Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Ambitious Startup Wish Aims to Outsmart the Business of Online Shopping

A young startup wants to create a Google-ified version of Amazon, and in the process grow big enough to compete with both Internet giants.

The hypothetical wormhole to this absurdly ambitious goal? The wish list.

Wish co-founders Peter Szulczewski and Danny Zhang

Wish co-founders Peter Szulczewski and Danny Zhang

The startup is called ContextLogic, and it’s got some of tech’s most smartypants investors behind it, as well as 10 million people already signed up for its wish-list service, called

“We want to be Google AdWords for the retailer,” explained co-founder and CEO Peter Szulczewski, an engineer who previously worked on ad algorithms and search at Google for five years.

Users sign up for Wish to make wish lists. They save, tag and recommend products to each other (and, by default, it’s social-spammy, with automatic posts to your Facebook profile and rewards for inviting friends). Then the company matches participating merchants with potential customers, and sends out discounts for specific products.

So, basically, it’s like personalized coupons.

The target retailer for Wish is an Amazon Marketplace merchant who wants to get more distribution without paying Amazon a significant portion of each transaction. To that end, Wish plans to launch self-serve tools for retailers next month, Szulczewski said. Eventually, it wants to get more closely involved with transactions by offering checkout tools.

The 20-person, San Francisco-based ContextLogic has raised $8 million in funding, led by Palantir co-founder Joe Lonsdale’s Formation 8, with former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, Factual’s Gil Elbaz, Sling co-founder Blake Krikorian, Lady Gaga’s manager Troy Carter, Steve Chen of YouTube and Aydin Senkut of Felicis Ventures and others participating.

WishBecause the Wish experience is all about tastemaking and discovery, “We’re creating hundreds of Fab.coms in different verticals,” said co-founder Danny Zhang, who previously worked on the Overture team at Yahoo.

Wish users have saved 100 million products, and recommend 100,000 of them per day, according to internal data.

There are many other wish-list products out there; for instance, Amazon and Pinterest. Zhang and Szulczewski say Wish’s advantage is that the wish list is pretty, it’s tightly and smartly integrated with an advertising platform and, most of all, it’s constantly being optimized.

Plus, Wish is especially sticky on mobile. Via iPhone, Android and iPad apps, engagement and sales are double what they are on the Web, the company said.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus