If you’re a child of the ’80s or ’90s, you probably remember QVC or the Home Shopping Network. Before every retailer had a website, and before Amazon became the “everything store,” people who wanted to shop without leaving the house would turn to one of those cable channels for programming designed to sell products to them.
Today there is no shortage of ways to buy products online, but there aren’t a lot of great channels for discovering new goods that consumers might not know about. And while there’s lots of video content for tech enthusiasts interested in learning about all the newest gadgets available for sale, those videos are fragmented and hard to find online.
With all that in mind, a team incubated out of venture firm Kleiner Perkins has created Packagd, which is building a series of mobile apps that combine unboxing and review videos with the ability to instantly purchase the products they talk about.
Packagd was founded by KPCB general partner Eric Feng, a serial entrepreneur who has also served as CTO of companies like Hulu and Flipboard. His firm put up the initial $1.5 million to get Packagd off the ground, and the company has raised a $6 million Series A round led by Forerunner Ventures and GV.
The app curates a wide array of unboxing and product review videos that creators have uploaded to YouTube and puts them together in a way that simulates the same type of live video programming pioneered by the likes of QVC in the ’80s. At launch, the company will have six hours of live programming that viewers can tune into, as well as replays available for those who aren’t able to tune in live.
To help with its programming and curation of the videos, Packagd has tapped a series of hosts that interact with users and viewers, answering questions and providing feedback to those making comments. It’s tapped a series of popular unboxing and product review stars on YouTube, with millions of followers on social media, to lead discussions that happen within the app.
But the key to Unboxed is combining discovery of new products or the ability to learn more about them, and providing viewers with the ability to buy products directly within the app. Through its partnership with Best Buy, Packagd allows users to make one-click purchases using Apple Pay.
GV general partner MG Siegler’s interest in Packagd was driven in part by the idea of online influencers driving purchase intent, combined with an easy click-to-buy checkout process.
“The core thesis [behind Packagd] has worked in the past on TV… The question is, can it translate now to do it on mobile?,” Siegler told me. “Given the expertise around the table on product development, I think there’s a good combination of people who know how to build a compelling user-facing product.”
It’s important to note that Packagd doesn’t plan to focus only on gadgets and other tech products — in fact, the company expects to release a second app with the same basic functions focused around the beauty and fashion industry in the coming months. A third app for toys could follow later in the year.
In any case, the ability to create a new channel for selling products was part of the appeal for Forerunner’s Kirsten Green, who has invested in e-commerce companies like Dollar Shave Club, Jet.com, Birchbox, Bonobos and Warby Parker.
“The common thread between any investment we’ve made and this investment is what’s motivating someone to part with their dollars,” Green said.
That said, she recognizes the difficulty in creating a new channel like Packagd. “It’s difficult to build a media platform and a shopping platform at the same time,” she said. The good news is that Packagd has at least partially de-risked the content side of things by relying on existing YouTube videos for much of its content.
As for how everyone makes money: Creators whose videos are featured on Packagd will still get counts for their video views and will continue to receive related advertising revenue from YouTube. Hosts and live moderators will receive affiliate revenue for sales that take place within the app while their programming is running live. And finally, Packagd itself sees the opportunity to sell time to brands and the companies making products themselves as part of its programming.
But will consumers be interested? QVC is still making billions in revenue per year, but clearly the audience tuning into QVC today is probably not the same group that will be watching hours of unboxing videos on Unboxed.
The question isn’t whether people are interested in this content, as unboxing videos are some of the most popular content on YouTube. The question is how closely the interest in watching these videos is tied to purchase intent, and if bringing those things together can create a new purchase model on mobile. It’s an interesting experiment, and one we’ll be watching closely.