Eric Feng, the founding chief technology officer of Hulu and former CTO of Flipboard, is launching a new venture: Packagd, which is angling to use popular YouTube videos to sell merchandise in a format akin to decades-old home-shopping cable networks.
Packagd is introducing its first app, Unboxed, which offers curated, hosted shows of consumer-technology products being, well, taken out of their boxes and shown off to viewers with accompanying commentary. The company was incubated at venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where Feng is a general partner. Feng said he’s been mulling the concept of an internet-based video shopping service over the last 10 years.
“Using video to drive commerce is not a new concept,” Feng said. “But Packagd has the opportunity to bring this user experience to a new generation of mobile consumers.”
Packagd recently closed $6 million in Series A funding led by Forerunner Ventures and GV (formerly Google Ventures), bringing the company’s total funding to $7.5 million following its initial seed round led by KPCB.
Feng said that Packagd (that’s not a typo — there’s no “e” in the name) is starting with unboxing videos because it’s an immensely popular format. According to Google, 62% of people who watch unboxing videos are researching a potential purchase. The company plans to launch apps for two additional categories — beauty and toys — later this year.
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The Unboxed app is geared around shows, programmed in TV-like time slots, to let users discover new products by watching video reviews, as well as interact with hosts and other viewers through a live chat, and then buy products securely via Apple Pay. The videos aren’t live (they’re streaming from YouTube directly, and include any ads served in them), but the creators who host the chat sessions that sit below the video window are live and can interact with viewers.
Packagd doesn’t produce any content itself. Instead, it is working with a network of YouTube content creators who curate and host programs. The startup has arrangements with the digital creators to pay them a cut of the revenue generated from the purchases of products featured on the shows they host
“We don’t have to create the content – there are millions of passionate creators making this content already,” said Feng.
Unboxed will feature programming for products like smartphones, computers, gaming consoles, video games, cameras, and drones. At launch, Unboxed will feature popular unboxing creators including Austin Evans, Dom Esposito, Chris Denker (DenkOps), Frank Passalacqua (randomfrankp), Kevin Nether (Kevin the Tech Ninja), Andru Edwards (Gear Live), and Matt Schaefer (MS Tech).
In addition, the startup has a revenue-sharing partnership with electronics retailer Best Buy to let Unboxed users purchase technology directly from the app while watching the videos. (If Best Buy doesn’t stock the product, Packagd will fulfill it through Amazon.com, but the startup does not have a revenue-sharing agreement with Amazon.)
“Packagd’s apps have the ability to redefine the mobile shopping industry, combining the best aspects of YouTube with Facebook’s live social interactions and Amazon’s effortless shopping experience in one platform for consumers,” Kirsten Green, founder of Forerunner Ventures, said in a statement.
YouTube offers creators commerce capabilities, to let viewers make purchases from their videos. But Feng said the experience with Packagd is very different, because the products and videos are curated for specific categories. Plus, the startup’s apps provide in-app purchasing and live community features. He likens the difference between YouTube and Packagd as the difference between Google’s image search and Pinterest. “We think product content hasn’t reached its full potential on YouTube,” he said.
Feng joined Hulu after it acquired Mojiti, a startup he founded that developed online video annotation and personalization technology. After leaving Hulu in 2010, he joined KPCB briefly before founding Erly, a social platform for sharing content that was acquired by Airtime. He returned to KPCB in 2015 after two years at Flipboard.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Packagd was co-founded in 2016 by Feng together with Nick Chang (former software engineer at Hulu and Erly), Eden Li (previously an engineer at Hulu, Flipboard and Erly), Larry Chen (who handled product design at Erly), and Kai Ju Liu (previously an engineer at Flipboard).
Feng is serving as CEO of Packagd in a part-time capacity, as he continues his work as a KPCB partner. Somewhere down the line, he said, the company will revisit his role and look for a permanent solution.
As part of the Unboxed launch, Packagd will be an exhibitor at E3 to show off the app at the Los Angeles Convention Center June 13-15. The Unboxed app will carry nightly recap shows from 6-6:30 p.m. PT on June 14-16; viewers who tune in will be eligible to win a Nintendo Switch, DJI Spark, or Microsoft Surface Pro.
Pictured above: Eric Feng, co-founder and CEO of Packagd and general partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.