Imagine staying at an Airbnb and getting so attached to a certain chair or tea set that you want to buy it. Instead of asking the owner where it came from and tracking it down, Minoan Experience lets you order the product by scanning a QR code. Then it will be delivered to your home within a few days. The native retail startup announced today that it has raised $5 million in seed funding led by Accel.
The company was founded by Marc Hostovsky and Shobhit Khandelwal, who worked together at Jet.com before the ecommerce marketplace was acquired by Walmart in 2016. During that time, Hostovsky worked closely with omnichannel teams, for example e-commerce in Hoboken and San Bruno and the Stores team in Bentonville.
“I realized pretty quickly that the best product experiences don’t happen on screens or shelves, but ‘in the wild,'” he told TechCrunch. “In real moments when you would actually use the product to judge whether you like something or not.”
At the end of 2019 he stayed at an Airbnb and “was completely charmed by the decor. The bed was so comfortable, the knives were perfectly sharp and the host did an amazing job optimizing the counter space in the small kitchen.” Hostovsky and his partner lived in a small apartment in New York City, so they took lots of photos to replicate how the Airbnb space was laid out.
“Then I had this kind of funny realization,” Hostovsky said, “‘Huh…brands spend billions of dollars on Facebook and Google ads to bring their products to consumers’ attention and here we have an authentic experience with these products enough to make us feel inspired to buy it when we leave.”
Coincidentally, Hostovsky left his job at Walmart to join Minoan just before the pandemic hit the US. he said.
Travel was at a standstill for the company’s first two months, but by the summer of 2020 it gradually started to pick up again. One of Minoan’s largest markets, the Hamptons, actually had a very busy season, with most of its short-term rental partners close to 100% occupancy and higher rates due to demand.
“The way people traveled changed, but people started traveling again,” Hostovsky said. “I think the big push for flexible remote working will result in a culture where ‘personal travel’ and ‘work’ are no longer oil and water, and that’s where an experience like Minoan fits nicely between consumer and business.”
Minoan works with approximately 160 product brands, including Pottery Barn, Crate&Barrel, Society6 and Apotheke. In addition to providing an additional distribution channel, Hostovsky said working with Minoan can build brand loyalty. Most guests stay in Minoan spaces for three to four days, during which time they use products from Minoan partners every day. Then Minoan’s technology gives them an easy way to buy those products and also collect reviews.
“There’s a lot of value to be captured there, especially at a time when only 9% of digital ads are viewed for more than a second,” Hostovsky says.
Minoan currently has approximately 80 real estate partners, representing 1,800 spaces. This includes a network of more than 40 hotels, including properties such as William Vale in Brooklyn, Lokal Hotels and Mint House 70 Pine. It also targets short-term rental properties listed on sites such as Airbnb and VRBO. The company operates in the United States, but has large groups of real estate partners in states such as Texas, New York, California, Colorado, Tennessee and Ohio. Part of the funding will be used to expand Minoan’s geographic presence.
For Minoan’s real estate partners, the company gives them a way to furnish spaces below retail prices, which Hostovsky says many pay because of the hassle of buying from wholesalers. “It’s not only expensive, but also labor-intensive, and if you’re an individual owner, it’s a huge burden,” he said. Minoan allows them to save over 30% on items, plus they can earn a commission on everything sold in their space, with Minoan taking care of the administrative side of the shopping process. “We have a custom procurement platform where properties can search, buy and track everything they need in one digital space,” Hostovsky said. “Normally you do this through every single store where you buy products, but at Minoan we house it all in one portal.”
Some of the new funding will be used for staff in India, where Khandelwal comes from. Minoan has offices there in Hyderbad and Delhi. “They will lead technology and product development across various elements of the platform,” said Khandelwal. “We build our entire technical organization in India, so it’s not a back office, but our front office from a technology and innovation perspective. Everyone on the India team gets shares and salaries comparable to the business people in North America.”
In a statement to TechCrunch, Accel partner Dan Levine said, “Retailing has changed dramatically over the past 10 years and the way people shop has been disrupted the most. What drew us to Minoan was their end-to-end approach to retail. , where businesses are typically consumer-oriented or business-oriented; Minoan has created an end-to-end native retail model that benefits both. We at Accel believe this format will enhance the online/offline experience more than ever and create better, more familiar shopping experiences that consumers demand.”