Resident’s technology startup takes off like greased lightning


Carissa Ganelli

There are startup businesses that meet such a basic need that you can’t help but look at them and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

In her new startup, Greenwich resident Carissa Ganelli has transformed the way mobile shopping works for both consumers and merchants with her company LightningBuy —  a mobile commerce platform that makes it easier for consumers to “check out” when buying goods from an e-retailer.

With a background in consumer marketing, digital advertising and management consulting, Ms. Ganelli is no stranger to the world of commerce, but it wasn’t until the emergence of the iPad that she was able to formulate the idea of developing a one-click mobile shopping platform.

In an interview with the Post, Ms. Ganelli recalled the introduction of the iPad three years ago when Guinness, her client at the time, bought the first beer ad for the device.

The iPad was marketed as a device that would change the face of advertising by allowing ads to be more subversive and engaging, but to Ms. Ganelli, the large amount of money invested in such ads versus their minimal return on investment seemed wasteful. Companies who engaged in this kind of advertising, Ms. Ganelli said, were losing sight of an ad’s purpose, which is to sell the product. It was then that Ms. Ganelli said she realized that what those companies should be doing is providing marketing that allows consumers to buy the advertised product right from within the ad.

“That’s what LightningBuy is,” Ms. Ganelli said. “A LightningBuy, at its core, is pretty much like an ad unit that’s a complete checkout — a single click, one-page checkout.”

Companies that employ the LightningBuy platform allow their consumers to click on an ad for a product they’re interested in, enter payment and contact information, then make a purchase on their mobile device “then and there,” without being redirected to the retailer’s website, Ms. Ganelli said.

Whereas most mobile advertising requires customers to click an ad, then go to a retailer’s website to find the product and then jump through several more hoops to make the purchase, LightningBuy makes the process “one and done,” she said. The concept is particularly useful for shopping on mobile devices where “fat fingering” — making more typing mistakes than usual due to a phone’s small screen size — becomes a problem for shoppers, she added.

Recalling one popular retailer’s online purchase process, Ms. Ganelli said the company required consumers to go through 21 separate pages on their mobile device to purchase a product, as opposed to LightningBuy’s one-screen process. Based on this retailer’s procedure, a consumer could almost drive to the store and purchase the product in the same amount of time it takes to buy it on a mobile device, she said.

“By the time you place the order, the dress is out of style,” Ms. Ganelli said, laughing.

As for the payment process itself, Ms. Ganelli and LightningBuy co-founder Jeffrey Oh originally planned to allow purchases to be made solely through consumers’ Paypal accounts to minimize the amount of information they needed to enter at check out, she said. The strategy shifted, however, when the duo found that Paypal has a mere 18% usage rate, most of which is through eBay. The discovery prompted Ms. Ganelli to make credit cards the chosen form of payment on LightningBuy, but it was vital that the credit card information was the only data a customer would be required to enter, she said.

“Consumers want to use their credit cards,” Ms. Ganelli said. “They don’t want to create an account. They don’t want to store their information. They don’t want to remember one more password.”

And although customers have the option of storing their credit card information through LightningBuy, it’s not a capability most people want to utilize just yet, Ms. Ganelli said, adding “it’s all about consumer behavior.” Most shoppers want to find a product, put down their money and be finished, she said, which is exactly what her platform allows them to do.

It’s not just consumers, however, that benefit from LightningBuy, Ms. Ganelli said. For retailers, the value proposition is that the platform does not require a company to change any of its tactics, and more importantly, does not require any technological or programming work to be done on their end. The ability to drive revenue without the need to collaborate with technologists is exactly what marketing professionals are looking for, she said. That aspect of LightningBuy is a major selling point for retailers, she added, because whereas technology is about the process, marketing is all about driving business.

With LightningBuy driving the tech work, the only information clients need to provide the company is a product sheet and access to their product inventory. With this information, LightningBuy has a list of the client’s past product descriptions and prices, as well as the ability to make product price changes as many times per day as necessary. Most importantly, Ms. Ganelli said, the information provides access to real time inventory and price checking throughout the LightningBuy transaction, meaning extra work is not created for the client and customers are getting the most up-to-date product information.

That information, Ms. Ganelli added, is so precise that a customer will receive real time tax and shipment, so if a company decided to introduce a flash sale at the time of a consumer’s transaction, that reduced price would be reflected in the purchase.

LightningBuy’s success did not arrive without some outside help, however. Ms. Ganelli discovered that the company was eligible for a small business grant from the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT), an economic development group for public and private technology-based startups and similar organizations. In October 2012, while Ms. Ganelli and Mr. Oh were still fleshing out ideas for LightningBuy, the company received a $30,000 grant from CCAT — a donation for which they couldn’t be more grateful.

“When you’re bootstrapping a startup, $30,000 is an unbelievable amount of money,” Ms. Ganelli said. “It is the difference between folding and getting a day job and being able to go to the next step. I’m eternally grateful for that $30,000.”

After officially launching LightningBuy in January of this year, Ms. Ganelli and her team went on a fund-raising circuit in February, only to be presented with an even bigger offering. Although she had heard nightmare stories about startups that made 100 business pitches only to get one offer of investment, Ms. Ganelli decided to approach angel groups — affluent investors or “angels” who provides capital for a business startup, usually in exchange for convertible debt or ownership equity — around Manhattan.

Ms. Ganelli made three pitches to angel groups for LightningBuy, asking for a total of $500,000. Assuming she had a slim chance of getting any offer, let alone one that proposed half a million dollars, Ms. Ganelli told her team that the rigorous interview process would not likely result in funding, but would be good practice for the future, she said. But three pitches and a short period of time later, LightningBuy was offered a $1 million term sheet.

The offer was “amazing,” Ms. Ganelli said, “because we had no idea how big LightningBuy could be; these people told us.”

In fact, during one of her pitches, Ms. Ganelli was interrupted by an investor who explained to her the worth of launching an innovative product that simultaneously doesn’t require clients to perform technological work. The individual, as it turns out, was a Blackberry board member — someone who clearly knew a thing or two about mobile technology, Ms. Ganelli said. The investor explained that LightningBuy should ask for $5 million, not $500,000 and would require a floor’s worth of new employees, rather than a handful.

“It was an unbelievable vote of confidence,” Ms. Ganelli said.

After grasping how large LightningBuy could become, Ms. Ganelli chose to turn down the $1-million term sheet offered, with plans of creating more revenue and gaining more clients, thereby acquiring a higher valuation for a future deal, she said. And although she has kept in touch with investors, Ms. Ganelli said her company isn’t in need of the money at present. In fact, she added, LightningBuy will be self-funded by the end of the year.

The company’s financial independence will not stop Ms. Ganelli from looking for future investment to accelerate LightningBuy’s growth, but “it’s nice to know we don’t have to go raise money to pay the rent,” she said adding, “we want to focus our time on building the product and building out our client roster versus knocking on doors.”

With the goal of building the company’s client base in mind, Ms. Ganelli said the team at LightningBuy is adamant about providing a great product with great customer service, pushing aside the growing industry trend of treating clients like “accounts” rather than people.

“We are absolutely passionate about making a better mobile experience,” Ms. Ganelli said. “It’s 100% what we’re about.”


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