The classic tale of a chance meeting on a subway platform is the beginning of countless love stories. But for Esosa Ighodaro and Abiodun Johnson, it marked the beginning of a business one. After the duo, both 28, spotted each other on a downtown platform, the strangers began an impromptu chat that led to an exchange of numbers. Despite their distinct differences -- she a busy marketing executive for CitiGroup, he a slow-going Tennessee transplant -- they stumbled upon a common interest: technology.
"To be honest, I just wanted to solve my own problems," laughs Ighodaro, who as young professional with a love for fashion could never find the items she spotted in her favorite magazines.
Enter her new friend, Johnson. The Dartmouth grad with a strong engineering background did not care so much about the products as he did the process.
"For me ease is essential," Johnson says. "So finding a fluid way of connecting people to the brands they love -- and visa versa -- appealed to me."
The result is Cosign, a delightfully named app that does just that: allow you to "cosign" or endorse products you love on social media. This happens via a discreet Cosign button which pops up over clothes or products featured in photos on your social media. Once friends and followers hover over the image -- price and purchase details seamlessly pop up. Beyond the ease of the interface, Cosign also provides cash incentives for users and followers alike. Users earn cash for every purchase made by friends and followers, while shoppers earn discounts and special deals. Even better, the more shopping that's done from your photos, the higher your ranking within the app. Starting with influencer and culminating with icon, each rank comes with a special set of perks that allows everyone to feel like the buzzworthy bloggers they love. Currently the app features products from over 1,300 retailers including Macy's, Walmart and London department store, Marks & Spencer.
"It was important for us to ensure that a wide variety of products were available," Johnson says. "To know you can Cosign anything from your favorite dress to your favorite detergent makes this something any consumer can use."
In its early stages this potential was so clear, the company hired to refine the app offered to be financial backers too. They were followed by a stream of private investors who were equally galvanized by Cosign's concept. Less than a year after their subway meeting, the duo have raised a sizable amount to develop the app, market it to a select few, and set up shop on Wall Street.
Their efforts have attracted the fashion community which showed support this past season. Russell Simmons selected Cosign to be the sole portal to livestream his return to the runway when he debuted ArgyleCulture's Spring/Summer 2015 menswear early last month. Harlem's Fashion Row (HFR), the premier fashion show for designers of color invited guests to explore Cosign. And Laquan Smith, a favorite of Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, made Cosign the inspiration for a pop-up line of T-shirts.
"Our team is always exploring a new way to turn social media impressions into sales," Smith said in a statement earlier this month. "I think Cosign will help with those gray areas."
Key to delivering on this promise is the ubiquity of the app. To that end, Cosign will operate on variety of platforms from IOS to Android with plans for Windows version down the line. A web-based version will also allow users to shop from the comfort of their laptops and iPads. As Cosign prepares to leave beta phase in November, they'll rely heavily on these distinctions to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
Currently, there are approximately 800,000 downloadable apps. But, amazingly, this may not be enough to satisfy rising user demands. According to mobithinking.com, "Analyst estimates for downloads of apps in 2013 range from 56 to 82 billion. In 2017, there could be two-hundred billion downloads."
Despite the overwhelming demand, only a sliver of this pie is dedicated to those that provide a similar service to Cosign. Popular ones that come close are Lyst, Nuji and Reward Style. Like Cosign all three enable users to shop based on suggestions and posts by those they follow. But, where LYST and Nuji limit your shopping to a selection of lists from influencers, Cosign empowers users to shop directly from their photos on social networks. Where RewardStyle only approaches notable bloggers and influencers, Cosign empowers everyone -- from girl next door to Grandma -- to earn revenue from purchases influenced by their social media.
"When you think about the everyday consumer constantly making recommendations," says Ighodaro. "It's terribly unfair they don't get rewarded. You shouldn't have to be a top fashion blogger or famous editor to reap the rewards of your recommendations."
While Cosign is poised to make this a reality for the masses in November, when it formally debuts -- they still have a ways to go. Like most new tech companies, funding is a constant challenge -- and the duo have decided to address this via a recently launched Kickstarter campaign.
"We are excited about raising dollars to amplify the experience -- and the number of users," Johnson says.
The industry should be as well.
Cosign's success will mean much more than easier shopping for fashionistas and the friends who love them -- it could mark a bold new chapter between social media and e-commerce.
Additional reporting and research completed by Juwon Ajayi.