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Startup Story

Recommerce startup Beni uses AI to help you shop secondhand

Beni co-founders Sarah Pinner and Celine Lightfoot.

How resale startup Beni supports the circular economy via its browser extension

Sarah Pinner started reducing waste in childhood, reaching over and turning off her sibling’s water while they brushed their teeth. Her environmental consciousness eventually led her to co-found Beni, an AI-powered browser extension that aggregates and recommends resale options while users shop for their favorite brands. With cofounder and Beni CTO Celine Lightfoot and cofounder and current Beni CEO Kate Sanner, Sarah built Beni to make online apparel resale accessible to everyday shoppers to accelerate the circular economy and reduce the burden of fashion on the planet.

The platform works by pulling listings from over 40 marketplaces for the same item a user is shopping for and sharing them via Beni’s Chrome extension. Sarah tells us, “Users can simply buy the resale version instead of the new to save money and purchase more sustainably. On average, Beni users save about 55% from the new item, and it’s also a lot more sustainable to buy the item secondhand.”

Beni was one of the first companies in the recommerce platform software space, and the competitive landscape is growing. “The more recommerce platforms the better, but Beni is ahead in terms of our partnerships and access to data as well as the ability to search across data,” says Sarah. Beni does this with its use of AI, which helps Beni to ingest all data feeds from their 40+ partnerships into Beni’s database so they can surface the most relevant resale items to the shopper. For example, when Beni receives eBay’s feed for a product search, there may be 100,000 different sizes. The team has trained the Beni model to normalize sizing data. That’s one piece of their categorization.

“When we first started Beni, the intention wasn’t to start a company. It was to solve a problem, and AI has been a great tool to help us do that,” says Sarah.

Beni’s product was built using Google technology, is hosted on Google Cloud, and utilizes Vision API Product Search, Vertex AI, BigQuery and the Chrome web store. So when they heard about Google for Startups Accelerator: Circular Economy, it seemed like the perfect fit. “Having been in the circular economy space, and being a software business already using a plethora of Google products, and having a Google Chrome extension—getting plugged into the Google world gave us great insights about very niche questions that are very hard to find online,” says Sarah.

As an affiliate business in resale, Beni’s revenue per transaction is low—a challenge for a business model that requires scale. The Beni team worked one-on-one with Google mentors to best use Google tools in a cost-effective way. Keeping search results relevant is a core piece of the zero-waste model. Sarah says, “Being plugged in and able to work through ways to improve that relevancy and that reliability with the people in Google who know how to build Google Chrome extensions, know how to use the AI tools on the backend, and deeply understand Search is super helpful.” The accelerator also educated the team on how to selectively use AI tools such as Google’s Vision API Product Search versus building their tech in-house.

“Having direct access to people at Google was really key for our development and sophisticated use of Google tools. And being a part of a cohort of other circular economy businesses was phenomenal for building connections in the same space,” says Sarah.

Support from the accelerator extended beyond tech, and a program highlight for Sarah was a UX writing deep dive specifically for sustainability. “It showed us all this amazing, tangible research that Google has done about what is actually effective in terms of communicating around sustainability to drive behavior change,” said Sarah. “You can’t shame people into doing things. How you communicate is really important in terms of whether people will actually make a change or be receptive.”

Additionally, the new connections made with other circular economy startups and experts in their space was a huge benefit of participating in the program. Mentorship, in particular, provided product-changing value. Technical mentors from Google shared advice that had a huge impact on the decision for Beni to move from utilizing Vision API Product Search to their proprietary reverse image search. “Our mentors guided us to shift a core part of our technology. It was a big decision and was one of the biggest pieces of mentorship that helped drive us forward. This was a prime example of how the Google for Startups Accelerator program is truly here to support founders in building the best products,” says Sarah.

Beni’s roadmap includes a searchable interface for their Chrome extension on desktop and mobile, and extending support to other e-commerce platforms who want to integrate resale into their offerings. Its mission is straightforward: to ease the burden for shoppers to shop secondhand, and make resale the new norm.

Learn more about Beni