Meet Mulu, a Pinterest-Like Site for E-Commerce — With a Cause
What do businesswoman Ivanka Trump, author Jonathan Franzen and former Fall Out Boy bassist Pete Wentz all have in common?
The site opens to the public today, after having been in beta mode since early December.
Mulu.me, which was created by San Francisco-based entrepreneur Amaryllis Fox, is an online retail space through which “regular” people, retailers and more recognizable names can recommend Web pages — whether a YouTube video, a link to an item of clothing, even a pair of airline tickets — all for the purpose of driving purchases. On their profiles, users can identify charities for which they’re raising money.
Here’s how it works: Mulu generates revenue from affiliate program fees, then splits it with the “curator,” and the curator decides what percentage of that goes to his or her charity of choice.
So if a Mulu user were to drive a buyer to a product available on Amazon.com, Mulu would get a cut of that purchase — 4 percent to 8 percent — of which the person who originally posted the product would get a revenue share of 2 percent to 4 percent.
Ultimately, this can leave little left over for charity — and there’s no mandate saying users have to give to one — but for some, tying buying to a cause is a motivating factor.
One thing that sets Mulu apart from other curation sites, or even a site like Pinterest, is its question-and-answer element. Users can post a question to the boards, just as they would an image, Web site link or video, and receive answers from other Mulu members.
Around New Year’s Eve, for example, I asked for recommendations about affordable but good champagnes, and received two answers (from people I didn’t know) from the Mulu community. The answers were helpful; what wasn’t as helpful was that the subsequent email notifications simply said I had received an answer, but didn’t include any other content. This is great for Mulu, as it drives people back to the site to see what the answers are, but it can be irksome for users. The company says it is considering changing the notification system.
Aside from a few other features that set Mulu apart — its curator “guru points,” for instance — the site works a bit like OpenSky, an e-commerce site that features celebrities as curators and splits the gross profits with them. OpenSky, which launched in 2009, started out as an e-commerce platform for bloggers, but gained little traction; the company later changed its direction and became a straight shopping site, with “influencers” pushing the products (OpenSky holds inventory; Mulu does not). It’s a newish twist on e-commerce that challenges the traditional recommendation systems.
“It’s not like an Amazon.com or Best Buy recommendation for a digital camera — it’s a professional photographer’s recommendation for a camera,” Fox said. “We’re moving toward a grassroots curation of product discovery online.”
Mulu.me is fun to browse and slightly addictive, regardless of whether the stream is filled with famous people, friends or people you might not even know.
The company is planning a more formal launch around the SXSW Interactive festival in March, which will also include the introduction of a Mulu iPhone app.