Social shopping app Wanelo’s redesign puts users in charge as it eyes a wider audience

One of the biggest challenges for social networks of any kind is the signup process: how do you show someone to use your app and create the experience your existing users love? At this point I can’t imagine life without Twitter, but when I went to teach my parents how to use it, I struggled to explain how they should find the right people to follow, what makes for a good tweet, and how to make their newsfeed look as vibrant as mine. Twitter has continually worked on this problem, Path has struggled with it, and now one of the latest new social shopping apps, called Wanelo, is tweaking its own formula in an attempt to limit the signup hurdles and quickly get more people using the app.

Wanelo screenshotA few months ago I heard about Wanelo and downloaded the app to give it a spin. At its simplest, Wanelo is exactly like Pinterest — except you can click through to purchase anything posted to the site. But when I first installed the app, I was greeted with photos of cut-off shorts, backless dresses, cat pictures, sparkly nail polish, and the like. It was like a 13-year old girl’s heaven. But it wasn’t exactly my style. I couldn’t figure out how to make the main feed reflect my tastes, and I quickly lost interest.

On Tuesday, the company is altering its formula to help people get into Wanelo more quickly, changing the signup process to show people how to follow brands and people (which I struggled with on the old version), and then showing users their curated feeds as the default page of the app rather than what’s trending generally on Wanelo.

Wanelo was founded in 2010 by CEO Deena Varshavskaya but has exploded in popularity in recent months primarily among teenaged and early-20’s women. The company has grown from 1 million registered users in November to 8 million in May, which wouldn’t necessarily mean much, but the company reports that users spend an average of 50 minutes a day on Wanelo. Even among a small group of users, that’s a lot of time, when you consider people spend about 30 minutes a day on Facebook. And a Twitter search for the word “Wanelo” is essentially a feed of (primarily women) discussing their Wanelo addictions.

Varshavskaya said women in the primary age group for Wanelo were becoming obsessed with the app, and as soon as they opened it, they felt at home among the products shown on the trending page. But for anyone else who doesn’t dig sparkles, it was harder to show them the appeal of Wanelo.

“For them, the feed is an amazing, addictive experience,” Varshavskaya said. “For them it’s an awesome first experience. But the downside is that the trending feed cannot by definition work for everyone.”

It seems the re-design fixes the initial signup challenges, but the obvious question is still how Wanelo can distinguish itself from Pinterest, which has raised a lot of money at this point and is pretty much the default social network for saving images and products on the web right now.

Varshavskaya and Wanelo’s investors, which include prominent names like Ann Miura-Ko of Floodgate, Naval Ravikant of AngelList, Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures and Josh Kopelman of First Round Capital, are quick to explain their confidence in the company. Wanelo is fundamentally oriented toward commerce and transactions rather than aspirational photos like Pinterest or Tumblr, Varshavskaya said. And it’s true that if you’re looking to purchase an attractive item and want inspiration, Amazon might not be your best bet, and it’s frustrating when you click a link on Pinterest and discover that it’s broken.

So what’s the future for Wanelo? The company seems ripe for acquisition, either by Pinterest itself or another shopping site like Amazon looking to get into social shopping. Pinterest will surely add a commerce component soon, and while it will be a challenge for Pinterest to transition from a site full of photos to a site with shoppable links, it’s surely a challenge the company will try to solve.

And as much as I got into the new Wanelo app, I still found myself saving aspirational items like an $1,800 necklace. Which feels pretty much how people use Pinterest.

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