Meet the Contenders: Bluesky

David Mah is an ambitious man. 

“We want to do to retail what the App Store did to apps,” he says of his tech startup, Bluesky. 

This dream may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Mah’s company, Bluesky, a digital platform for retailers to showcase their wares on a single, aggregated portal, is the first announced finalist of Oxygen Ventures’ landmark event, The Big Pitch. They will vie with other, equally gutsy, startups for the ultimate prize of up to $5 million in venture capital funding and a platform that could launch it into the stratosphere (it might just have to change its name).

Oxygen Ventures investment director, Ilya Frolov, outlines the reasons Bluesky appealed to the hands-on venture fund: “What really attracted us to Bluesky were three outstanding elements. Firstly, the confidence and professionalism of the founders, David and Nigel, secondly, the quality and execution of their product and business model, and lastly the opportunity for international expansion and scale.”

Mah’s enthusiasm is infectious. “We love the fact we can provide a whole spectrum of retailers to our users,” he says. “We believe we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do; down the track we’re talking about personalised content, about in-store experiences.”

For the moment, consumers will have to be satisfied with the prototype app – and connected website – launched in May last year. The app is to be re-launched in July and will feature over 800 retailers including giants such as Myer and Target.

Mah’s Bluesky thinking was partly motivated by the two previously unsuccessful businesses he had founded.

One, a platform for university students to manage their social diaries, was successful in attracting users, but less successful in a financial sense. “These things are hard to monetise,” says Mah. “You can get scale – we had 50,000 users – but we couldn’t make any substantial revenue out of it.” 

The experience wasn’t wasted, though.  “We learnt so much, especially how to monetise content the right way,” says Mah. 

One of the lessons was that the need to build a great product requires money from the get-go. Currently Bluesky has managed to secure $1.3 million in funding, including $30,000 personally invested by Mah, but he is ultimately looking to secure $3 million.

“We want to really capture the market and build a household brand,” says Mah. “The core unit of the money would be product investment. We are very product centric, we want to be at the forefront of bringing new retail experiences using mobile technology and big data. We need to hire a great team of developers for Android and iOS, to make sure we use the data in the best way possible.”

Bluesky’s goal is to sign up every Australian retailer – a target that initially seemed impossible. “We spent a lot of time at first making phone calls… retailers were like ‘who are you guys?’ but we are getting more inbound calls today – it’s probably about 50-50 now.”

The advantages Bluesky poses for retailers are obvious. They are able to list their catalogue for free and are only charged a few cents when customers click on the link to read the catalogue. 

Bluesky found itself attracted to ‘The Big Pitch’ by the support Oxygen Ventures itself could provide.

“We found their focus is very much about product, product, product and upscaling fast, that resonated with us.

“We found they really care about building a great product and for us, that’s the most important thing.”

We’ll have to wait until the June 17 final to find out whether Bluesky’s ‘Big Pitch’ will help them develop their product, but with more than 230,000 shoppers interacting with over 100 brands since the May 2013 launch, it seems Bluesky is already well on its way to turning the ecommerce world on its head.