Inside the Mark Cuban-backed search engine that wants to defeat Amazon's fake review problem and help consumers find American-made products in the process

  • Harsh Khurana founded Cultivate during the pandemic after he saw the socioeconomic impact COVID-19 was having on the small businesses in his area.
  • Cultivate is a search engine and Chrome plugin that helps users find American-made products on e-commerce sites like Amazon and Target.
  • Mark Cuban was the first VC Khurana reached out to and the first to sign on to back the startup, which is currently run by a team of four.
  • Khurana's goal is to help shoppers find higher-quality products and avoid decision fatigue, while also helping small businesses thrive and generating more money for the US economy.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Say you want to buy a beach chair — you've got a long weekend coming up, and virus-be-damned, you're going to find your slice of summer even if you get a mask tan in the process. 

So you go to Amazon, type "beach chair" into the search bar, and hit enter. Almost instantly, Amazon loads items 1-48 of over 2,000 beach chairs on the e-commerce site. Two thousand beach chairs, some with as many positive reviews. You scroll a bit, not even making it through the first 48 chairs before you get overwhelmed. Which reviews are fake? Which products are shoddy? Which brands are trusted and which are counterfeiters? The stress mounts. You start to rethink the beach chair endeavor entirely. You have a bath towel that should be fine to sit on, right? You leave the tab open just in case.

Harsh Khurana wants to help you buy your beach chair. More specifically, he wants to help you find an American-made beach chair that is a high-quality product, without any of the Amazon-induced decision fatigue. 

"The good quality beach chairs might be at the bottom because somebody's paid to be on top," Khurana told Business Insider in an interview. "We have so many stresses in our lives, especially during coronavirus, the last thing we want to do is spend more time online to find the product that we need."

Khurana is the founder of Cultivate, a website and Chrome plugin that helps consumers find products that are made in the US. The company, currently a team of four, was launched during the pandemic and has already attracted an investment from Mark Cuban. When the country went into lockdown, Khurana sat inside his home in central New Jersey trying to figure out what he could do to help struggling businesses.

He saw that small businesses were getting slammed by the pandemic because of forced closures while huge retailers with established e-commerce shops and big marketing budgets were hoovering up all the consumers. 

"You can't beat marketing dollars and search engine optimization when you're an entrepreneur," Khurana said. "You're focused on your customers and the actual quality of your product."

Small businesses and startups often operate on razor-thin margins, which means they don't have the extra cash to sink into getting eyeballs on their product. And when the internet is awash with brands pumping massive marketing budgets into ads that target and follow consumers, that often means the best products aren't the ones that get discovered. Bad news for small businesses, and bad news for consumers. Khurana wanted to level that playing field to help small businesses get discovered online, help consumers find high-quality products, and generate more money for the US economy. Once he had his idea he knew which VC to reach out to first.

"If there's one person who's going to support small businesses and entrepreneurs, it's Mark," Khurana said. 

Khurana sent him an email, the two got talking, and Cuban was in.

"I'm a big believer in buy-American, invest in America," Cuban told FOX Business of his decision to back Cultivate so early on.

Here's how Cultivate works. You can either use the Cultivate search engine, or install a plugin into your Chrome browser and search on Amazon, Target, or other e-commerce sites as you normally would. (Cultivate's extension is currently live on 50 e-commerce sites beyond Amazon and has more than 250,000 products in its database. Khurana is hoping to get that product number to a million by the end of the year.) On the Cultivate site, users will only get results for the American-made products in its database. If you use the plugin, once you've done a search on a retailers site, a notification will pop up on the Cultivate icon in the corner of the Chrome browser if it found an American-made product in the same category. Khurana made sure the notifications are visible but don't impede the shopping experience. 

"We keep it as simple as possible. Anywhere you're shopping, we want you to enjoy your experience," he said. "If you're buying socks, we're going to show you American-made socks. If you want those, we'll take you to the page where you can buy it. It's that simple. Otherwise, you can continue on with your experience."

Simplicity was key for Khurana as he developed the concept for Cultivate. For many consumers, a disconnect exists between their ethical values and their shopping behaviors, and that disconnect is exacerbated by the number of products out there and the lack of information on where they're coming from. But Khurana isn't trying to make the consumer feel bad about that disconnect. 

"We don't blame anybody," Khurana said.

As Cultivate continues to grow, Khurana has big plans for how to make supporting your ethics with your shopping choices so easy that anyone can do it.

"We'll make it seamless so it won't be an extra click to save a job. It would be the same amount of clicks as when shopping on any e-commerce website. And not only do you get good quality goods, you also help somebody."

Khurana is a big believer in helping the underdog, partially because he sees himself as one — his family came to the US from India when he was 9, and he credits America with giving them a chance to prosper. But he also proves out how shopping for products made in the US is also better for the US economy. In Cultivate's blog post detailing their mission, the team explains, "various studies show that every $100 spent on local businesses generates $68 in local economic activity, whereas the same $100 spent on non-local businesses generates only $43."

Khurana also has plans to show users exactly how their dollar has impacted the economy based on their purchases made through Cultivate. Armed with that knowledge, hopefully, your beach chair will feel that much more comfortable.

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