How I Built A $6M/Year Antiques & Art Database

$500,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
8
Employees
product
WorthPoint Corpor...
from Atlanta
started April 2007
$500,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
8
Employees
15K
alexa rank
873
followers
16K
followers
platform

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Thank you for the invitation to Starter Story!

I’m Will Seippel, founder and CEO of WorthPoint Corp., also known to our subscribers as WorthPoint.com. We offer an online subscription service that encompasses three databases that include a price guide to help people easily and quickly find the value of art, antiques, and collectibles; a search tool to identify marks, autographs, patterns, and symbols (M.A.P.S. – more than 130,000 of them); and an electronic library of over 1,000 books and articles on collectibles and antiques by topic. Our newest feature on WorthPoint.com, The Vault, helps people value their collections as well as archive and share them.

Our customers are antique dealers, longtime and new collectors, professional or amateur pickers, insurance adjusters, and just about anyone with accumulated “stuff” that they want to research for values in seconds.

how-i-built-a-6m-year-antiques-art-database

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Around 2002, a convergence of professional and personal factors aligned to inspire what became WorthPoint.com.

I had a growing family and wanted to settle down after many years and frequent moves in corporate America. I also had a lot of fun and enjoyed lucrative success selling items on eBay, juxtaposed with increasing frustration over the laborious process researching items of unknown value.

To start a business you must be equal parts entrepreneurial and optimistic. Things usually take longer than planned and only gain complexity as they take shape.

A tipping point occurred when my mother held a garage sale in Maine – some savvy dealers took advantage of her naiveté and practically stole some of her expensive coins and Tiffany & Co. glass. I thought to myself, “The world needs a way to avoid costly mistakes of selling or buying an item at the wrong price!”

My goal in starting WorthPoint was twofold. First, I wanted to make it more efficient for anyone to find data on items they were selling via eBay or other sites, and second, I wanted to bring resources to the masses that would help identify, value, and preserve items in their home. The reselling of “used” items is one of the largest industries in the world – I would estimate the market at up to $1 trillion. Obviously, that is big business, and we wanted WorthPoint to be part of it.

We wanted to help people precisely identify an item while democratizing pricing information and making it available to any collector who needed it. This wasn’t happening in our industry, and we knew we could speed up the process. We set out to become to our industry what Bloomberg is to the financial world.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

For the first few months, we sat and just talked about “what are we designing?” There was a lot of discussion before technical and other details were designed and finally written. We started out using Drupal for the framework, later connecting to Grails. There was not a dark site while we initially worked on WorthPoint.com, and on May 18, 2007, we were live and open to users.

In those early days, we were not a paid subscription site; instead, we relied on ads. We quickly envisioned our key offerings and focused on building the price guide first. The team built the price guide around auction results. We acquired GoAntiques.com, which provided access to eBay data and to Grails programmers, which we needed.

Looking back, in some ways, given the collective tech knowledge of our team, it is clear that we anticipated aspects of cloud computing and massive data storage that shaped our process. As we added tens of millions of additional online auction results to our database, our price guide grew exponentially.

Focus on our M.A.P.S. product followed in 2011, and the library developed more in 2012. We have been fine-tuning all our offerings ever since. We have a slow-and-steady approach, relying on subscriber feedback to inform adjustments.

how-i-built-a-6m-year-antiques-art-database

Describe the process of launching the business.

Our WorthPoint.com launch process was easy -- we simply turned it on! Three years later, we relaunched by turning on the subscription model, with a promising 38 purchases on day one. The stakes were high – if subscribers did not embrace us, we would have to shut down. However, once it was confirmed that people would pay for the data we organized, then we were really off to the races and have not looked back.

This year marks the culmination of several months of focus on a new feature we’re calling The Vault, which empowers WorthPoint subscribers to upload an entire collection (or a single item), and get a value for it. Users can also archive or share the collection direct to their eBay account, build and share wish lists for items they seek and document the value for insurance purposes or estate planning. The Vault also encourages and enables people to log the personal stories behind the objects they cherish, so that in the future, their family or the purchasers of the items may appreciate a special detail behind the item.

For example, if you have a hammer used to build your family house, that is one type of memory. If you have a hammer a former U.S. president used and signed after building a Habitat For Humanity home, there’s a whole different perspective on the item. The Vault helps subscribers explain and save these personal or historic details.

We now offer encyclopedic landing pages that further help users easily research categories. The pages aggregate data from all three of our WorthPoint databases plus articles, giving users detailed information from hundreds of sources on a single page.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Organic search brought the majority of subscribers to WorthPoint.com during our early years. We supplemented organic search with a paid search via Google Ads, which proved to be consistently cost-effective and provided an excellent return on investment. We are thrifty, and our spend is minimal, but the payoff has always come with a great rate of return in new subscribers.

We’ve become a sophisticated data company in the financial sector, poised to inform change in the reselling industry.

We have several types of customers. Many are professionals who operate auction houses or appraisal businesses, own antique shops, run a flea market booth, accept consignments, manage a pawn operation, or are pickers from amateur to professional. There are also trust attorneys, financial planners, and taxing authorities with team members who use WorthPoint (or should!).

We also have many subscribers who are homeowners preparing to downsize or people helping someone liquidate assets (i.e. estate sale organizers), to whom we encourage WorthPoint use across the arc of their sale prep. Collectors specializing in their interests also use WorthPoint.com to gauge the value of their collections over time, or to right-price items they want to buy, sell, or trade.

The databases we offer service all of these customers in different ways, and while many WorthPoint.com subscribers have similarities, no two are exactly alike, and they mix and match the products they need and use.

A big factor for our industry and WorthPoint relates to the biggest period of wealth migration in U.S. history on the horizon (see below, in my response to the next question, for more specifics). We are poised to ride a wave of opportunity.

This year we invested in a site redesign, with a focus on updating its user-friendliness and presenting a more contemporary look. We also updated and relaunched the WorthPoint app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

WorthPoint enjoys steady growth and our future looks very bright.

Money managers estimate that America is in the greatest period of wealth migration in U.S. history. Reports indicate that over the next few decades, Boomers are expected to transfer in excess of $30 trillion in assets to Gen X and Millennials. Those assets include cash and homes full of stuff as Boomers move from accumulation to divestment. WorthPoint is in step with these generations’ shared need to quickly and accurately determine the worth of these items and collections.

We are growing at a rate of five percent or more per month, and with additional tweaks and more focus on marketing what we offer, combined with market factors noted above, the sky’s the limit for our enterprise.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I spent my formative career years in corporate America, managing multimillion-dollar budgets and organizing corporate acquisitions.

I understand high-pressure situations better than most, so I was ready for the financial vagaries and inevitable setbacks that come with starting a company. It’s always less stressful to work for someone else who guarantees a paycheck, but the reward is not as great. Begin with a well-developed business model.

It is OK to make mistakes, experiment, and try things that may or may not work – the important thing is to learn from all of the outcomes and be flexible to adjust from lessons learned.

To start a business you must be equal parts entrepreneurial and optimistic. Things usually take longer than planned and only gain complexity as they take shape.

For us, the philosophy that “slow and steady wins the race” is apt, and I recommend this approach to others.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

WorthPoint uses Zuora for billing tools, ReactOS for architecture, Amazon DynamoDB for our database, MailChimp to engage subscriber groups, and of course, we are active on social media channels including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn to engage current or potential subscribers.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

A book that inspired me on several fronts is The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. I read it when it first came out in 2006, around the time that we were discussing the design for WorthPoint.com, and many of the observations shared by Anderson still resonate.

Because I’m a collector at heart, I enjoy nonfiction books with a focus on archaeology, history, and biographies, usually with a “treasure hunt” or discovery somewhere in the mix. I also enjoy many types of history shows. With that stated, one detail that surprises some is that I do not watch series like “Antiques Roadshow” or “Pawn Stars” because these shows are too reminiscent of my own shopping and treasuring hunting activities – why watch a show that only reminds you of work?

Day-to-day, I am an avid reader of the Wall Street Journal and several news sites, with a mix of business news and world events on my radar. I also enjoy searching the internet for fresh stories of upcoming or recent auctions or treasures discovered in attics, basements, storage units, and estate sales.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

It is vital to remain passionate and focused. If you maintain focus, you will persevere with greater ease. It is OK to make mistakes, experiment, and try things that may or may not work – the important thing is to learn from all of the outcomes and be flexible to adjust from lessons learned.

Across many stages of my career, people came along who wanted to leverage or change my big ideas to fit theirs, and this is where maintaining focus is key, even if it leads to tough choices for the sake of preserving the mission.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

WorthPoint is always looking for team members, with our current opportunities listed at WorthPoint.com/careers.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Several times a year, our team visits a major flea market to host a regional WorthPoint Treasure Hunt. During these free events, which usually take place on a weekend morning, we invite local collectors – or anyone who is curious – to explore the market and learn how to research and determine the value of items found along the way. The process always yields some fun surprises and discoveries, and gets people talking about their interests or stories of fun items they found. Check out upcoming Treasure Hunts, and join us for a few fun hours of exploration and learning! WorthPoint.com/TreasureHunt.

-  
Will Seippel,   Founder of WorthPoint Corporation

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