I've had this odd feeling of déjà vu this month, especially as I discover that my first job out of college was at a tech startup that proved to be well ahead of its time.
In 2000, I worked as technical writer, and then a marketing writer, for a startup whose main product was Popupshop.com, which promised 'end-to-end e-commerce in a pop-up window!' In plain English, it meant that you could shop directly within ads online.
Imagine my surprise reading Present Shock, the latest work (and a phenomenal read) by media analyst and critic Douglas Rushkoff and discovering he wound up describing the business model of this startup that died twelve years ago:
On the Web, with the emergence of HTML 5, we are finally witnessing the disappearance of the split between ad and store. In the upcoming rather holistic model of online marketing, the banner ad is no longer a click-through to some other website, but it is the store itself. The ad unfolds and the customer can make a purchase right there and then.* You will be able to buy my next book wherever it is online that you’re finding out about it, without going to Amazon. By embedding stores directly into ads, we reduce the digiphrenia and increase the sales.
Rushkoff, Douglas (2013-03-21). Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now (Kindle Locations 1849-1853). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.
I then got another surprise seeing this story in TechCrunch:
Fresh off its $2 million in Series A funding, in-app mobile payments platform ZooZ is announcing a new product today: in-ad payments. Yes, that’s right, “ad” not “app.” The big idea here is to streamline the checkout process for consumers by addressing some of the challenges with e-commerce on mobile’s small screen, and now connecting that process to mobile banner ads to increase click-to-buy conversions.
With in-ad payments, mobile users will be able checkout by tapping once on a visible banner ad within a mobile app, which then launches ZooZ’s checkout flow. As with ZooZ’s previously launched in-app payments product, the fully native checkout experience here doesn’t require the end user to re-enter their credit card or payment details after their initial sign-up.
This is a tough model to pull off. Which kinds of products would people buy from an ad? How easy will the payment process be especially if you're not first logging into the merchant? How much cross-selling and merchandising can one do within an ad? There are countless other questions and challenges.
Still, it's a reminder not to count out any seemingly hare-brained idea out there. In 2000, I was hardly a true believer in the company; it was an entry-level job that, for the 40-hour work week, amounted to under $13 an hour and yet allowed me to somehow move to New York City, where I've lived ever since. More importantly, it got me into this industry, and I never looked back. Yet it's amazing to think that I was working with some visionaries, and that this model was more than a decade ahead of its time.