With just 250,000 users, high-end Pinterest  competitor Fancy may not seem like much competition at all to Pinterest, which boasts more than 10 million users.
But the New York-based startup, which features gorgeous products and allows users to "Fancy" them, has a few serious competitive advantages: The backing of PPR, the French conglomerate that owns fashion brands such as Gucci and Bottega Veneta, which led a recent $10 investment round  at a $100 million valuation; a board that includes Jack Dorsey of Twitter  and Square  and original Facebooker Chris Hughes ; endorsements from celebrities like Kanye West ; a tight-knit community of curators churning out top-notch content and charting the taste graph; and as of today, a social commerce platform that allows brands and merchants to sell products directly from Fancy.
"People are 'Fancy-ing' what they like, forming communities around these products or experiences, and now we allow merchants and brands to come in and fill that interest and demand in real-time, which no one is doing," says founder Joseph Einhorn. "Rather than go to Amazon or Google and searching for stuff I intend to buy, in the future in the commerce game, I think getting hotel destinations, finding cool products, or discovering fashion items will be done through the people I admire and trust. From a consumer perspective, I'm able to go to this website, where I'm finding out about the coolest stuff in the world, and instead of clicking, signing up, and giving my address and contact info to a million different websites, I am able to shop right inside, whether it's on the website or the iPad, iPhone, or Android app, and go all the way through to checkout in an integrated experience."
Einhorn calls this a "demand-driven commerce model." By crowdsourcing product interest, Fancy enables merchants to see what consumers are most interested in, and then sell products directly to them based on that interest. Into a helicopter tour of Hawaii ? You got it. A new style from Christian Dior ? Click away.
Users might be used to seeing a "buy" button; now they might soon start seeing a "sell" button that allows them to quickly sign up for a merchant account, create product listings in those Fancy communities, and decide how much to sell the product for. Merchants can define price restrictions, set up group deals, and monitor transactions all from Fancy's straightforward user interface. The service also allows merchants to create shipping labels on the fly.
"With these communities forming around experiences and products, our dream for the company is to have merchants and brands come in, and bid to fill that demand using our self-service tools," Einhorn says. "They can say, 'Okay, there's a lot of interest in this hotel destination or these sunglasses or this watch--I'm going to offer to sell my product or something competitive right in on this page."
Early tests of the system have gained significant traction. Fancy has already struck 400 brand partnerships, and sold 150,000 deals to consumers through the service, suggesting their is indeed for an on-site commerce platform on Fancy. The startup is exploring various ways business models, from more traditional affiliate revenue (taking a sales cut) to Groupon-like deal economics to a cost-per-action model along the lines of what Google employs. "The goal for us is to take these different transaction types and make them dead simple," Einhorn says.
Asked about Pinterest, Einhorn praises the site's growth and reach. But he suggests Fancy tends to showcase higher-end products and steer clear of non-commerce-related content. (In other words, if a Pinterest community might form around Jeremy Lin, a Fancy community is more likely to form around an autographed jersey or skybox tickets to the Knicks game--though even that product and experience doesn't seem to fit in with Fancy's higher-end content.) What's more, Pinterest allows users to breakdown interests to the most granular levels, whereas Fancy provides more general categories. "We wanted to make all the discovery through people versus through topic, which Pinterest has been great in doing--they slice and dice it really nicely by tags," Einhorn says. "But we wanted you to discover people to find the stuff through and not just say, 'I want to look at shoes today.'"
It seems the company, which started as an online database of products called Thingd, has become something more--and you can partially thank Jack Dorsey and Chris Hughes for that.
"When we got involved with Jack and Chris, they suggested that rather than populate our data through technical measures, we get people to populate that data. Why? Because when people let you know about a product or hotel room, then you know about the person it matters to, and that starts to trickle down to other people," Einhorn says. "Plus, it was Jack Dorsey who said, 'We need to come up with a name...that is a little less nerdy."
What a fancy idea.