Hey there! I’m Sunny, the founder of ourCommonplace, an ethical and sustainable marketplace where consumers can shop by their values.
I used to work in the luxury beauty and fashion industry with brands such as Burberry, Gucci, Lancome, etc., managing their sales teams, operations, and merchandising. After 2.5 years in the industry, I knew I wanted something that was more data-driven on the backend. This is when I hopped into the advertising industry as a digital strategist, helping teams manage client budgets upwards of $8M+ for their digital advertising efforts. I knew I wanted to get experience in both of those industries but knew deep down that it wasn’t going to be a forever thing. My heart lies in social impact. I found myself spending my free time volunteering abroad in Argentina and South Africa with women empowerment programs, and eventually, on the board of Net Impact Los Angeles, creating a space for social impact professionals to meet one another.
Someone once said to me to keep tabs on where my mind wanders during quiet moments, and that’s where I should explore work opportunities. That, for me, is ourCommonplace. Not only is ourCommonplace is at the intersection of all of my passion points, but it also fulfills the demand for a fashion-forward, ethical, and sustainable one-stop-shop. Ultimately, my goal is to take us towards accomplishing the UN’s sustainable development goals while keeping in mind our innate desire for self-expression through goods purchased.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I spent some time throughout my early 20s trying to find my way, which is essentially what makes me tick at the end of the day. For anyone who’s looking to integrate their passion and career, I’d highly recommend going through this exercise as it will bring more meaning, clarity, and purpose. Throughout this process, I switched from luxury fashion and beauty into media, got onto the board of a nonprofit board called net impact LA, continued to volunteer, became a starting bloc fellow, and read a ton about pretty much everything.
Getting different perspectives and ideas for your business is great, but know when to cut out the noise and focus on what it is that you’re trying to create. No one knows your vision and business better than you do.
Through these experiences, I came to realize what I loved most and what still felt most natural to me is the fashion and beauty industry. During this time of exploration of potential careers, one of the different podcasts and talks I was listening to, I came to know microfinancing, which is providing credit to entrepreneurs who wouldn’t have access to capital otherwise. I loved this idea and it resonated with me so deeply. The original idea of ourCommonplace was to work on the ground level with artisans from underdeveloped regions of the world, fulfilling a need in terms of the product that people in more developed regions of the world may be looking for, such as sustainably and ethically made clothing, candles, etc, but one that that I wanted to make sure of is that it was going to be fashion-forward.
While going through my research, I realized what huge hearts all of these founders have and how many incredible brands are out there. It then got me thinking of why there wasn’t a more centralized destination to do all shopping that’s ethical and sustainable. This is essentially what started ourCommonplace. I wanted to fulfill a gap in the market for fashion-forward women who were looking to shop ethically and sustainably.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Being that ourCommonplace is a marketplace that doesn’t hold inventory, we didn’t have many costs associated to get us off the ground aside for some elbow grease that was needed. What’s great about starting a business today is that platforms such as Shopify, Fiverr, and Photoshop make it relatively easy to get founders off the ground. Being someone who has always been interested in the design aspects of the business, I designed the initial collage that you see on the homepage below. As for getting a good understanding of what’s needed to start a business, it was just through googling, reaching out to Shopify support, and leveraging my network to find the answers that I’m looking for. With the world being thoroughly interconnected today, I believe that you’ll find what it is that’s exactly needed with enough grit and determination.
As someone new in this space, people always ask me how I was able to get initial brands onboarded on my site, and it was honestly through cold emailing that got me through to the right people. As a brand that launched last November, I’d say that we’re still very much so in the initial stages of refining our audience and business model to find product-market fit.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We launched beta on November 1st of 2019 to get our minimum viable product out in the world and we’ve seen a steady increase in traffic on our site month over month through both organic and paid initiatives. Similar to what was mentioned earlier, we’re still in the initial stages of testing and refining our audience and business model, but continuously striving for the sweet spot of product-market fit.
As of now, ourCommonplace is fully self-funded, however, I am toying with the idea of potentially raising capital to have the marketplace reach its full potential. To me, success is when I see that the general market has adapted to purchasing ethically and sustainably. This ultimately means that brands have now pivoted their practices to standards that should be commonplace.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
For anyone looking to start a business, I’d start with research and market surveys off the bat to get a thorough understanding of the problem that you’re looking to solve. Once that’s known, start building your audience on social channels and mailing list early on. Have a number in mind that you want to hit. From there, you’ll have a decent amount of momentum to get you going once your product is live.
As someone who’s self-funding the business, marketing initiatives often means time and effort put into the business instead of ad dollars allocated. We’re currently focused on building out content on Instagram that’s informational and sharable rather than product-focused. This strategy has allowed us to further our reach. However, note that reach doesn’t always translate into conversion.
To retain customers, we’re focused on capturing email leads and further refining content being sent out to our customers for it to be timely and relevant. One of the mistakes that companies with a large number of SKUs make is to send out general product emails without having an understanding of what the customer wants. The better that you understand your customers, the more they will resonate with your brand and the messages that are being communicated.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re solely operating online at the moment, however, before COVID-19 came around, we planned to host more in-person meet-ups, sustainability panels, and pop-up shops in sunny LA, where we’re based. The 5-year goal is to build a strong presence online with pop-up presence then eventually, a brick and mortar in conjunction. With our business being sustainability-based, we have plans of expanding our reach digitally by hosting a sustainability podcast to answer some common sustainability questions and to shed light on important issues within this space.
As we continue to build presence, we’re hoping to expand our footprint internationally, in addition to bringing on board more brands for our platform to truly be a marketplace. Our vision is to have a platform that hosts items by artists and founders alike that have the desire to make the world a better place for us and generations to come.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One thing that I’ve been trying to get a stronghold of is where actual demand is for those looking to shop ethically and sustainably on top of common e-commerce challenges. We recently published a survey, which will serve as a guide to potential optimizations that are needed after results are gathered. Something that I should have continued doing before I launched our e-commerce site is to build our social and media presence.
A piece of helpful advice that I heard recently from a fellow entrepreneur is not to put off what can be done today. This is especially true for single founders looking to propel their businesses forward in industries that may be saturated.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I’d recommend those starting an e-commerce business to utilize Shopify and all of its 3rd party apps. As someone without a technical background, they’ve made it fairly easy to implement everything from email marketing to SEO optimizations.
Some apps that I would recommend include Klaviyo for email marketing and SEO Optimizer. Klaviyo works wonderfully for e-commerce as the platform provides more comprehensive tools and flows specifically for digital businesses. I’d also recommend SEO Optimizer for those who have a large amount of SKUs to work through for SEO optimization.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Some of my favorite podcasts include How I Built This and Second Life.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
As a founder, the two most important things that you need are a clear vision for your business and the discipline to execute your ideas. Getting different perspectives and ideas for your business is great, but know when to cut out the noise and focus on what it is that you’re trying to create. No one knows your vision and business better than you do.
As a single founder, I have a ton of exciting ideas floating around at all times, but the tough part is timing and execution. One thing that I’m still struggling with is whether or not I should raise funds to propel the company at a faster pace, or continue boot-strapping all efforts with slower growth, as both come with its challenges.
There’s also going to be a lot of uncertainty, in the beginning, let’s just call that testing and validation (I’m still working through this). Know that that’s okay and it’s part of what makes everything so exciting! I changed ourCommonplace’s name, business model, and aesthetic multiple times starting, and I’m glad that I explored each of those possibilities so that I can feel more confident in what ourCommonplace is now. You’ll never know if your ideas work if you don’t test it – be brave, not perfect.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Sure! I’m looking for a potential cofounder with a track record of scaling a business and passionate about the sustainability space. Would be happy to chat if that sounds like you!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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