How I Started A $10K/Month Marketplace That Sells Handmade Goods From Independent Artist
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi everyone! My name is Marcello De Lio, I am the founder of Just Artisan. I created Just Artisan in 2020 to help artists and makers sell their creations online.
Our platform provides vendors with an easy-to-use dashboard, a professional shop page, access to customers, and no fees to get started. With large marketplaces making it ever more difficult for artists to sell online, we started seeing strong demand for a handmade-only marketplace.
Our mission is to provide artists with a platform to grow their handmade businesses. There is no fee to get started and vendors only pay a commission once they receive a sale. Also, we have a strict ban on mass-produced goods, so that Just Artisan remains a true handmade marketplace.
Our beta launched in early 2020 and received amazing feedback from our early artists, and vendors. With strong results, we fully launched in June 2020, and have been growing ever since. We had $15000 in sales during December with very little ad-spend and are on track to keep growing through 2021.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before starting Just Artisan, I was selling handmade goods on an online marketplace, and my own Shopify store. I first began selling candles with cologne scents. At first, I didn’t know if there was a passion for “cologne candles” but I loved the creative process of mixing fragrances, and wanted to share my creations while getting feedback on my craft.
After a couple of years of success, I found a new passion, 3D printing. I quickly became obsessed with designing, printing, and post-processing everything from phone accessories to movie prop replicas. I began selling my work online (not infringing on any IP), but this time was different. I found myself constantly competing against drop shippers and paying higher and higher fees. As time went on my sales declined while my fees continued rising. And I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
As I reached out to other sellers, I found that my experience was becoming the norm. Many of the artists I talked to shared my frustrations. I knew there had to be a better way.
At the time, I was working at a major bank, but I knew that I could be doing more to make a difference in the world. With a degree in Business and a background in computer science, I began working on a platform to support artists grow and manage their businesses. I built the first version of Just Artisan in three months and began getting feedback from artists and early adopters. It became clear that artists were looking for a new home to build their online businesses, and many of them believe in Just Artisan and our vision.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The process of building a marketplace is a massive undertaking. Before going all-in on Just Artisan, I knew it was important to build an MVP to validate my business idea. I built the initial Just Artisan platform on WordPress, to save on costs and speed up the development process. To turn WordPress into a fully functional marketplace, we relied on building custom plugins and modifying open-source software.
After three months of development, we launched the beta of our marketplace. Our initial vendors were artists who shared our frustrations selling online. During our beta launch, we learned a lot about our vendors' needs and requirements. Using WordPress for our MVP allowed us to make quick changes to the site as we received feedback from our users. We relied heavily on the build-measure-feedback loop, described in Lean Startup, to help us adapt our marketplace in real-time.
In our quest to help every artist and customer on our platform, we made the error of making it a priority to add every feature requested by our users, believing that we were improving Just Artisan.
During this time we made major changes to the platform, including multi-currency functionality, simplifying the dashboard layout, and customer messaging. With our business idea validated, and our user’s major concerns taken care of, it was time to launch.
We saved on costs by building and coding most of the site ourselves but the initial platform cost us approximately $10,000 to develop. As more users joined the platform, we continued to add more features and functionality to the site. By October, it became clear that although our site was functioning, the site was becoming slow, clunky, and overall annoying to use. We had outgrown our MVP.
We took everything we learned from our MVP and began the process of building a new platform. We launched a major overhaul of the platform in January 2021 to overwhelmingly positive feedback. The new platform is not only faster but makes it easier than ever for our vendors to manage their businesses.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Following the lean startup method, our initial launch was all about learning. We had our initial hypothesis about our users, but until we began signing up artists to sell on our platform, we had no way of knowing if our hypothesis was correct.
During the first month, we received only a few sign-ups, but it wasn’t long before we began consistently receiving new vendors. The initial feedback was critical to the success or failure of Just Artisan. During this time we made it our number one priority to listen to our users understanding not only what they loved about our platform but also addressing any pain points as quickly as possible.
By the time we launched in June 2020, we had just under 400 vendors and over 2000 products. While we were proud of our success, we didn’t stop working to improve the platform to meet the needs of our artists. With the beta behind us, it was time to focus not only on meeting the needs of our vendors but also on providing customers with an amazing shopping experience.
It was during this time we began to make a critical error. In our quest to help every artist and customer on our platform, we made it a priority to add every feature requested by our users, believing that we were improving Just Artisan. While I do believe in continuous improvement, we were releasing features faster than they could be fully tested, and worse, with each feature we added, the platform became slower.
Not only did it make for a poor shopping experience, but vendors found it tiresome to add new products. Once we realized our error, we decided to develop a new platform, starting with only the essential features, and only providing updates after they had been thoroughly tested.
We have found that sending an email one hour, 24 hours, and 48 hours after a customer abandoned their cart is a very effective way to turn the cart into a sale.
In January 2021 we migrated to the new platform, Just Artisan 2.0 as I call it, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our vendors and customers. The new platform is easier to use, the pages load faster, and we have eliminated 99% of the bugs from the previous version. I am proud of the team for the work they have done, and the lessons we learned.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
With a two-sided marketplace such as Just Artisan, we not only have to attract and retain customers but vendors as well.
When it comes to vendors, we have found that being honest and transparent has not only led to new vendors signing up but has also retained them on the site. We make it a priority, to be honest with our vendors and share both our successes and our mistakes. Our vendors are the backbone of our business and without them, we would not be where we are today.
It can be scary to admit our mistakes but we have found that our vendors respect us for our honesty, and are willing to stick with us when times are tough. Our primary method of communication with our vendors is through our Facebook group. We have a great community of talented artists who share our vision and provide us with honest feedback.
Out of all of our marketing channels, we have found that Instagram, email retargeting, and affiliate marketing have given us the greatest customer acquisition and retention. With handmade products, we have found that images are particularly important for driving customers to our site.
We use Facebook retargeting to re-capture customers on social media, and Adwords to retarget on search. Also, we have had a lot of success sending abandoned cart emails, to help convert abandoned carts into sales.
Retargeting ads and abandoned cart emails are very cost-effective for the simple reason that it targets people who have already shown some interest in your brand. With retargeting you can target people who have awareness of your brand, and with abandoned cart emails, they are sent to customers who have already shown interest in making a purchase.
We have found that sending an email one hour, 24 hours, and 48 hours after a customer abandoned their cart is a very effective way to turn the cart into a sale. Another trick that we have been experimenting with, is sending a fourth email, one week after the customer abandons their cart. Although we don’t have enough data yet to know if it is effective, we do believe that the fourth email with a coupon attached, can recover additional carts, resulting in more sales.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We had an amazing Christmas season, with sales skyrocketing, and many more artists joining the platform. We keep our fees low so we are not profitable yet, but we have secured an investment that will allow us to keep growing our platform.
As a marketplace we do not manage any physical inventory, however, we are working on partnerships with shipping label providers to give vendors the option of printing shipping labels directly from the dashboard. As the site grows, we will continue to work on partnerships to bring new tools to vendors and negotiate lower fees on third-party tools.
After the Christmas rush sales slowed dramatically. We are on track for $10 000 per month, but we hope to grow significantly during the year. Facebook is our most powerful asset, with the bulk of our ad spend going to Facebook / Instagram ads and the remainder going to Google Adwords. In addition to our marketing efforts, we rely heavily on network effects.
A network effect is a phenomenon where an increase in the number of people or participants improves the value of a good or service. In our case, the more vendors we have, the more products on our site for customers to view and purchase, making the platform more valuable for customers. And more customers means more sales for vendors which increases the value of selling on Just Artisan.
We have found that each vendor we add results in 5-10 additional customers. This may be due to the direct result of the vendor marketing their Just Artisan store, or word of mouth from happy customers.
Our short-term goal is to continue to grow our network of vendors and customers, reaching over 1000 vendors by the end of the year. In the long term, we are working to become a central hub for artists to manage their business both online and in person. We are working to allow vendors to create their own websites, with their own domain, and easily list and manage their products, orders, and promotions on their social media channels and other marketplaces.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
A lesson learned during our initial MVP when we add features without thorough testing is to prioritize our decision-making and scale back our ambition. We have big plans for the future of the company, but it is important to take our time and do things right. We work with the purpose to build a reliable product that our users can count on to run their businesses.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that done is better than perfect. I am a perfectionist by nature and if I let my obsession for perfection stop me from releasing the initial Just Artisan platform, I may have never done it. The first platform was far from perfect, but it was a learning opportunity for me and my team. There are times where I think back to our initial release and I am embarrassed that we released a half working system. But I never forget that without the initial website Just Artisan would not have grown as it has today. And without the first platform, we would not have learned about the wonderful people that make our platform a success.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’ve read hundreds of business books, and the one that I always recommend is the Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It is a great book for entrepreneurs looking to grow and scale their companies without reckless spending.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
The biggest piece of advice I can give is to just start. Creating a new business is daunting and you may not be 100% happy with your product, and that’s ok. Many of the largest brands are very different today from when they first started. Passion and hard work are two ingredients that define entrepreneurs. Take every day as a learning opportunity, and always look for feedback.
Following the advice of the lean startup, start small with a low-cost MVP. When your business begins generating revenue, re-invest the money to grow your business. Don’t be surprised in two years your product is different from the one you started with. You will have to adapt your business to your customers and the market, and you may need to pivot based on the feedback you receive. Take every opportunity as a stepping stone to learn and grow as an entrepreneur and a person.
Success won’t come overnight, so enjoy the process and love the journey.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.
- 4,818 founder case studies
- Access to our founder directory
- Live events, courses and recordings
- 8,628 business ideas
- $1M in software savings