Tara Hunt, Buyosphere, Woman Entrepreneur
I kept seeing Taras name pop up on the listserv I am on. Then I had the pleasure of meeting her face to face at a cocktail party. I really wanted to hear her story so when she was in NYC we got together. I am super excited for Tara because just this past week she closed a round of $325K for her company Buyosphere, where people help people shop.
Tara grew up in Alberta, Canada on a farm where is gets to be 30 below quite often. Her parents settled in that area of the world where her father put down roots as the local veternarian. Her mother was an artist so she grew up in a household with two entrepreneurs. She didn't go far from home after high school and went to college in Calgary studying communications and cultural studies.
After graduating Tara got a job working for a gas company in the corporate communications department. The company was in the midst of being acquired so she decided to move into the advertising space once the companies merged and she was given a financial package. She always had an interest in the online world and had worked on flash, and web design development in college and those skills were rare in Calgary. It was 1999 and a lot of advertising companies were expanding their interactive departments. Tara joined an advertising company and did work for the Alberta Childrens Hospital and Big Rock Brewing company. She stayed there for a year and was part of one of those mass exits where a huge group of people get up and leave. Tara left and partnered with some of those people to create her own agency.
She had a little bit of money from the her package when the gas company merged. She had bought a condo and used the rest that she saved to start her own company. Day one she had clients. Big Rock Brewing came with her so that was a huge plus. Tara grew up knowing that her father, who was dirt poor growing up, as the property that she grew up on housed the one room shanty that he had been raised in. Seeing how her father had worked his way through college to create a good life for himself and his family she realized that she too could do something on her own. The power of an entrepreneur.
Her company grew and she opened up and office in Toronto three years later moving there herself. It wasn't a good time. SARRS hit and their biggest client pulled out of Ontario. People were scared to go out so they had to cut back most of their marketing efforts especially the online stuff. They had even won an award for their online/offline second life campaign. She had built this campaign where there was a funky night club called cream soda night and bars would participate through their client Big Rock Brewing but they had pulled out. The bars however still wanted in so Tara started promoting their bars and through that gained a whole group of local clients in Toronto.
It was 2003 and Tara started a blog called HorsePigCow. Then around 2005, Shel Israel, a PR guy who wrote the book Naked Conversations, How Blogs are Changing the way Businesses talk with Customers with Robert Scoble contacted Tara about one of his clients who was writing a blog and wanted to hire someone to do community in his start-up and this client was interested in a Canadian to do it…would she be interested. Ten days later she was in San Francisco working at the start-up called Like.com
That was life changing. When she got to SF she felt like she had finally found her people. Like.com was funded and it was 2005. Tara started to work on building out community marketing. She spent all day on her computer buidling out relationships with people. Tara finally launched what she was working on and within 24 hours there were over a million photos uploaded and 20 million registered users. Tara was the only non-engineer on the staff and the only woman too.
What she created is something people wanted to know about so she started taking gigs as a public speaker about the power of community and how to create it. She eventually had to get an agent as she has now spoken at over 115 conferences around the world. She was eventually approached by a literary agent to write a book which she called the Whuffie Factor, Using the Power of Social Networks to Build Your Business. The term whuffie is from a science fiction novel where whuffie is is the currency you get for being nice and social. It was published in 2009 and is now published in eight different languages.
It was 2006 when Tara started thinking about Buyosphere. She was looking for a black skirt on line and was overwhelmed with what was available but there was nothing she wanted. How can you have so much choice but nothing worth while? She knew there had to be a way to filter the information coming at you. She pitched the idea in 2009 but nobody was interested in ecommerce then. She returned to Montreal because getting a green card was impossible and launched Buyosphere in 2011 after finding the right co-founders. They were able to boot strap this through friends and her speaking engagements.
Originally the idea was a place where you could organize your buying history. Very data driven. It was like something between a Pinterest and Svpply. There was still too much choice and not enough clarity. Then she met David Rose, an investor, who asked her "did you ever find your black skirt"? It was then that she realized that it made more sense to leverage the power of collective knowledge to find that black skirt. Once she figured that out raising money came quickly. It essentially came back to building community which she understands better than anybody. Crowd sourcing a community to find you the perfect black skirt. Ask the right people and you get the right answer.
The product is still evolving as brands can buy into courting the leaders who go to the top of the leader board. Her story is interesting and as always the dots connect to get her to where she is today. Just another small tidbit is that Tara is a single Mom. She had her son while she was at University and he was six when she started her first business. Tara never talked about that part of her life with me until we emailed after our conversation. Granted I was a bit crazed that morning as I usually get all the details but our conversation was about business and that is what we talked about. Quite impressive. Check out Buyosphere, now that they have been funded I am sure that we will see a lot of interesting growth on that site.