Venture Capital Is Custom-Made to Give Zazzle a Little Zip

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By Leslie Walker
Sunday, July 24, 2005

A company called Zazzle wants to be the place you express yourself online by creating custom goods such as personal postage based on your photos, T-shirts featuring your dog or stationery adorned by doodles you drew in your zanier moments.

Two-year-old Zazzle ( http://www.zazzle.com/ ) is hardly the first to enter the so-called mass-customization market, but it drew media attention last week by announcing it had landed $16 million in venture capital from Silicon Valley's premier investment firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

It also added customized postage stamps through a partnership with mailing supplies vendor Pitney Bowes. Customers can upload an image or select one from Zazzle's library and have it appear on stamps. Prices start at 130 percent of the face value of first-class stamps, with a sheet of 20 selling for $16.99. Prices decline based on order volume.

Zazzle said it will screen all submissions on postage images to weed out those that violate rules set by the U.S. Postal Service. "We don't want to do anything that violates copyrights or is racist or offensive to the government," chief executive Robert Beaver said.

In addition to your own artwork, Zazzle also offers the use of over half a million licensed images, including 3,500 from Walt Disney that spotlight some 130 Disney characters. Parents can put their children's names on a Nemo T-shirt or Minnie Mouse poster. Images also are available from the Library of Congress, Neopets, Fox's "Family Guy," Build-a-Bear and Harvey Entertainment.

The company also offers customized posters and prints in five sizes with 200 framing options, and design-your-own apparel in more than 60 styles. It spent two years developing and refining its in-house manufacturing capability so it can ship orders within 24 hours, Beaver said.

Cafepress.com ( http://www.cafepress.com/ ) offers similar design-it-yourself products, as do many online photo sites. Both Zazzle and Cafepress go further and invite people to upload their own images and products for public display, so others can buy or customize them further. Those contributors receive commissions or royalties that vary on Cafepress and amount to 10 percent on Zazzle.

Google's Latest Lunacy

If you thought Google was losing its playful side, check out the lunar map that went live Wednesday. Google chose to honor the 36th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon by extending its mapping service to let Web surfers wander around a virtual version of the lunar surface. Using NASA images, the lunar map shows the six sites where Apollo landings occurred; clicking on each shows who landed where.

The feature extends Google's humor, too, with a satirical job posting for engineers to work at "our lunar hosting and research center, opening late in the spring of 2007." (Google regulars may recall this ad first appearing on April Fool's Day of 2004.) The listing says the company is seeking candidates who are "in top physical condition and are capable of surviving with limited access to such modern conveniences as soy low-fat lattes, 'The Sopranos' and a steady supply of oxygen."

http://moon.google.com/

A New Way to Cruise for News

Become.com, a comparison-shopping site , upgraded its search engine last week to include news articles. Created by the folks behind the early online shopping service MySimon, Become.com is a recent entry into the crowded field of sites that aim to help people find product reviews and compare prices on millions of items.

Now Become.com has added a feature that automatically runs a search against hundreds of news sites whenever a user enters a query in its search box. If it finds stories on a related product or service, it presents links to those articles under an "in the news" label.

One nice feature of Become.com is how it invites users to click either a "research" or "shop" button when they enter a query term. Running a "research" query yields links to reviews, commentary and descriptions of products. Clicking "shop" for the same term pulls up information in a more structured format designed to help shoppers compare prices and shipping fees from various retailers. The free site is still in trial mode.

http://www.become.com/ E-mail Leslie Walker atwalkerl@washpost.com.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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