Jon Crawford – Storenvy 1 of 2

“Trust people and give them room to succeed and fail.” Storenvy is a social shopping marketplace for buying and selling cool stuff from indie merchants.

Matthew: Hi, this is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. We empower entrepreneurs to have a voice and share their story with the world, enabling others to learn about building products and starting companies. 

I am very excited today because I’m here with Jon Crawford, founder and CEO of Storenvy. Storenvy is an online store builder and social marketplace for independent brands. With that said, Jon, we’d love for you to give our audience a brief bio. 

Jon: Sure. Well, I’m Jon, and I am a hacker at heart, so Ruby on Rails developer. Kind of all started right out of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Got a business degree from the University of Kansas. 

The first job I had out of school was I went and tested elementary school students’ reading skills for $12 an hour, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. During that time, podcasting came out and I got really interested in maybe I could have my own radio show. Started playing around with that, and ultimately figured out HTML and RSS feeds, and got into this whole web programming thing. When I graduated from school I had no idea what a break tag even was. 

But, here I am, Ruby on Rails developer. For a number of years I ran a successful web design development shop out of Kansas City. Then, through that period of time, I really got excited about Web 2.0 and all this stuff around running a business on the Web, and decided to go for it eventually, and one way or another wound up here, in San Francisco. 

Matthew: What is Storenvy? What makes it unique? Who is it for, and why are you so passionate about it? 

Jon: Storenvy is kind of like if Tumblr was made up of online stores instead of blogs. We give everyone a really fast, easy, cool online storefront. The unique approach is that in addition to it just being storefronts that you can customize, and all the HTML and CSS, make it your own space, we take all the stuff from all the stores and put it in one big marketplace where shoppers can show up and browse across all the thousands of stores all in one place, comment and everything, follow other users, get updates when stores add new things. So, we’re really taking this social web approach to online stores. 

The reason I’m so excited about it is the same reason that I got into it back when I was doing my own development shop. I set up a number of online stores for customers. They’re really small businesses. One was a windshield wiper motor company, not even just windshield wipers, but the actual motors that ran the windshield wipers. 

Through that process, I just realized how geeky e-commerce was. It wasn’t really built like the rest of the emerging social web. Twitter was starting to take off, this was back in like 2007 or ’08. Twitter was starting to take off, everything was social, social, social, super simple, super easy to use, and there wasn’t a tool that really fit in with that. So, decided that, “Hey, I’m a pretty good product guy. I bet I could make something that is super-easy and fun and doesn’t feel like it was made by a marketing department or a team of MBAs.”

I was really seeing people that were more curios about. . . They were more concerned with their store just looking cool than about conversion funnels and SEM, and all these geeky terms that average people don’t know anything about. So, that’s kind of the thing that makes us different is that we care more about social and community than about features and making it like, I give away, we don’t do like 1000 product imports. So, like, some people will say, “I have 1000 products in my current store. Can I import them?” No, because we don’t really believe that stores with 1000 products are inherently social and community focused, they’re more of a commodity at that point. So, that’s one thing. 

The other thing is that we’re free because we really want to see the things be super social and we want to see the community be the core over revenue. We’re more concerned right now with building an epic community and a space that people are just really excited about being a part of, rather than turning on a revenue machine right now. So, everything is 100% free. 

Matthew: What are some of the technology and market trends that currently exist in your space, and where do you see things developing in the future? 

Jon: The big thing everybody hasn’t realized yet is – well, it’s not that people haven’t realized it – the thing that hasn’t come to fruition yet is just mobile shopping. We’re really excited to find some bandwidth to have mobile views of every single thing you could possibly do on Storenvy, create a version that you can do it all from your phone. Obviously, everyone’s just a land grab to get to that space, and we want to be a big part of that. 

Another big thing, let’s see. We see a ton of action from our Facebook stuff. We have a Facebook store where anyone can their store [and restore] and put it on their Facebook page. I know that’s nothing new, but it’s really working well. We get a lot of our signups through Facebook, a lot of people make sales through Facebook, so Facebook is still very valuable. 

Matthew: What inspired you to start Storenvy? 

Jon: Well, the first thing is that I’ve actually never had a real job. I guess that reading for elementary students would qualify as a real job, but right after that I started my own web design shop and la, la, la. So, I’ve always been this stubborn guy that never really could work for anybody else. So, that’s part of it, always had this entrepreneurial spirit of wanting to do my own thing. 

After doing client work for a long time, I couldn’t do client work any more. I was sick of helping other people make their dreams come true. I was on the prowl for a product to fit, to start a thing of my own. On top of that, what made me excited was just the that I’m coming at this particular space from a bottom-up approach, where I thought the other people in the space had a top-down approach. They were starting with big companies, big needs, big problems. 

I was saying, “What does a person need to be able to sell a t-shirt that they designed online? What does a person need to sell a CD? What does a person need to sell hot sauce that they’re making at they’re house?” So, really made it really simple, easy, fast, fun, but then also, made it feel like the rest of the internet people were using. So, the back end feels like the front end. The back end feels like Twitter or Facebook, or something easy and fun. That was like the big passion, “What if this software. . . What if somebody did e-commerce in an easy, fast, fun way?” 

Matthew: Who are your co-founders? 

Jon: Good question. I’ve been through a few. The original two guys, we worked on this thing for two years together, and we built the original product together. One guy was kind of an idea guy, business-y guy and sales guy, and the other guy was a graphic designer. These guys are actually really good. We got really far together, but there came a point where we kind of looked at things and said, “Okay. This opportunity is really big. To go for it we’re going to need to move out to the Bay Area.” It just became clear that that wasn’t really the life trajectory that these two guys wanted. 

We sat down, figured out how to spin part of the business off to its own thing. At the time, we had this t-shirt printing business that had millions of dollars in revenue. We worked out a situation where they got to run with that. They’re still running with it. It’s doing really well from what I can tell. Then, I’m running with the online store platform. So, their thing is more of a service, more of a brick and mortar, hands-on kind of thing, physical goods, and then, we’re all software. 

That was just about 13 months ago that we made that transition. 

Matthew: From idea to product launch, how long did it take and when did you actually launch Storenvy? 

Jon: It took a long time. One thing about the way I rock and roll is I’m very – how should I say it – particular about the interface, the design, all that stuff, and so I wanted to get it just right before we could launch anything. 

What we did is in 2008 we said, “Okay. We’re going to do this.” Then we worked and worked and worked over the summer. We launched a super, super, super minimum viable product, in closed beta, at the end of 2008 and we said, “Okay. If you want to use this, email us. We’ll look at you, decide if we will let you in.” We got up to like 200 users that way, but it wasn’t until November of 2009, a full year later, that we launched the social marketplace, the signup for your own store, anyone can run their own store. We were in closed beta for about a year while we were just cranking. There were really just two of us building it and it’s a really big product. 

Matthew: Are there any unique metrics or social proof about Storenvy that you’d like to share with the audience?

Jon: Unique metrics. I guess the one I’m the most proud of, and that we’re playing with, is. . . You Take a band, I think they’re a really good example, who we do stuff well for. A band isn’t, they have no idea how to do Google AdWords. We wanted to create a way for them to participate in the overall discovering traffic of a marketplace. So, if a band sets up a store on Storenvy, they’re also in the marketplace. 

Well, we have something, at this point it’s around 15% of the sales of the whole website come through the marketplace, which is pretty good, because everyone’s driving all the traffic and all the tweets and Facebook, and all that, to the actual storefronts. In addition to that, 15% the sales come through the marketplace. What that means is that people are coming to our website shopping for stuff, finding your stuff, buying it, and they wouldn’t have found it to begin with, because they wouldn’t have wound up on just specifically your store. 

So, I’m pretty excited about that. Hopefully, once we grow and evolve as a company, that number will be like 60% or 80%.

 
 

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