Over the weekend, I heard about a new restaurant that was opening in my neighborhood. My first thought: but there’s a very popular restaurant just like that right down the street. Now, maybe this soon-to-open restaurant will take off and become extremely successful, but I think that one of the must-haves for any business is novelty and uniqueness: the ability to offer consumers something in a never-been-done-before way.
I recently discovered three startup companies that offer people something different in an original, creative way.
Swirl: A Shopping Haven
Swirl.com stands out amongst the surfeit of virtual shopping sites currently available for all of us fashion-minded individuals. The site is all about what it calls “Inspired Shopping.” Users can sign in through Facebook and then peruse “clips” (similar to Pinterest pins), which are images of clothes, shoes, and accessories from stores like Nordstrom, Kate Spade, and J. Crew.
Shoppers can also organize and share their own individual style collections, much in the way people pin images to Pinterest boards. Yet, this site isn’t merely a Pinterest clone.
For one, commerce is tightly integrated into Swirl. I’ve written about this before, but one of the downfalls of Pinterest from a commercial perspective is the fact that if I see a product I’d like to buy, it’s oftentimes very difficult to do so. Many pins don’t lead to a site from which I can buy said product: they lead to Tumblrs, blogs, or the home page of a website rather than the specific product page.
On Swirl, if I click on a clip, I can either add this clip to one of my style collections or I can buy it.
For this particular bag, when I click “Buy now,” I’m directed to the specific page for this product on Nordstrom.com where I can add it to my cart. Swirl makes for an easy, seamless, and virtually effortless shopping venture.
Another standout feature: sundry special offers from various stores.
I can follow any of these brands on Swirl, and stay up-to-date on these offers.
Visiting Swirl is like taking a shopping trip, but rather than trudging through the stores in the mall in search of the best clothes and deals, everything is served up in front of you on a silver platter: the latest styles, the steals, and the splurges. The site also dishes up fresh, creative sources of fashion inspiration by creating style collections like these:
The Swirl looks to be one of the most valuable fashion resources on the web, and I think it will appeal to all of us who’ve added to our bucket list being featured on The Sartorialist in a photograph that perfectly captures our ruminating tendencies and effortlessly chic and oh-so-Vogue vibe. I’ll need that color-blocked shirt from J. Crew and those Fancy Pants from Nordstrom. I joined Swirl a few weeks ago, and I’m contemplating creating my own innovative, unprecedented style collection; I’m thinking “The working woman, blazer-heavy vibe of Liz Lemon meets the classic elegance and round sunglasses of Jackie Kennedy Onassis.”
Cheek’d: Business Cards Gone Flirtatious
I think Cheek’d is one of the best startups out there because it effortlessly manages to be purposeful, creative, and uproarious all at the same time.
Cheek’d allows people to create a profile on cheekd.com and then order a set of Cheek’d cards, which look like business cards, but they have playful witticisms rather than professional contact info inscribed on them. Rather than scribbling on napkins or paper scraps, people can hand out cheek’d cards to that special someone who catches their eye from across the room at a bar or on the 6 train.
Cheek’d cards have codes on them, so when a lucky individual receives a cheek’d card, he or she can go to cheek.com, enter the code, and then view the card-giver’s profile page.
I first found out about Cheek’d when my boss interviewed the founder and CEO, Lori Cheek. The company’s positive, upbeat, and creative energy immediately intrigued me, and I thought the whole idea sounded like something out of a Nora Ephron movie. (I can see Meg Ryan playing a betrothed yet mildly discontented woman living in New York when she receives a cheek’d card from a Tom Hanks-esque character. Much more You’ve Got Mail than Sleepless in Seattle though. Jonah would cramp his style.)
Cheek’d fills that dating-scene niche, and it does so with a flirtatious energy. Cheek’d cards have clever quips for everyone from the shy and reserved who prefer to play it a bit more subtle to the gutsy and forward mischievous types. A few of my favorite card sayings include:
“I don’t have cats.”
“I just put all my drinks on your tab.”
“Let’s call in sick tomorrow.”
Cheek’d even has a Wall Street-themed deck of cards, which includes gems like:
“Let’s talk about a merger.”
“My chauffer doesn’t ask questions.”
“My apartment smells like rich mahogany.” (Shout out to you Anchorman fans!)
Apparently, Cheek’d is making waves with Hollywood celebrities. Lori Cheek has handed out cards to Willem Dafoe, Uma Thurman, Stephen Baldwin, Kiefer Sutherland, and Mickey Rourke.
I have some suggestions for Cheek’d cards for the above celebrities.
For Stephen Baldwin: “Tonight, you can call me Alec.”
Mickey Rourke: “9 ½ Weeks reprise. I play me. You play Kim Bassinger.”
For Kiefer Sutherland: “For you, I’ve got more than 24 hours.”
Sidetour: Less Touristy, More Fun
Sidetour was founded one year ago in August 2011. The New York Times profiled Sidetour and referred to it as “a social-networking site that operates offline.” Here’s the deal:
Sidetour offers people “social experiences,” right now solely in New York City, but with plans to extend to various major cities around the world.
These experiences include things such as:
“Discover a Friday Fish Fry and Jazzfest at a Brooklyn Brownstone”
“Sail Along Hudson River Park with a Weekend Boating Excursion”
“Go Backstage on Broadway and Learn Wicked Dance Moves”
Sidetour offers people experiences that are far more intimate and less generic, processed, and clichéd than those standard archetypal tourist experiences. (All of the events above are limited to small groups of people.) In Sidetour’s words, these events are quintessential “hand-picked awesomeness.” Why try to elbow and shove through a phalanx of tourists at Times Square when you can kayak along Long Island Sound or take a day trip to a private beach on City Island? I can also see locals taking advantage of the unique experiences offered by Sidetour.
They are also hosted by individuals that are personally vetted for by Sidetour.
The site also offers a “By Request” option: if you want to book the experience that’s being advertised for your own group at another date and time, Sidetour will check with the host to see if he or she is available.
I plan on visiting New York City sometime this fall, and I’m hoping I can somehow get in on this event when I go.
Drinks with a “rockstar photographer” (and by that, I think Sidetour means a photographer of rockstars, not simply a photog who has rockstar skills) who has photographed the likes of Andy Warhol and Al Pacino? Sign me up.
Amidst the flurry of new-business launches, these three startups truly stand out due to their inventiveness and creativity. I’ll be spending the rest of my day shopping on Swirl, crafting a custom set of Cheek’d cards, and booking some experiences on Sidetour—all at the same time.