I recently had John Jacobs, founder and President of ArtFire, add me as a friend on Twitter. Well my first thought was "selling venue series!" So I shot him off a quick message and he agreed to be interviewed! Here it is :)
1. Could you tell us a little bit about the motivation behind starting Artfire? I've heard stories, but I'd love to hear it straight from you.
There are several strong factors that contributed to the creation of ArtFire.com. I grew up in an entrepreneurial and crafty family and watched my mother struggle for many years at craft shows and with selling her handmade wares to support our family of six. Starving artist was a very real term in our lives as the best case scenario most weeks while traveling around the country, was to break even at the craft shows. My parents never really ever got ahead, but the show promoters always got paid.
When eBay came on the scene, my parents, like many artists, thought that they may have found a new venue to sell on. A venue that might get them off the road! For several years, back when EBay was still human, this was the case. Sadly most artists have left EBay due to abuse, poor treatment, and unbearably low bids for their unique works. ETSY, a better option for artists emerged, which we admire for pioneering a site that celebrates the culture of handmade. There are also many things that we don’t admire about ETSY, but it is certainly a better option for artists than any other available venue, and we hope that our presence helps challenge them to better serve artists.
In summary, our motivation is to support artists and provide tools to help members be more successful with their businesses. We want to create a system that truly serves and adapts to the needs of the artisan community. We also think that a marketplace should respect their members and take a servitude role, instead of arbitrarily shutting down and destroying the trust and investment of hard working business owners.
2. What distinguishes Artfire from the other selling venues that are out there?
Free, no fees; a culture of customer service which puts our company leaders on the front line; community directed development which puts our members in control of new features; total commitment to artisan success, no matter the venue; full social media integration and education; and we focus on advancing environmental sustainability through planting trees for every member that joins. We adapt quickly and engage the needs of the community, put the community and members first, and we stay very focused on proactive engagement of members. We also put our faults out there, don’t hide our mistakes, don’t censor, boot, or ban our members, and treat people the way we want to be treated.
3. I've heard that you have a lot of money set aside and/or invested in marketing, can you tell us a little bit about the marketing strategy for Artfire?
Without giving away the entire marketing strategy, we use a combination of viral media, traditional media, and constant reinvestment in marketing to help transform the handmade niche from a popular trend to a macro movement. We purchase displays in several national publications and have locked up the back cover of CRAFT magazine for the next several years. We have placed ads on radio stations with a concentration on grass roots and public radio, and we invest heavily in web advertising, including social media and viral campaigns. We are very aggressive with our marketing program, for example in December our combined advertising reach was over 20 million views, which is the only portion that we can accurately quantify. Our viral programs appear to have generated an additional 2.5-3 times this number.
4. What is your vision for where Artfire is going?
ArtFire will serve the needs of the community, empower and educate artists to become more successful, encourage and support positive environmental impact and green commerce. We intend to introduce a whole new generation to a culture of creativity and become the home for handmade.
5. Artfire is obviously growing in leaps and bounds, what are your plans for keeping up with that expansion?
We are focused on keeping it personal and staying connected with the needs of the community. This is one of more frequent questions that members keep in the back of their minds and the answer is simple; a culture of service is a choice that company leaders make. We don’t believe that scale is an excuse for poor customer service, and I point out a company and a leader that I admire and emulate constantly, Tony Hsieh of Zappos.com. Zappos is a billion dollar company with a larger customer base than ETSY, Dwanda, Thousand Markets, and most internet companies for that matter. Tony is on the front lines of customer service, expects and fosters the highest level of service from his staff, and can even be contacted directly on Twitter! When was the last time that you could contact the CEO of a company with thousands of employees, yet alone a company with just 80 employees?To sustain our current level of service we have a plan that constantly sets a baseline for evaluation, and an inelegant enhanced engagement system, manned by competent and empowered staff members, that will support our U.S. and international members about 20 hours out of every day. Most importantly, at ArtFire, our members are the mission, we win when the community wins. This outlook keeps us innovating and challenges us to constantly adapt and grow.
6. Let's say I'm a new seller on Artfire, what would be the most important things for me to know or to do?
Get involved in the community. There are thousands of members ready to mentor and assist. Ask questions and learn how to increase your social footprint, market yourself and build personal brand with ArtFire provided tools like “Shop Window”, “Market Hub”, and a personal blog. Most importantly, keep a positive attitude and help your buyers and other sellers whenever you possibly can. Remember the values that make you and your items unique, and let your actions reflect the same love and care that your handmade items were created with.
Thank you John!