Posts from Ideas

Small Stores, Big Ideas

I discover a lot of small independent stores through Wanelo. These are relatively small operations, larger than your average Etsy shop or eBay business, but much smaller than your average corporation or retail operation with more than one address. You might call them boutiques, but they’re quite different from what that word conjures up on sites like FarFetch. They have a ton of personality, sell a wide variety of things, often have a physical address but primarily exist on their own domain online, and write copy about their products in a way that happens to be highly entertaining to read. Sometimes they make their products and sometimes they source them, and they always tell you the details of how they sourced them and from whom. They’re curators, to use a word I can barely stomach now.

Best Made Company is probably the canonical example of this type of store in my head. I discovered them before I started working on Wanelo, and now regularly open their emails and get excited about new offerings they come up with, like the Less Is Muir patch and the Shawl Neck Sweater Coat they created in collaboration with Dehen. They have a really strong brand with strong values, and as a consequence people pay attention to the things they choose to sell and why. I was pretty excited about the books they chose to sell when I first discovered them, as it seemed like a sort of cross-section of old DIY wilderness faves last featured in the Whole Earth Catalog.

Less Is Muir from Best Made Co

You can read about how Best Made came about here. They have ~24K followers at the moment on Wanelo.

Occulter is a new Wanelo discovery and the inspiration for this post. They’re based in New York and sell a lot of fascinating things.

Their Binchotan Toothbrush is blended with Binchotan charcoal powder, which is apparently “known to radiate negative ions, has a powerful deodorizing effect, removes plaque and attacks the causes of bad breath.” Occult dental products pretty much have my attention right away.

Binchotan toothbrush from Occulter

They also sell a sharp-looking Smith & Wesson pen, which is something I’m surprised I’ve never heard referenced before in rap lyrics.

Smith & Wesson pen from Occulter

And they sell these Woolly Mammoth ivory razors with quartz lenses featuring vintage micro-photography.

Mammoth straight razor from Occulter

Plus: very, very dark honey sourced from a beekeeper in Schenectady.

Occulter Black Honey

And, the perfect gift for any former philosophy major: Platonic solids!

Platonic Solids from Occulter

And these are just the things I’ve saved to my Wanelo.

ThinkGeek is another store of this dimension I’ve come into a lot more contact with since Wanelo, most recently with these rare earth magnets.

Rare Earth Magnets

You could even consider making your own. How? It’s very simple! You just find yourself a nice chunk of some Misch metal from the Earth’s substrate, then carefully extract any Neodymium, purify it, mold it, coat it in a small amount of nickel, and then wrap some plastic around it in the shape of a thumbtack.

They have ~118K followers at the moment on Wanelo.

Opulent Items is another store of this type. Operated out of Miami, I would probably never have come into contact with the astounding products they sell if it weren’t for Wanelo, where they have over 100K followers.

And there’s many more, like Fred Flare, straight out of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with ~118K followers on Wanelo. And MoMAStore, RISDworks, Selekkt, Photojojo, Buy Olympia, House 8810, Moon Marble, Hammacher, Uncommon Goods, Poketo, Present and Correct, Street Market, FriendsWithYou, MollaSpace, Little Paper Planes, The Future Perfect, Totokaelo, Solitary Arts, Matter and others.

The point is that there’s a fast-growing audience for products worth sharing, and a rapidly expanding definition of what that entails.

My Wanelo Feed Erupted with Goodness Last Night

Feeding on Wanelo

This natural event occurred because we began surfacing the individual shops behind the hundreds of thousands of products from Etsy that have been posted to Wanelo by members. Members who had been following the “store” on Wanelo and had saved Etsy products are now following the shops behind those products. If you happen to be following people like TouMou or anastridendeavor on Wanelo (or me, or Deena), your feed just erupted with goodness as well.

Store pages on Wanelo are created when members post products from a store. You can follow stores and get updates in your feed when new products from those stores are posted by members. (Did I mention that the new Wanelo feed is simple, lickable and alive?)

This is something I happen to have wanted for a long time: the ability to follow Etsy shops. I’ve favorited hundreds of excellent Etsy shops but when you favorite a shop today you don’t get updates from them, and you forget about them.

Another thing I’ve long wanted that now exists is attribution and ownership for products I’ve saved. When I save a product on Wanelo with a comment, I create a page with that context. If I tweet that save and someone resaves it from me or comments on my save, I get notified. It’s not unlike how reblogging works on Tumblr, and check-ins work on Foursquare.

A Wanelo save page

It’s a step toward helping every active member of Wanelo create content and get feedback on their activity.

Because shopping, since the Industrial Revolution anyway, has been about passive consumption. “Consumption” from “consumer”: a word with a telling etymology that didn’t take off until the late 19th century, after factories had begun manufacturing uniform products en masse and needed to advertise to generate demand:

early 15c., “one who squanders or wastes,” agent noun from consume. In economic sense, “one who uses up goods or articles” (opposite of producer) from 1745. Consumer goods is attested from 1890.

The internet was not designed for passive consumption (that’s what TV was for, and I like to think that the internet began with the creation of the Whole Earth Catalog). And I don’t think consuming in the traditional sense has much of a future. Buying things can be a lot more creative, meaningful and fun. Payment is a form of communication, as Jack Dorsey likes to say, and people prefer to communicate with other people. Left to their own devices, people also tend to seek out unique products and customize things for themselves.

Wanelo is reorganizing shopping around people. That can sound vague if you haven’t picked up Paul Adams’ book Grouped for example, but it’s simple and powerful, and I think soon to be obvious and inevitable: people first. People organize the content and help it get discovered. A typical content-driven ecommerce site will have lots of categories to drill down into, carefully organized by the retailer and created by the retailer. Social context around the products is usually minimal or plastered on, and the experience is often one-dimensional, with the retailer talking at you. On Wanelo you discover products through people, and through the entities that people create while using the site (stores, collections, saves and *more*, coming soon). People look to other people for clues and guidance, just like in real life. And we don’t tell them who to listen to or what to buy.

Tons and tons to do (I’m making commits and writing tickets in another window as I type), but OMG it’s fun. And my Wanelo feed keeps getting better.

The Discovery Problem

There are a lot of really awesome and well-made things being sold by creative businesses these days. Things you do not know you want until you see them, because you did not know they existed and wouldn’t have thought to search for them. Things that enrich your life because they have meaning for you (you discovered it!) and are special or rare.

There are a lot of great platforms for selling these things: Etsy, Shopify, Big Cartel, Goodsie, Gumroad. But generating demand for these things, and helping them get discovered, is a distinct problem on which I don’t think we’ve made a great deal of headway yet. Sellers and retailers are still shouting, or advertising, at people to buy their stuff, inefficiently. The best ones are telling stories and engaging people in conversations, but it takes a lot of work to gain traction. It also takes a lot of money and effort to build brands the traditional way. So a lot of awesome things are being lovingly made and never seen or sold.

Turns out seller-focused platforms may not be in the best position to attack this problem. It may not make a lot of business sense to try. When sellers are your primary customers, you must focus on their needs and keep them happy. Sometimes things that are best for buyer discovery do not make sellers happy. Sellers would not be happy to see other sellers’ items on their website, for example, or on listing pages that they paid for. Understandably so. Whether or not such a thing leads to more sales and more customers is inconsequential. If sellers aren’t happy, they won’t list items on your service.

A website from an individual seller, whether that seller is an independent designer or Macy’s, is never going to be wholly aligned with the interests of buyers. It’s naturally biased, and limited. And from the seller perspective, visitors will be hard to come by unless you’ve done the hard work of building up an engaged following, in addition to all the other hard work.

Amazon is focused on buyers, and will show you things from lots of different sellers, but Amazon is optimized for convenience, and for buying things you have already decided you want. Amazon is not focused on discovery.

I’ve been thinking that maybe what this world needs are seller-focused platforms optimized for selling, and buyer-focused platforms optimized for discovery.

A buyer-focused platform optimized for discovery puts buyer happiness first, and buyers in control. It’s a place where buyers help other buyers discover things, and puts the right buyers in touch with the right sellers. It’s a place where demand for unique items is generated and aggregated, and creative makers of things benefit.

Wanelo is buyer-focused, and has been inspiring euphoria among a growing legion of young females—the same generation I’ve been watching propel Tumblr to new heights.

I see a lot of work ahead, but I know there’s something there. So I’m going to go help Deena and Kristina Varshavskaya and team figure out what that is, then turn it all the way up, in San Francisco.

I’m going to miss Etsy, and New York, and the astonishingly awesome people I’ve been lucky enough to work with these last few years. Etsy is deep in my bones. I see the next step as a natural continuation of that work. And I won’t be stranger :)