Besart Copa’s journey into e-commerce startups was not a result of brainstorming sessions centered on identifying the most lucrative industry to conquer – rather, it emerged from a simple necessity.
In the summer of 2021 Besart was doing his online shopping for the winter. An avid user of the Honey coupon browser extension, he was convinced that there had to be an easier way of saving things to your Wishlist and finding out if there are coupons on them at all times.
“If something I want to buy goes on a 30 percent discount, I’ll probably buy it. But it seems very weird that you would only find out when you’re checking it out. Also, this is how I would like to save things and put them on my wish list folder. And it was just like such a pain to find the things I wanted to save. So I remember that I thought that I’d want something very simple – a single quick Chrome extension that you click once, with clean folders on the top, and I want the products in a very simple and clean UI,” Besart recalls.
One year later, he is the co-founder of Chestr, an e-commerce startup for wishlists. Currently based in Washington DC, Besart left his native Albania when he was just 15.
After graduating from Georgetown University, during the past few years his focus has been on the intersection of technology and Gen Zs – and this has served as an additional motivation for building his startup.
Now, Besart and Chestr also aims to change how Gen Zs do their online shopping, by enabling them to save products from any online store in one click, while also engaging with the community through populating their profiles with items they like to buy – which adds a social element to the whole experience.
“Another way of describing it’s like we’re adding a social layer on top of online shopping with a focus on Gen Z. Most people today save things either via Pinterest, or screenshots on their phone or copy pasting links. So we’re trying to fix that with the utility element, and the vision element of Chester is that there needs to be a platform where people can express themselves via the things that they like,” Besart tells The Recursive.
So far, the vision that Besart and his co-founder and CTO Isaac Fung have has been recognized and backed by investors.
Last year, Chestr raised $625K in a pre-seed round led by San Francisco-based mentorship community and VC fund Neo. The startup is also planning to raise its seed round next month.
“After seed the plan is to work on perfecting the tool and focusing on growth. Basically we’d like to explore this part of early stage content creators a bit more and that sort of blurred line between becoming a tool for everyday shoppers who are also everyday creators and who could become sort of large scale influencers.” Besart explains.
How personalized recommendations are shaping the future of e-commerce
How do Gen Zs do their shopping? According to various reports, 52 percent of them prefer to do it online, and more than 70 percent would rather wait for a product to be on sale, instead of buying it at a full price. Additionally, 38 percent of Gen Zs hear about new products from social media ads, while 33 percent do it from social media posts.
When discussing future e-commerce trends and especially how Gen Zs are shaping them, Besart is quite confident that high quality, personalized recommendations will become the future of e-commerce.
“We’ll never stop wanting optionality and there will never be an AI that will say “this is the only shirt that you want to wear for the rest of your life” – it’s just never going to happen. Because people like stuff and they want options.” Besart says.
Furthermore, the idea for long-term Chestr users is that when they save more and more things, this also makes its recommendation mechanism more accurate.
When it comes to its business model, Chestr plans to work with brands and charge them for the data that it will provide. The startup also targets small to medium sized influencers and bet on them to use the tool while becoming large scale influencers.
Once an influencer’s content results in substantial sales for a product, Chestr plans to introduce a “Chestr Creator Fund.” This fund will serve as a way to compensate influencers for their influence on driving sales. The influencer receives compensation based on the sales generated from their recommendations.
“Ideally, it’ll be like this super powered shopping assistant that doesn’t just help you save stuff and get coupons – we also want to become the place you actually go and find high quality product recommendations on whatever you’re interested in,” the Albanian founder explains.
While primarily focused on the US and Western Europe and having his product development in the States, Besart also hopes that shoppers and Gen Zs across Albania and the rest of the Balkans can also get to use Chestr or similar tools that can enrich their experience when doing local online shopping.
“I think there is definitely an opportunity for a sort of a budget version of Amazon for the region that can build trust with customers and that can become THE Amazon of the Balkans. Not sure if there are startups that are already working on it, but I think that this is definitely a big opportunity.” Besart concludes.