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Walk.by steps into online clothes shopping

Startup helps people find fashions by snapping pictures of what they like

Melissa Harris

Chicago Confidential

November 25, 2012

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Chicago entrepreneur Joshua Hernandez's newest startup is testing a service that allows people to snap a photo of a clothing item they covet and, via their mobile phone, request a version of it from area boutiques.

Walk.by uses the photo to query its network of merchants — 80 in Chicago and counting — who respond with possibilities.

"What's important to us isn't the speed, it's the quality of the responses," Hernandez said. The response must be spot on because Walk.by makes money by taking a cut of the sale. Joining the merchant network, however, is free. At least that's the revenue model for now.

This may be the future of online shopping. It's hyperpersonalized and mobile. And it attacks shopping from an entirely different angle than Groupon. There, the company uses deep discounts to try to get people to buy goods and services they otherwise never would have considered. Walk.by enables users to tell local retailers exactly what they want and then eliminates the shopper's burden of finding it for themselves.

The "want" or make-a-photo-request feature is one of several Hernandez and his small team at Walk.by are debuting this year under the tutelage of Lightbank, the city's high-profile venture capital firm. Lightbank's founders also seeded Groupon. Lightbank partner Paul Lee declined to reveal how much the firm had invested.

Hernandez said Lightbank co-founder Eric Lefkofsky is focused on mobile technology, and "everybody is trying to figure out how to do personalization." The app also allows consumers to "follow" the inventory of their favorite boutiques, such as Calvin Tran, Milk Handmade or The Blue Jeans Bar. The Twitter-like feed is just photos of items for sale.

The advantage for the boutique owner is that a post to Walk.by immediately populates the boutique's Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest pages.

"Whenever we said the word e-commerce, a lot of small fashion retailers would say, 'That's someone else's problem. It's too complex to get into,'" Hernandez said. "But they're all posting to Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, so this allows them to put a purchase on the end of those posts with tools that are much easier to use than what they have."

Lee said Hernandez's experience as the founder of Tap.Me, which focuses on in-game mobile advertising, is what landed him the role at Lightbank. He began as a founder-in-residence in June before starting Walk.by in August.

"This is Josh's second venture-funded enterprise," Lee said. "The guys we're looking for are the guys who have that experience."

You shopped, now give

We have Black Friday, then Cyber Monday and now Giving Tuesday.

Local and national philanthropic leaders are banding together for the first time this year to promote giving on the day after the year's shopping binge.

"After two days of giving to the economy, this is a day that's good for the soul," said Henry Timms, deputy executive director of strategy, innovation and content of the 92nd Street Y in New York City, who came up with the idea with his wife, Colleen Giles Timms.

The 92nd Street Y quickly teamed with the United Nations Foundation and began meeting with influencers in cities across the country, including Chicago. Patty Huber Morrissey, the manager of Groupon Grassroots, serves on Giving Tuesday's 10-member advisory board and hosted the Chicago meeting.

Local participants include Loyola University Chicago, which plans to send every senior an email encouraging them to give to a nonprofit on Tuesday, according to the Giving Tuesday website.

Unilever has teamed with Chicago-based Feeding America for its first companywide, food bank drive that day. And GiveForward will launch its Tech the Halls campaign, in which 20 Chicago tech companies will promote and match donations to families that need help covering their medical bills.

"We always talk about the giving season," Timms said. "It has a big close. After Christmas, everyone writes checks. But it doesn't have an opening day. This is our opening day."

mmharris@tribune.com

Twitter @chiconfidential