Get to know a Toronto startup: Ulonova

Location-based services have hugely enhanced our ability to discover our own cities and neighbourhoods. Toronto startup Ulonova caught on to this trend and now wants to help Torontonians discover what their local businesses have in-store.

Ulonova pinpoints your location and gives you a chance to browse a sample of the merchandise available in local shops before you even step out the door. You'll get a sneak peek of their goods, see what's on sale and maybe even discover that a store you always bypass is actually chock-full of goodies you'd like. Currently the focus is fashion retail but the startup is working on adding restaurants and lunch spots, and will also add gyms, yoga studios, spas and beauty salons by the end of this year.

Launched in June as a web app, the mobile app will be available for iOS and Android this month. I spoke to Ulonova co-founder Eugene Levin to understand how Ulonova gives consumers a fresh spin on location-based shopping.

What inspired you to create Ulonova?

When I was in Chicago last November, I decided to go out and do some holiday shopping in The Loop. I was surrounded by millions of amazing stores. Realizing I didn't have the time to hit them all, I wondered if there was a convenient way to figure out which stores I should go to. I checked a few different apps to see if any of them could give me a better idea of which stores would appeal to me. While FourSquare, Yelp, Facebook and Google Places were handy for identifying nearby stores, none of them gave me an idea of what I could find in those stores.

When I came back to Toronto and did some research on the subject, I was shocked that I couldn't find an app or service that could have helped me or the millions of other people who find themselves in similar situations. I met co-founder, Dave Ellery, sometime later and we decided to start Ulonova.

What makes Ulonova stand out from the crowd?

Our indirect competitors are FourSquare and Yelp, those services can be pretty useful but don't provide enough incentive to walk into a business. We built Ulonova because we believe that the best reason to walk into a business is knowing that it has something you want or need. Why do you think so many people hate shopping (especially men)? Because most of us hate walking into a store only to realize it resulted in a complete waste of time.

What kind of Torontonian would really love using Ulonova?

Today, we can connect our users to 370 locations in Toronto. For the time being individuals that live or work in downtown or midtown Toronto will benefit the most, but we're currently making a big effort to scale our coverage and connect users to even more businesses across the city.

What has been your biggest challenge in getting Ulonova ready for users?

The biggest challenge was and still remains understanding how people shop both online and offline. What makes this even more complicated is the difference in approaches to shopping between genders. For instance, we were concerned about attracting and retaining male users, but as it turned out, men are very receptive to Ulonova. Surprisingly, many men have told us that they love it because by telling them exactly where to buy what they want, it saves them the pain and hassle of shopping.

Check out Ulonova's Facebook page for updates and more info.

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