Shaun Greenblo is an avid marathon runner.
You’ll find him running the coastline of Sydney’s beaches every morning and he also competes in multiple marathons each year so it’s not surprising that he churns through running gear like a Supercar goes through brake pads.
In the midst of training in 2010, Greenblo was calling his cousin Julian in Los Angeles every 2-3 months, asking him to buy more of his favourite Gel Kayano running shoes because they were much cheaper than in Australia.
And that’s when it hit him.
“I am so lucky to have Julian in LA, but what about the millions of people around the world that want specific items from other places and don’t have anyone to help access them?
“Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a platform that facilitated this transaction so that it was as seamless as working with him?”
This is when he was introduced to the concept “My Cousin In”, the brainchild of beauty brand Yes To Inc. founders Lance Kalish and Ido Leffler.
Taking their idea of a platform which connected family and friends to send each other things from around the world, Greenblo worked with the pair to realise the business concept’s full potential – Cuzin.
“It could be something bigger than connecting friends, it could be an open community where every member has access to thousands of ‘cousins’ all around the world to help them get the things they want but can’t access,” Greenblo said.
Today Cuzin facilitates the matching, communication, payment and shipping of thousands of items around the world.
And the reason for its success?
“They’re helping their ‘cuzin’ out by paying them a tip,” said Greenblo. Simple.
This is the straight-forward system whereby you personally tip your buyer for the success, and ease of a purchase is the backbone of the business concept and what makes it different to its competitors.
Cuzin is just the latest business to reap the benefits of the socio-economic revolution within the services sector, following the liked of Uber and AirBnB.
“We’ve termed a phrase ‘cognitive surplus’,” said Greenblo, referring to the current era where people are opportunistic and looking to make money in their spare time.
“Technology has made this possible. We believe there is no reason why a stay-at-home mum, who doesn’t have time for full-time work, can still make a very decent living becoming a ‘getter’ on our platform.
“Whilst doing her weekly grocery shop, she can pick up products for her network of ‘wanters’… making thousands of dollars a month helping others.”
“We have stay at home mums, college students and even an Uber driver who’s doing Cuzin deliveries in his downtime!”
And while the company is not yet disclosing its member revenue figures, Greenblo said some “getters” are already seeing revenue in the thousands of dollars.
Already the online retail platform, which only launched on December 1, 2014, has over 15,000 users, with the help of a hugely successful pre-registration process, and is doing business with people in Iraq, Indonesia, Japan, South Africa, Brazil and India.
Greenblo describes his business “like an Airtasker for shopping” and “an eBay with personality” – the perfect combination for busy people connecting with less busy people to find unique, hard to find and best-priced items.
“It’s been amazing to watch the interaction between our members – proof that people are craving that personalised aspect of shopping again,” he said.
And he has indeed been watching closely.
Greenblo BCCed himself on every message shared between “cuzins”, which he says has allowed him to learn directly from what they are saying.
“At this early stage of the business it is critical to learn about our customers – their behavior on our site, their wants, needs and biggest friction points,” he said.
“Watching this communication has allowed us to be responsive and iterate quickly to reduce friction in the user experience.”
But the biggest takeaway Greenblo has had from reading these messages is the sense of community that has organically grown on the site.
“Questions and comments are being made that one would never ever see on a typical e-commerce platform,” he said.
“Members are thrilled and appreciative to have someone real to ask questions, check in with and reach out to. We’re already seeing many repeat purchases from customers buying from the same ‘getters’.”
Here’s a look at some of the screenshots he has taken.
Cuzin is also answering the retail woes of Australian shoppers sick of being hit with huge price markups on their overseas products, most recently highlighted in the Sephora scandal following its launch in Sydney last year.
“Even though the world is becoming increasingly globalized, there will always be restrictions, price arbitrage and inaccessibility,” said Greenblo and that’s where Cuzin’s specialist “getters” show their true worth.
Not only are they able to secure below retail prices by purchasing it directly from overseas, but many also take advantage of their staff discounts or their proximity to discount outlets.
“Our small population and distance from ‘the action’ shouldn’t mean that we have to suffer from limited access and excessive markups,” he said.
“Cuzin uses real people around the world as our buyer portals, payment gateways and drop-shipment points and allows Australians to access the unique and inaccessible items they love from anywhere in the world.
“[It] helps you solve international shipping barriers online, but we take it one step further by giving people access to bricks and mortar stores as well, at the best prices in the world and with no shipping limitations.”
And while the service is currently focused on cross-border transactions, Greenblo sees a significant opportunity within the local sector.
“We see a huge opportunity for Cuzin to facilitate domestic purchases too,” he says.
“There’s no reason why Cuzin can’t be used to get someone living in regional New South Wales the latest fashion released in a store in Sydney’s CBD.
“We’re excited about growing this market and we’re working very hard to increase shipping efficiencies so that movement of goods are quick, cheap and seamless.”
And while Cuzin getters are still limited to the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, the company has big plans for 2015.
“We continue to gain interest from other members around the world and we will open up in new countries as the demand requires it.
“2015 is a big year for us. Currently our growth has been predominantly organic [but] we have built our technology and logistics systems so that they are ready to scale and we continue to build partnerships.
“Our focus is to continue to improve our user experience, reduce shipping costs and maintain a secure, safe environment for our members to communicate and transact.
“Due to the international nature of our business and that the strength of the marketplace is fuelled by real people, there is unlimited potential for market growth…I’m unbelievably excited!”
Cuzin’s initial seed round was an off-market transaction where it raised capital from a number of Angel investors in both Sydney and San Fransisco.
Amongst its investors were Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law Alasdair Macleod of MacDoch Ventures, Trevor Folsom of Elevation Capital, and Lance Kalish and Ido Leffler founders of Yes To Inc..
The startup has also partnered with prominent tech accelerator BlueChilli.
Its series A funding round is expected to close in the second quarter of this year, for an undisclosed sum.
See more about Cuzin here: