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Lollipuff YCombinator Application

Lollipuff successful YCombinator application from 2013 winter batch (YC W13).

Online Auctions for Authentic (Women's) Designer Goods
Lollipuff is the only online auction site that pre-screens each and every item to guarantee the authenticity of its high-end, pre-owned designer apparel and accessories. Buyers can be confident they're getting the real deal, and sellers never have to worry about listing their luxury pieces alongside counterfeits. Combining the buyer security of an upscale boutique with the amazing prices of an online auction, Lollipuff is the go-to site for authentic, affordable and on-trend designer fashion.
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If you have a demo, what's the url?

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No. The site is currently being migrated (from localhost development) to the cloud (Heroku + AWS).

What is your company going to make? Please describe your product and what it does or will do.

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Lollipuff is an online auction site dedicated exclusively to *authentic* designer clothing and accessories. Our site uses unique safety precautions and processes that result in buyer and seller confidence. For instance, we developed a unique technique (patent in the works) to verify item’s authenticity and the seller’s physical possession of it. This technique is used in conjunction with humans.

Where do you live now, and where would the company be based after YC?

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We’re currently based in Durham, NC. Post-YC, we’re open (and inclined!) to relocate -- for example, to the Bay Area or Boston.


Please enter the url of a 1 minute unlisted (not private) YouTube video introducing the founder(s).

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Who writes code, or does other technical work on your product? Was any of it done by a non-founder?

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No. Aside from open-source libraries (GPL, BSD, or MIT), all of the code was written by Travis or Fei.

How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet? Have any of the founders not met in person?

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Travis (beambot) & Fei (bebefuzz): We met in AP Chemistry in high school. We’ve known each other for 12 years, been a couple for 11, and married for 3. Travis (beambot) & Dave (dmohs): We’ve been close friends since we both worked at Sandia National Labs (Livermore, CA) in 2005. Travis introduced Dave to LISP; he caught the bug and left for ITA Software in Boston.

Please tell us about an interesting project, preferably outside of class or work, that two or more of you created together.

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Fei (bebefuzz) and Travis (beambot): In Jan 2010, Travis and Fei set up a blog ( Fei worked on the blog (part-time outside of work) for ~2 years. It morphed into a pseudo-auction site that resulted in over $60,000 worth of transactions (not including affiliate or ad revenue) -- which inspired this company!

Please tell us in one or two sentences about something impressive that each founder has built or achieved.

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Travis (beambot): During my PhD I designed, constructed, and/or programmed three human-scale mobile robots (EL-E, Cody, and the PR-2) and was an early contributor to the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS). I pulled off an autonomous, sensor-driven robot demo on live TV (CNN) -- a rare (and gutsy!) move in the robotics world. Fei (bebefuzz): According to power industry veterans, I was the youngest ever regional sales director in the power automation industry -- doubly impressive as a woman (rare!) in a male-dominated industry. David (dmohs): I am passionate about writing software that makes its users' lives better. At Sandia National Laboratories, I took over an ailing project to help counterintelligence personnel protect classified information. Working closely with these users, I built a new version of the existing application from scratch which was much more responsive and easier to use than anything they had seen previously. At the end of the project, the users were happier, more productive, and had become advocates for good software design.

Please tell us about the time you most successfully hacked some (non-computer) system to your advantage.

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Travis (beambot): I got 5 professors to sign off on my dissertation. Seriously, it was the most difficult part of a PhD. It took 6 months just to get them in a room together. Fei (bebefuzz): In grade school, I made money by selling rosewater and chives door to door, and (redacted, sorry). David (dmohs): In high school, I received a ticket for not stopping at a stop sign before the intersection. I took pictures from various distances and proved to the judge, mathematically, that it would have been impossible to stop earlier than I did. The ticket was thrown out.


How far along are you?

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The test blog is 1.5 years old. The blog has facilitated over 200 sales, with approximately 750 bidders/buyers/sellers. We have approximately 2000 people/email addresses who contacted us through the blog. If we launched, we estimate a conservative 500 accounts will be created almost immediately. The new, automated website ( will launch in late-October, 2012.

How long have each of you been working on this? How much of that has been full-time?

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The proof of concept evolved from a blog (, which was started in January 2011. The new effort (automated, multiple designers, own brand) started in late-June 2012. Our Django application has ~5 kloc python (application code), ~1 kloc javascript, and ~3 kloc HTML / CSS. We also rely heavily on several third-party open source libraries.


Why did you pick this idea to work on? Do you have domain expertise in this area? How do you know people need what you're making?

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Fei is a respected authentication expert for several brands.** Her blog morphed into a pseudo-auction site for authentic Herve Leger clothes (a single brand!). It attracted a healthy community of bidders (buyers) and sellers, completed more than 200 successful transactions (>$60,000), and (redacted). However, the current site represents a single (small!) brand, there’s a 1.5-2.0 month wait list, and everything is done by hand (inputting items, email communications, and Excel tracking) -- yet sellers are clamoring to get on the list and keep asking us to add more brands! ** She has provided third-party testimony in eBay and PayPal disputes and is a well known authentication expert in the online forum communities.

What's new about what you're making? What substitutes do people resort to because it doesn't exist yet (or they don't know about it)?

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Our auction site emphasizes authenticity and safer selling and buying of designer items. We have a unique technique (patent in the works) to help verify an item’s authenticity and the seller’s physical possession of it. This dramatically reduces scams for both buyers and sellers. Current online auctions only rely on a feedback system. This is not adequate, especially when (for some brands) over half of all items sold are fake! (Most buyers are not expert authenticators.)

Who are your competitors, and who might become competitors? Who do you fear most?

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eBay, Bonanza, HipSwap, ThreadFlip We fear eBay the most. However, Ebay is built around a broad, general audience. Our authentication process isn’t necessary for the bulk of their listings (eg. sub-$100 items). Our site targets eBay’s underserved luxury good niche -- starting with women’s designer clothes.

What do you understand about your business that other companies in it just don't get?

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Buying and selling luxury goods online is very unique -- security, trust, and risk mitigation are tantamount. The process requires more care than a “general online auction listing.” EBay suffers from numerous issues: counterfeit items, inaccurate descriptions, insufficient photo evidence, photos culled from the net, reused photos from old listings, etc. These frequently lead to PayPal disputes -- which negatively impact everyone involved. Our system solves all of these problems. Of the 200 transactions on the test blog, we had fewer than 1% result in disputes (one out of 200!). Our system easily resolved this dispute: it provided the photographic (and temporal) evidence of the item’s pre-sale condition, expert testimony about its authenticity, and a baseline for comparison with the buyer’s received item. Collectively, these things make our process safer and more comfortable for all parties.

How do or will you make money? How much could you make?

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We charge a 7% commission on each sale. To start, Lollipuff will represent just 3 brands. Extrapolating Ebay’s completed listings for these three brands, there is more $77 Million in annual transactions ($5 Million revenue based on our commission). Ebay is undeserving of this niche. Many users refuse to use Ebay or other online sites for high-end items (ie. relying on consignment stores instead). In fact, we have several Ebay “power sellers” asking to use our services! We plan to introduce additional designers / brands as we grow. Additional revenue will be generated by affiliates (eg. for brands not currently represented.)

How will you get users? If your idea is the type that faces a chicken-and-egg problem in the sense that it won't be attractive to users till it has a lot of users (e.g. a marketplace, a dating site, an ad network), how will you overcome that?

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Based on user participation on the blog, we anticipate a few hundred users from the test site will immediately join Lollipuff -- they’re the ones who have been clamoring for a new, automated and expanded site (and currently endure a 2-month wait list). Fei has an impressive personal collection of luxury women’s clothing in our first three brands (roughly $35,000 MSRP). She has agreed to sell a large portion of her personal collection to seed the new site. We also have budding relationships with “power sellers” on Ebay who have expressed an interest in using our site upon launch. Existing relationships with fashion blogs, sites, and forums should also enhance our exposure.


Please list all legal entities you have and in what state or country each was formed (e.g. Delaware C Corp, Mexican SAPI, Singapore Pvt Ltd, etc.).

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Currently a North Carolina LLC (redacted equity).


If you had any other ideas you considered applying with, please list them. One may be something we've been waiting for. Often when we fund people it's to do something they list here and not in the main application.

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We didn’t have any other application ideas per se. However... we do have ideas for auxiliary uses of our platform. Consignment shops (both online and off) often lack expertise in authenticating clients’ goods too. Using our authentication expertise, we could provide a service to such stores. The store could go through the authentication process in the same way as creating an auction listing. Instead of placing the item up for bid, we could generate a “certificate of authenticity” that could be displayed (and verified via a Lollipuff URL) to potential buyers. In this way, we become a trust service... much like the origins of “PayPal verified.”

Please tell us something surprising or amusing that one of you has discovered.

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-- Scammers and fakers hate us. We helped uncover a scam ring (selling counterfeit designer clothes) that was honeypotting Google servers [1]. If we’re pissing off the scammers and fakers, we must be doing something right! [1] -- Historically, Chanel bags have a stable rate of appreciation: 20% annually. This outperforms many stocks! -- Approximately 70% of Herve Leger dresses sold on Ebay are fake. -- Women think about fashion more than men think about sex [2]. (Travis & Dave: Seriously?!? Fei: Yep. Travis: Bummer.) [2]

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