinner with Katie and Erica and within a couple of weeks we had a deal confirmed."

The latest venture round for Hukkster comes on top of $250,000 in seed capital invested by a group that included Jerome S Griffith, the chief executive of Tumi, and Chris Fiore, a former executive at American Eagle Outfitters.

Finnegan, 29, and Bell, 28, are quick to differentiate Hukkster from trendy so-called flash sale outfits like Gilt Groupe and HauteLook, or Internet coupon sites like Groupon. Unlike those sites, which "push" deals onto their members, Hukkster only notifies users about price reductions for items they have decided to track.

Here is how it works. A Hukkster button sits on a browser, and as shoppers browse the Internet and see desired merchandise they can "hukk it" by clicking the button. At that point, the customer tells Hukkster what size, colour and price she is willing to pay. The site monitors the price of the item, and when it drops — or a coupon materialises — the customer gets notified by e-mail or text message.

"It's the pull rather than the push - that's the key," Cameron said. "You're only getting a notification if you've asked for it."

For now, Hukkster is a shoestring operation, with three full-time employees working out of Finnegan's tiny West Village apartment.

Asked about the company's oh-so-very dot-commy name, Ms. Bell explained: "We're your peddler out there making deals, a modern-day huckster bringing deals to your doorstep."

Throughout the day on Monday, Cameron sent DealBook e-mail alerts from Hukkster about deals that the site had flagged for him.

"I just saved 15 percent on these Topsiders today!" he said.

Later in the day he excitedly forwarded two notifications from Levi's - 30 percent off on a two-pack of standard fit tees and a 30 percent discount on 511 black-stretch skinny jeans.

On the three purchases, Cameron said, he saved $35, or about 25 percent of the original amount he would have paid.

"I have to say the emotional charge of getting one of these alerts is pretty awesome!" Cameron wrote. "It's kind of like I pulled out my winter jacket for the first time this year and discovered $35 that I didn't realize was still in there."

Tyler, surprisingly, said he had yet to "hukk," but had a ready excuse for not using the site.

"It's O.K. because Cameron and I wear the same size," he said. "He does the 'hukking' for both of us."




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