Jon Crawford – Storenvy 2 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: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to launch a start-up. What was the hardest obstacle that you faced in launching Storenvy, and how did you overcome it?

Jon: The hardest obstacle was probably the transition, with the co-founders, which also timed with, getting asked to not participate in Y Combinator. So, the long story short, is that we inadvertently, got accepted into Y Combinator without applying. There was just a chain of introductions where we wound up being asked to interview. The interview went well. We got asked to participate in the summer.

But, the class started in seven days. We were in Austin, Texas as a team. We freaked out. We had to figure out how to get everybody out here; move all this stuff. None of us had ever spent time in the Bay. 

We started to make it work, and then we had that tough conversation, so we could spend this business. The day before it started, we had our plans in place as to how that range was going to look. So,I called Paul Graham and I said, “Hey, this is what’s going to happen.” And he said, “Woo, this could be bad.” I said, “I don’t care. I’ve already moved out of my house. I’m on my way to the airport. See you tomorrow.”

I got here and they said, “Look, you let go of the revenue-generating part of the business, the T-shirt printing. You don’t have your co-founders anymore. This is a different team and business. So, I don’t think we’re going to fund you in this, anymore.”

That was just like, a huge punch to the stomach. I sincerely, felt like throwing up, for a few days. I went back to the Extended Stay hotel by the airport, that we had moved into, because we didn’t know what else to do. We ended up living in that hotel for a month. While we spun around like crazy people, in the hotel room, my wife and I. We were just trying to figure out what we were going to do. 

We ultimately just decided, “You know what? Either we kind of slump back to Texas, or Kansas City, or wherever we were from at the time, which we didn’t really know.” We could just do that, or we could put our heels down, and work like crazy. 

We got a place in the city. We worked on promoting and trying to build things. We didn’t have a designer on the team, for like, six months. We did what we could, and worked around that obstacle. We did have one team member that we brought on for a while, who was doing some good design. 

Anyway, we just worked, and worked, and worked and got our metrics up. Then we were able to put together a good financing round, by the end of the year. So, now we have been able to hire an awesome team of guys.

Matthew: That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing. Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know that it can be very difficult. My question to you is, What is it that comes easily, or intuitively for you? What do you make look easy? What’s been difficult? How do you manage that?

Jon: It’s just this whole entrepreneurship, or founder of journey, is really fascinating. You don’t hear people talk about how freaking hard it is. Part of that is, if you are going to go raise money in a few months, you don’t want potential investors seeing you complain, about how hard it is. Everybody always wants to make it look like they’re kicking ass, and it’s so easy and fun. It is hard. Being a founder is hard. Our job is hard.

Coming up with an idea is easy. Coming up with a good idea is actually, kind of hard. But, that’s like 1% of 1%, of the difficulty of being a founder. It just never ends. 

Going from a guy in Kansas City, who came up with an idea, to coming out to the Bay area, and learning how to pitch to venture capitalists. That’s really hard. You have to fail a lot at that, before you can get good at it.

But, then fast forward so far. I didn’t know anything about payroll. That part of my planning, I would never get good, at picking out a payroll company. There’s so many little things like that. Managing people is hard. Hiring is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Recruiting is incredibly hard. 

The easy stuff for me, is seeing an awesome product road map. Being able to see, all the different pieces that have to be done, to make the product come together.
The tough part is that you have to deal with, it involves dealing with real people. People can’t be just like tools in your toolbox, that you put them to work on this thing. You have to make them feel like they’re part of it. 

You have to give them room to succeed and fail. You have to back up, and let people do things in ways, you wouldn’t really do them, if you were the one that was doing it. The idea is that they are better at it than you. So, you just have to trust them. That’s not easy for everybody. It’s not easy for me much of the time. 

So, it’s amazing how many challenges there are being a Founder. It’s definitely so much more than, “Can I make a website?” “Can I make a website? Can I come up with a good idea? Am I getting users?” That’s the very beginning of it.

Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching Storenvy?

Jon: Wow, the most important lesson? I would say probably, how crucial it is to be in the Bay Area, honestly. It’s not something I think a lot about now, because I’m here and I’m taking it for granted. We did this for two years in Kansas City. Actually, we were spread out, one in San Diego, I was in Kansas City, and the other guy was in Orlando. 

We made it work as far as developing our product, but nobody had ever heard of us. We didn’t have the resources of other Founders to learn from, and ask questions of, and get introductions through. We weren’t part of a start-up community. 

The power of the community is amazing. Everybody that can help you in some way, you have like a social connection to, through someone. Whether it be investors, people that hire, service providers, partners, potential acquirers, it all comes through your real life social network, out here. It’s amazing.

Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you had known before launching Storenvy?

Jon: I think we didn’t do enough, sort of like hacking, the launch process, I don’t think we did enough. These kind of ideas, they are only really starting to become mainstream now. The guys like LaunchRock, and all those funky things. Like “Invite three friends, you get early access.” We didn’t do enough pre-launch buzz-building. Once you’re out, you really can’t, go back and do that. I wish we’d done a little more mystery around our launch.

Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your professional development?

Jon: A guy by the name of David Hauser really talked me off the ledge, during the Founder break-up, Y Combinator meltdown. He runs a company called Grasshopper, and another one called Chargify. Young dude, I might be a year older than him. But, he’s got great sense around business. He was like my sponsor, during that period of time. 

He’s a really good friend of mine and, he knows this. There’s a couple guys. I probably wouldn’t be out here doing this, if it weren’t for two of my friends. Ethan [Block] from [Float Town], and Darius “Bubs” Monsef from COLOURlovers. These two guys helped me to transition out here. They encouraged me to get out here, helped me build my community. They had completely open attitudes about, “Hey, we got a new guy, let’s hook him up with everything. Let’s invite him to everything.” It kind of made the experience.

Matthew: What advice would you like to share with the audience about launching a start-up? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?

Jon: I’ve become very aware of how it’s not about coming up with an idea, or being able to build it. It’s about working on an idea, for five-plus years, and building a big business out of it. The first thing you need to do is, you need to decide whether or not, you want to build a product, or build a business. Because if all you care about is building a product, you are not a founder. 

A founder is someone who has a long-term vision. Maybe that’s not fair to say. Maybe a CEO can transition in, and run it after you. But, I’ve seen a lot of people, who had a good idea for a product, and just built it, and think that that’s a start-up. So, you really have to count what the costs are going to be, long-term. Make sure you are committed to it long-term.

Other than that, I believe in working all the freaking time. If your lifestyle doesn’t afford you to do that, then it’s going to be very hard to get where you want to go. Honestly, unless you are passionate enough about the idea, that you want to work all the freaking time, then you are also, not probably, going to be successful. That’s a symptom of how committed you are to the idea, wanting to work on it all the time.

Team up with great people that are smarter than you, or better than you, at what they’re doing, absolutely. Get to know people, be friends with people. Being friends with people, has been one of the best advantages that we’ve got. Just be socially friends with people, get coffee with people, socialize with people. That’s a big part of it.

Matthew: Before we close, we would like you to give our audience, your vision for Storenvy, and how you hope it will change the world.

Jon: So, Tumblr has just blown-up over the past year. I heard that they are doing, like 250 million page views, a day. I think that when I first saw Tumblr, I didn’t have the vision for it, that David and Jon, and a bunch of guys over there had. 

My first thought was, “Well, WordPress already exists. Why would you start another blog system? Why would you launch another blog competitor?” What I didn’t realize, was that, they saw an opportunity, where other things were over-engineered. Where other things were just the bare-bones, of what people wanted to do. So, now it’s blown-up.

Well, I think we are entering a market that’s similar, Where there is already a bunch of online storage rooms, so why would you start a new one? I sincerely believe that shopping is social, and that selling is social, because it is extremely personal. Especially for small businesses, that are producing or creating something. It’s their identity, and it’s their personal brand, and not just some outside thing. If you are selling cell phone cases; outside thing. But, if it’s your thing that you came up with, and you are branding, it’s your identity. 

I don’t think anybody’s targeting that personal experience of selling something on the web. So, I would like to see Storenvy become the default answer to the question, “Where do I set up a shop online?” Because, there isn’t a default answer to that question, right now. Which is weird, because the internet has been around for a long time, and ecommerce has been around for a long time. There is still no default answer to the question; people Google it, to find the answer to that. 

So, I would like to be the default, and that’s one reason that it’s free. I would like Storenvy to become the home of cool stuff to buy, so the home page is a destination for cool stuff, everyday, all day long. That users are curating things, showing you things, that they’ve discovered in this big marketplace, and it’s where you go to find cool, unique stuff from real people.

Matthew: Jonathon, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at Storenvy. For those in our audience who would like to learn more, and set-up a free storefront and join their community, you can visit their website at This is Matthew Wise of FounderLY. Thanks, Jon.

Jon: Thanks.


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