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This Startup May Have Cracked the Code on Gen Z Shopping

Blend Gen Z girls and their indispensable smartphones with a sprinkling of social, a dash of their favorite influencers and little bit of shopping and you get something that looks like Dote, the startup that bills itself as “like Twitch for shopping” and the fastest-growing social commerce app designed for teens and college-age young women.

Fresh off a Series B funding round led by Silicon Valley’s Goodwater Capital that brings its total raised to $23 million, Dote on Tuesday unveiled a new feature that capitalizes on a growing trend in next-gen commerce: mobile livestream shopping.

When shopping began to migrate online, consumers gained convenience and greater access to a larger array of choices, but they also lost out on the social, hanging-out-with-friends aspect of it, said CEO Lauren Farleigh, who grew up in Alaska without a lot of stores nearby. Farleigh said competitor streaming apps focus on a QVC-esque quality geared toward helping sellers move their product while the newly launched Shopping Party feature differentiates by “giving people the experience of shopping together” but in the context of the mobile-social age.

Shopping Parties are led by one of the 450 YouTube and Instagram stars in Dote’s circle, including Gen Z favorites Kalani Hiliker and Nia Sioux, who boast 5 million followers apiece, and model Ellie Thumann, who has 1.7 million YouTube subscribers.

To inaugurate the livestream offering, Dote plans to host more than 400 parties over the coming two weeks at a pace of two 15-minute events every hour, beginning at 6 a.m. PT and ending at 10 p.m. PT. Dolls Kill, Aussie brand Princess Polly, Urban Outfitters and Honeybum all have signed up to host sponsored parties and will work with Dote “creators” to bring these events to life using engagement levers like creating shoppable outfits, offering giveaways and polling the audience. Dote said hosting will be opened up to non-influencer platform users down the road.

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Thumann praised the live interaction that the Dote platform affords. “Being able to be in conversation with my fans in real time while shopping on Dote is an amazing opportunity,” she said in a statement. “Not only is it going to be super fun, but it will help me build even stronger relationships with my community by being able to offer up an entirely fresh type of content.”

Dote Gen Z livestream shopping

In building Dote, Farleigh has learned just how much Gen Zers expect to lend their voice and point of view to the products and services designed to serve them, a far cry from the long-standing paradigm in which brands dictated top-down what “cool” is supposed to be. But it’s also been proof of the power of the young influencer, clout that may be lost on older observers, Farleigh said. These social stars can drive a 4x lift when they interact with a product, she explained, adding that Dote has become a brand discovery destination for many young women.

The platform’s emphasis on social interactivity follows through to the product review section, where users can leave a video or voice message of their feedback in lieu of the typical written review.

Dote tapped PayPal-owned Braintree to process customer payments. Regardless of how many of the platform’s 150 brand stores they shop from, users go through checkout once per session and pay for shipping from each retailer.

“Dote has built a brand and technology platform that changes the way future generations will shop,” said Eric Kim, co-founder and managing partner of Goodwater Capital, which also has invested in startups like Frank + Oak, Scentbird and Sweatcoin. “Their customer-centric shopping platform uniquely blends innovative technologies such as live-streaming with relevant and fun social features, setting the standard for how all major brands and retailers will connect with Gen Z. We’re thrilled to partner with them to accelerate this transformation.”

Lightspeed Venture Partners and Harrison Metal, both existing investors, also participated in the Series B.