Necessity is the mother of cheap alternatives. When party guests broke Maureen Cyrenne's last beer mug one Saturday night in Ontario, Canada, the homemaker was horrified to see how much it cost to buy a new set of glasses. She scoured the best deal sites, but none could satisfy her paltry budget. It was time to think out of the box--or the bottle, rather--and she found an alternative that cost 90 percent less and was twice as nice.

In fact, her idea was so fun that it went viral, instantly winning 2.3 million views on www.Trusper.com, a new social app for crowdsourcing chic, low-cost tips for the home and office. In just two years, Trusper has attracted more than 18 million bargain and style-hunting  active users (92 percent are women under age 36), who earn points and prizes for the most practical tips as judged by the community.

"Chic but cheap" has been a lifelong mantra for Trusper founder Jack Jia, who grew up on dirt floors in Chengdu, China long before that city became an Asian Silicon Valley. He and his wife Cherry, both engineers, have spent a lifetime driven to find the best deal for tasteful things, and their new app has caught on in style-conscious circles. During Paris Fashion Week, Project Runway's Nina Garcia published tips on Trusper about how every mom deserves to find her inner fashionista at the best prices. She believes that saving money stylishly requires a change of attitude that she's broadcasted across the Trusper site.

Here are three game-changing tips to help you stop overpaying for the things you can't live without.

1. Change the Context: "You have to get past the idea that the highest quality item has to be the most expensive, which is where most people get stuck when they want something that has style," Jia says. When Maureen Cyrenne was searching for new beer mugs, she noticed how cool a six-pack of discarded Corona bottles looked in her recycle bin. She imagined how those empties might look as glassware. "What happened next was brilliantly cheap innovation that was vastly better than her initial plan to save up for conventional crystal," Jia says. She found a safe, easy way to cut the old, used beer bottles in two. The bottom half of each bottle in the six-pack became a fashionable set of glasses! (See photo at http://www.trusper.com/tips/Turn-Your-Beer-Bottles-Into-Glass-Cups-5-Easy-Steps/5287806)

2. Change the Venue: "The first step to consider when comparison shopping is to avoid looking in the same obvious places as your corporate competitors," Jia observes. When Trusper needed to expand into a new office, commercial movers demanded $10,000. But a local residential delivery service (rather than a commercial one) was happy to move the fledgling startup for only $1,200!

3. Change the Expectations: When Jia lusted for a backyard golf green for his Los Altos Hills home, a snobby Silicon Valley landscape architect quoted $350,000 for a professional-grade hole. But was that really necessary for a few putts on weekends? He found a do-it-yourself USGA video that enabled Jia to coach his residential gardener through the necessary steps to create a great-looking alternative for just $5,000.

Not surprisingly, the idea of crowdsourcing innovative, cost-conscious tips has attracted competitors and VCs ready to cash in on the movement. Trusper recently raised a $20 million Series B round of funding with top-tier venture firms including DCM, which has a long history of investing in explosive, high-growth startups in Asia and the U.S., along with angel investors from Schwab, WebEx, Fortinet, Interwoven, Telenav, and Juniper Networks. Serial entrepreneurs like David Chao and myself have become board members at Trusper, where you can take a front-row seat on brilliant tips created by millions of innovators on the cheap.

Published on: Nov 8, 2014