How Dash Hudson Uses Pretty Pictures to Sell Products

Social media company turns Instagram posts into mini retail outlets

Written by Joe Castaldo

Halifax-based Dash Hudson started as a men’s style app, but relaunched last October with bigger ambitions. Now the company works with fashionable Instagrammers (or “influencers” in marketing-speak) to turn their posts into mini online stores. Users can purchase the clothing featured in photos directly through Dash Hudson’s app. The company takes a cut of any sales, and when a brand wants to launch a campaign with Dash Hudson, it takes a percentage of the ad spend.

Co-founder and CEO Thomas Rankin explains why the company changed direction, and why the new business plan is viable. The company originally started as an e-commerce app for men, showing them clothing they could buy based on their style and preferences. Where did that idea come from?

Thomas Rankin: From an experience I had shopping online. I was on the Pinterest mobile app and saw this Burberry coat that I really liked, and decided that I wanted to purchase it. When I went to buy it, I just hit a dead link. So I had an intention to buy this product, and it was completely destroyed. I thought: this is how we’re all consuming media now, and this is how we’ll all get inspired to purchase things, with photo-driven lifestyle apps. But somebody’s got to find a way to better connect those images to the products that we want.

How did the initial app do?

We gave that a push for about six months when we launched last March, and we were seeing some really great traction. We realized that this whole idea of a photo-driven, lifestyle shopping experience didn’t necessarily need to be limited to the men’s space. We heard from a lot of guys’ girlfriends that this was something they wanted as well. As we thought about this, we started to look at Instagram as a platform.

It wasn’t just a way to push out our content, but a potential source of acquiring new customers. That’s where all that beautiful fashion imagery now lives, so we decided to create a shopping experience around what people are already doing. After diving into Instagram, we realized there were some significant problems with how people try to acquire what they see on Instagram. You couldn’t purchase anything directly. We thought we could solve this with technology.

So how does your app work?

We create a customized newsfeed based on the connections you already have on Instagram, and we work with more than 300 creators and influencers ourselves, and have partnered with agencies who manage these people. They could be top models, fashion bloggers, celebrities, or just cool kids. When brands come to us and say they want to reach a certain girl or guy on Instagram, we’re then able to curate a list of influencers that they may want to work with. The retailer or brand’s products get added to our platform, and then when the influencer comes to our platform and uploads a photo, they can tag the items they’re wearing. You, the user, are able to buy those products directly in the application.

Is everybody featured on the app part of your influencer program?

No, there’s a social aspect too. Lots of people come into the application and create their own looks that can then be shopped. We also have an editorial function where we’ll create looks based on people that we like.

How closely do you work with Instagram the company, if at all?

We don’t have a direct relationship with Instagram, and we don’t need to. We use some pretty simple technology through their public API.

Other companies and apps have tried to solve the problem of shopping through Instagram, but what if Instagram decides to build in this functionality on its own? Where does that leave you?

We’re well aware that things will change with Instagram over time. Our focus is not on solving one small problem. We’re focused on building an integrated platform that allows brands and talent to be successful on Instagram. So we’re positioning ourselves as the experts in this space, and we’ve created a few interesting innovations that are proprietary.

But do you have a plan if tomorrow Instagram announces they’re going to be doing this exact same thing?

Absolutely. We’re already looking at other platforms, but we haven’t extended ourselves on those yet because we think there’s still a great opportunity on Instagram. Regardless of what mechanisms Instagram launches in the future, we have the expertise, the technology, and especially the ability to connect brands with influencers to create this content. That’s something that can’t be started from scratch very easily, even at a big tech company like Instagram. These are things that get purchased.

Oh, I see. So are you hoping to get acquired eventually?

We’re not really focused on the exit right now, but we have a lot of different pathways we can take if and when the time is right.

What do you think of Rankin’s plans for Dash Hudson? Share your (constructive) thoughts and feedback in the comments below.


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