Using just $10,000 of their personal savings, entrepreneurs Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin launched an online gallery and Etsy competitor called Witchsy that became cash flow positive in year one with hundreds of thousands in revenue. This week on Eater’s business podcast Start to Sale, hosts Erin Patinkin (CEO, Ovenly) and Natasha Case (CEO, Coolhaus) talk to the Witchsy co-founders about their philosophy in business and art, why they like to mock their consumers, how they created a fake male co-founder to dodge sexism, and so much more.
On the customer relationship: “We like to almost make fun of brands that coddle their consumer too much or pretend like the brand is their best friend. We also make fun of capitalism, we make fun of materialism. We constantly are like, ‘This lapel pin will change your life. It’ll fix all your problems. Buy more.’ And we kind of mock our customers a little bit because we’re also kind of mocking ourselves and our participation in capitalism and consumerism.”
On creating a fake male co-founder: “We created Keith just because we were having trouble communicating with developers and there was one particular incident where someone we were communicating with via email got very aggressive and sort of strange with us, and I made the joke to Kate, I was like, “Oh, someone’s got mommy issues.” And then I think Kate had the idea to create a third founder or an employee just to create a buffer for when things started to become tense. Then we decided it should be a man just as an experiment I think.”
On keeping ego in check: “If I write a song, it’s cause I know I’m a great songwriter and I feel confident in my abilities. The minute I start saying, ‘This is going to change the world,’ or like change someone’s life ... the assumption that it’s doing that is insane to me. I love the fact that Witchsy is giving people opportunities to generate revenue from work that they’re doing ... but ultimately, if I think that everyone on the site is having their lives change by Witchsy, I think that’s incredibly delusional. I think that’s what I mean by the ego based entrepreneur.
On selling out: “Everyone would enjoy if we made more money because it would allow us to do more projects. I think that’s something that we want to just slowly keep growing towards. I got to quit dog walking this past year, which was very exciting for me ... We’re just thinking, ‘How do we keep building this out? Can this keep growing? Can this be a natural progression?’ ... I guess if somebody came over with a check for 30 million dollars to buy our platform, I’m sure Penelope and I would have to sit and think about that.”
Listen to the show in full in the audio player or read the full transcript of the interview below. And please subscribe to hear entrepreneurs from various sectors tell Case and Patinkin about their struggles and victories of business-building in the weeks to come.
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Kate Dwyer: We are Witchsy, Kate Dwyer, me, and Penelope Gazin, and we have basically created an Etsy marketplace competitor that ultimately has been functioning almost like a digital gallery and so we’ve been bringing in artists and putting them on the platform and giving them a place to showcase their work in an uncensored, unbridled fashion.
Natasha Case: So cool. How did you come up with this idea, and if you can also answer how do you divvy up the work? Is one more operations, one more visionary? What’s your ... how do you guys specialize?
Penelope Gazin: Well, KD and I both wanted to die.
KD: Very true. No, totally not. We were just both kind of actually pretty depressed at the time. Penelope was alone in New York and I was having a bit of a breakdown hating my job and in the midst of a terrible breakup so we came together in our misery.
Erin Patinkin: That happened to me too. I was in a terrible breakup, completely depressed, and then I just started baking all the time and I was like, “Maybe this should be my life,” and it saved me.
KD: I think that’s what happens. I feel you have these moments where you are in the ashes and then suddenly you think to yourself, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” and then you just suddenly start baking and we were like, “Well, maybe we’ll just start a business.”
NC: That’s awesome. I think it’s ... it really gives hope because I think you need in a way something to really go astray to think, “Okay, there’s a big change that has to be made,” and some of the best ideas are born from that. Mine wasn’t so much emotional, but the recession for me totally changed my path of work from architecture to what I’m doing now. Things can go in the right direction from something rough.
EP: And I think a lot of the best stories about entrepreneurship are the ones where they come out of this as opposed ... there are a lot of really great companies out there where a very seasoned businessperson was trying to find a place in the market or bought another business and they built something good, but the greatest stories are the ones I think that come out of an authentic moment in people’s lives where emotions are involved.
KD: Absolutely, and also, I think that you can have a business or you can have a brand that has an identity and a personality and that personality has to start with the two people. So I think that’s a big part of why our business in addition to the successes that we’ve been having has been flourishing because our business has been ... is so deeply ingrained in who Penelope and I are. We’re a little rude, a bit sassy, we have attitude, and we don’t really want to be told what to do and that comes across in everything that we do for our business.
NC: Yeah, I can see from the second you guys walked into the studio you have strong personal brand, and I mean that in the best way. Because I agree with you, that’s gonna carry into what you’re building and people more than ever today are looking for things beyond the transaction. They want to know the who, the why, what the people behind it look like, what they do on the weekend, so I think that is gonna be a really big part always of your guys’ secret sauce, which is awesome.
Kind of leads me, well, indirectly maybe into a question I have, but as far as the identity of what’s going on on the site, what do you think is some of the strongest work that’s on there? What are your personal favorites?
NC: Can you speak to that?
EP: Your work.
PG: I’m the greatest artist.
PG: I’m the best artist on the site.
NC: So, Penelope, you’re selling your own work on your own site?
NC: Do you promote it the most heavily on the site?
NC: Totally fair.
EP: Totally fair.
PG: I’m the most humble artist I would say. We have a bunch of great artists.
KD: Yeah, we really do. It’s true, Penelope is probably our best artist on the site. I mean, without her-
PG: Not ... artist ... Best is subjective.
NC: Best selling.
PG: I make the most money, so yes, best.
KD: And also best for me personally subjectively I guess, but ultimately, yeah, it’s been great having her as a seller on the site as well just because it’s allowed us to keep in mind what everyone actually would want and need from a site.
NC: That’s awesome.
KD: Yeah, so that’s been nice. Artists that we like on the site? Oh my god. There’s so many. Now we have over 500 artists, which is pretty exciting. I mean, still pretty small scale in comparison to the Goliaths of marketplaces, but ...
NC: It’s more the quality than the quantity.
NC: But I think it’s really interesting, that transparency with people on the one side of the table as far as who’s making the decision about Witchsy and what you’re doing directly resonating with the target or with the artists or whoever that may be, I think is so key and that’s authenticity in a nutshell.
PG: Oh yeah. We don’t care about the customers. We care about the artists.
NC: Tell us how you structure the pay and how you choose those artists on the site that you do.
KD: So the way that that’s set up is that actually when we first got started, PG and I decided that we would split the work so she would head up the creative side and be able to have final say on decisions. I would be able to have input, I would be able to state my case or anything like that, but she will ultimately always have final say, and then when it comes to me, I will always have final say about direction of where the business is going and making sure that that’s kind of moving down the right path. It’s really helped us because it’s allowed just a bit of ability for both of us to step back and not feel like we have to both have our name on things.
NC: So smart.
EP: It is.
NC: I just want to interject. It takes many founders years to come to that conclusion. So well done.
EP: It took my co-founder and I probably four years and a lot of emotional hand wringing about who would do what because we just didn’t want to let go of anything and then as soon as we let go, we’re like, “Oh, we should have done this two years ago.” It’s really great to start in that place.
KD: Yeah. Because we had that, one of the things that we really figured out early on was that we should be allotting as much as we can to the artists in terms of revenue and so when we first got started, as an incentive, we were offering about 90% of the entire revenue that they were taking.
KD: We were basically only covering the costs of processing and just posting.
NC: I was gonna ask, is that ... so you came up with that 90% number originally? I know that it’s now 80%.
NC: Because you knew what you needed to operate yourself. So you knew that that 10% would cover operationally what you needed it to cover.
KD: Right. It would cover the operation and prove to people that it was an idea that would actually be possible and a site that could work.
NC: That’s really cool.
KD: Then after that, we then moved to the 80%, which was always the plan. It was just that 90 was for those people who really believed in us early on.
PG: But the people who got in early still have the same.
NC: Wow, you honored that?
KD: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
NC: Good on you guys. You guys are angels.
EP: Well, I think it’s ... this just goes ... I think one of the reasons that we were really interested in interviewing you is because we need entrepreneurs like you, who are blazing away for other people and I think that that’s what gets lost in a lot of the business journalism that we read. But one of the things that really stood out to me when I was reading articles about you guys was the sexy story was ... actually, just tell us quickly the Keith Mann story so we can kind of get through that and then I want to talk a little bit about what really attracted us to your business.
PG: Well, we created Keith just because we were having trouble communicating with developers and there was one particular incident where someone we were communicating with via email got very aggressive and sort of strange with us, and I made the joke to Kate, I was like, “Oh, someone’s got mommy issues.” And then we ... I think Kate had the idea to create a third founder or an employee just to create a buffer for when things started to become tense. Then we decided it should be a man just as an experiment I think. Not really a gender experiment, but more of just, “Well, we might as well make him a middle aged man, more of a traditional businessperson because we’re not. We’re non-traditional.” We just, we went with Keith because that’s the closest name to Kate, and then Mann, just to make ourselves laugh.
NC: I love that you had a Mr. Mann. So good. So good.
PG: Keith Mann, Jr. Full name.
EP: So you created this male co-founder because you guys had some barriers when you were talking to developers and designers and that’s a story that if I Google Witchsy, that’s what I get. But buried in those stories is this other fact that I was like, “What?” Which was you made over $200,000 in revenue in your first year and you did it profitably. What ... you are in the minority of the minority of the minority of start ups. Most start ups don’t make revenue in the first year, or make very little revenue in the first year or make no net profits in the first year, so I thought that was just really incredible. One of the questions I was thinking about was where are you now, because that happened last year, right, in 2017? How do you think your backgrounds, as this is building and what we’ve been talking about, in art and as punk rockers and having this totally different creative background contribute to the success of what you’re doing? Everything you’ve said so far tells me that you are being informed by your own experiences, and I want to hear like why are those experiences making you successful?
PG: Are we successful?
PG: I’m kidding.
NC: What Erin is trying to say is there’s personal definitions, but what you guys have achieved is an extremely difficult milestone, so that’s something objectively that you have to just ...
EP: And you are non-traditional entrepreneurs as are Natasha and I.
NC: And I think that that’s something that’s very important. When you look at the barriers that we are up against, I mean, Mr. Mann is just a piece of it, it’s really amazing.
KD: Right. I think that comes mostly from my previous experience working in start ups and I found that more often than not, it was for the quick buck. Everything was to build it up to show a business plan that would garner a three million dollar funding round and then suddenly you’re expanding and growing at this rate that isn’t actually reasonable for what you’re delivering and then you crash and burn. I feel like that’s a story you keep hearing over and over and over again, and for us when we got started, our biggest thing was how can we throw away our ego and keep costs as low as possible? We work from home. We don’t have brand new computers. We don’t buy everything like new for ourselves, so-
EP: Do you have a cereal station with lots of different yogurts and cold brew coffee?
KD: Yeah we have a private chef. He’s like only part-time.
EP: Haha that’s what I read, yeah. Ha ha.
PG: We have a masseuse come on Friday’s,
KD: And we used to have it three days, but now it’s only one day.
EP: Seriously, you guys are really saving the day.
KD: But ultimately, I think a lot of that does stem from the ego entrepreneur. I think that’s something that we just as ourselves avoid like the plague because, it’s so lame. So we’re in it for the long game. Ultimately we wanted to build something that if we just decided to not even work on it anymore it could still pretty much run itself and sustain itself.
EP: I think the long game is really the key with so many brands that will really succeed because they’re not trend-driven, they’re not based on, “this is something people are really into” for the next 2 and 3 years and then that goes away. There are things that people will always love and always gravitate towards. I really admire that and I actually think it’s ultimately the smarter way to do things. One thing I just want to follow up on that’s interesting I think, is the ego point because, I think it’s a kind of complicated thing to unpack, right I think there’s like being blinded by an ego where, you can’t see outside of one self as far as that can be taking away from making the business succeed or it can make you make insane, irrational decisions. Or whatever that may be for someone, but there’s a certain amount of ego that has to be there to say the world needs this or I believe we can do something great.
EP: I don’t know if you have any thoughts on that.
KD: Oh, I mean, ultimately my thoughts are similar with art or music or anything that we do. If I write a song, its cause I know I’m a great songwriter and I feel confident in my abilities. The minute I start saying, “this is going to change the world,” or like change someones life.
EP: Maybe it does.
KD: It can, but the assumption that it’s doing that, is insane to me. And I think that’s kind of where all of it comes from. It’s great, I love the fact that Witchsy is giving people opportunities to generate revenue from work that they’re doing, get out there and be seen by people that might not have seen it before. But ultimately, if I think that everyone on the site is having their lives change by Witchsy, I think that’s incredibly delusional. I think that’s what I mean by the ego based entrepreneur.
EP: And you see tech to be like, “we’re here to save the world.”
EP: With our app.
EP: Penelope and Kate, give me a little background on what you were doing before Witchsy.
KD: So I was working as the director of digital marketing for a fitness company. Prior to that, I was working at a start up and then prior to that, I was also working for another music festival that was kind of in a start up phase. So I became very familiar with the building process, I realized that was something that I really enjoyed, and loved. I was to be honest, kind of waiting for my idea to come, because I was helping these people and getting in the thick of it and so when I was talking with PG and we came up with Witchsy, we decided to kind of move on that.
PG: I was busy being a famous, glamorous artist. No, I was building my brand as an artist, I worked in animation a little bit and I still do. I still do freelance stuff. But I started to move more into painting and having gallery shows and then I was making a lot of income selling my own prints through Etsy and selling T-shirts and pins. And what I call artist paraphernalia, which was like little affordable pieces of my artwork, whereas my paintings are not that affordable. But it was very accessible to a wide market, whereas most artists, what they sell and make isn’t accessible.
EP: Penelope, I’m curious. What was happening in New York, you mentioned you were miserable, and what was happening in your art life that really drove you to also want to start this thing?
PG: My career was actually the best it had been ever, and I was really flourishing in that. In a sort of superficial sense in that I had done a ton of interviews that year, I had gotten a ton of press, I was in all these magazines. I was getting shows easily. But it didn’t feel satisfying. I’d been selling on Etsy since I was 18 and I paid for animation school with Etsy and it was always my backup income so that I always had a ton of creative freedom. I worked in animation for a little bit but I got to pick and choose my jobs just because I always had Etsy as a backup income source. And so my whole artistic career had been, I have that freedom because I have the finances that I made from Etsy. But Etsy was always kind of giving me a hard time. I’m one of their top artist sellers but they never acknowledged me, they’d never...
EP: Are you still on Etsy or only on Witchsy?
PG: I actually still sell on Etsy, which is funny because I thought I would be kicked off. And I actually promote Witchsy on my Etsy store. And I always say, “Go to Witchsy.com. The prices are cheaper,” and they’ve left me alone.
EP: Well the same reason, maybe they didn’t really acknowledge you is the same reason maybe you’ve gotten away with that.
PG: I mean, except for that... the reason I really wanted to move away from Etsy is that they would always be shutting me down and they would do it without warning. I wouldn’t have an income for that week. And I mean I’d be fine but it’d be always kind of alarming. And the way that they do it is that they don’t give you a warning and then they don’t tell you what the issue is. They make you figure it out, so I’d go through and I’d take out all the swear words, I’d put black boxes all over any drawn nipples.
There was one week where they shut my shop down and I went through and I was like I censored everything, I don’t know what the issue is and then they were like, “Sorry, you still didn’t get the issue Item.” The listing that was the problem. And I just said, “Will you just tell me?” And then it takes them like 3 days to respond so it was very infuriating. But then the problem was that I had a listing up that was a figure drawing, probably the least pornographic thing I’ve ever made in my whole life, just a straight figure drawing from a figure drawing class. And the woman’s on her side and she’s on her back but she’s twisted and you can kind of see a little bit of pubic hair and this was a charcoal drawing. And so it was just a couple brush strokes of charcoal, 2 little brush strokes, showing that she had pubic hair. And that’s the reason I lost a lot of money this week.
EP: So you gave her a Brazilian?
PG: I actually responded to them and said, “Great I’ll just make sure I only draw women in burkas from now on.” Because I was always giving them sass answers.
EP: So this was the urgency, okay somethings broken, basically?
EP: Okay. Very interesting, talking about ego, something that I think is amazing is that you guys have the confidence that things like silver butt plug medallions and a painting of burning houses with boobs would sell. So..
PG: Those were my items.
EP: Oh they are, well great, I really need that medallion, that is ballsy stuff and hearing you talking about your experience on Etsy, obviously you knew there was a market place. I’m just curious, how do artists find you, how do consumers find it, do you have any information on the consumers who are buying your stuff?
PG: Well, it was a little bit easier because I had a little bit of a built in demographic and so we actually used one of my old Instagram handles that already had some followers on it, we just kind of shifted it. But its grown so much since then but we did have a little bit of a base built in audience to start with. But a lot of it has been through word of mouth, people tell us, “Oh our friend told us about Witchsy and said we should we should apply and check it out.” And it’s a lot of word of mouth I think.
KD: And also, we find artists on Instagram and we make an effort to just kind of be active on that platform in general. So it allows us to build a little bit more of a connection with people, or people see us commenting something a little snippy.
EP: So you do outreach though?
KD: Yeah just for some artists if we really like somebody. And then the rest apply and just come to us and then we tell them yes, or no.
PG: We only take about 20% of the applicants.
KD: Right, in terms of our audience though, we skew majority female. Mostly teen to young 20-something women.
PG: Which is like the market everyone is trying to get.
EP: Gen Z, good old Gen Z.
KD: Yeah I know, I can’t believe we haven’t gotten funding yet.
EP: And I think you probably could at this point pretty easily.
NC: Talk about the 20% acceptance rate, what are the guidelines for that, why do you think it only ends up being 20% of who applies?
KD: It has to be something that Penelope likes, and if I really like it, I push for it. But ultimately, her and I are usually on the same page taste wise.
EP: So there’s a subjective element?
PG: Oh, very. Yeah. I go through and sometimes, I see artists and I think, oh they could be on the site, they would probably do well, and sell well. But if I feel like they’re not bringing anything new or different, or they’re too similar to other artists. I’ll kind of say, “not right now, now’s not the best time.” Artists also have to have a certain amount of items. Their items have to be photographed well, and then sometimes we randomly, Kate will text me and be like, “That was an interesting choice, I wouldn’t have expected you to accept this artist.” And I randomly do like, if something I think is really different or strange, or would add a weird element to this site, I’ll accept them.
KD: Yeah, it ultimately stems from the need for the person to have a very clear...
KD: Vision, and perspective. Because I think the thing is, as with sites like Urban Outfitters or any other site that’s doing or selling things that’s similar to us, they’re just kind of going through the motions of, oh we’re going to have a pin that says, “I’m sad.”
EP: When you could have a silver butt plug medallion, why would you want that?
PG: Right. And our site definitely does go with the trends and the response of the trends, but we also want to be making the trends.
EP: Yeah, definitely.
PG: And we don’t want to have too many people that are just going with the trend, we really try and bring in people that we think could kind of start new things.
NC: Well its interesting, if you think of it compared to the Etsy model, it could sound strange, like such heavy duration, but its really not if you think of most retail lets say in general. For me in the grocery world, you have a buyer who decides who makes and who doesn’t. Its not like people apply and they meet certain criteria and their in.
PG: Absolutely and not only that, my biggest complaint with Etsy and the biggest reason why I’m really happy were doing it this way is Etsy sells people dreams, they sell people the idea that they can have a business based on their craft or their art, and they’re like, “All you have to do is pay us listing fees, and if you really want to sell, then you pay extra and we will put ads on our site for you.” They keep upselling people that are basically making a knit scarf and I think that’s wrong, I think that’s something that we just don’t want to do. We don’t want to tell somebody, “hey, yeah you can just make whatever and we’ll sell it and it’ll work.” Cause then it’s just a numbers game, for us its always been something where it has to be something that we personally believe in, or would buy.
EP: So you have over 500 artists on the site?
EP: Do you envision like a cap, and second question, I’m assuming each artist has multiple things that they’re selling, do you know how many products you’re selling at any given time?
PG: I should’ve looked up the number...
PG: It’s probably at least 20,000 - 30,000 items.
PG: I would maybe cap it at 10,000 artists, but I don’t know, as long as I like the art.
EP: Right, why stop
PG: There can’t be that many artists that I would like so. There can’t be more than 10,000 out there.
KD: I think ultimately we would just get to segment the site more because right now it’s a little more limited in the categories were selling, not super limited, but we could really dive deep. We could be like beanies, hat...
PG: Tiny hats
KD: Tiny hats!
PG: Oversized hats
KD: Things that look like hats but aren’t hats.
KD: So I think that’s something, and also, I mentioned this to PG, but once were hitting that level, I feel we would probably just start building the company to also have more of a physical presence because we are in a sense, a digital gallery of art so it would make sense to then take the community that we’ve built online and start segmenting it and growing physical spaces.
EP: Growing and maintaining your authenticity is really hard, and so, it sounds like a lot of the authenticity is coming from you two very specifically, can you train someone else to have your eye?
KD: Yes. We can. And that’s something that Penelope and I have from the beginning been really strict about, my past experience has always been working in startups where it gets to a point where there trying to grow so quickly that they’re letting anyone in that has a computer or something. We demand a level of excellence that is on par for what we feel for the site and what we do. We’ve had people work for us and drop them immediately. The minute there’s something, which Penelope doesn’t like that I do, but I don’t see any point in allowing people that don’t have the drive to push it to be on the cart.
PG: Most of the time I agree with you.
EP: It’s okay to disagree sometimes by the way.
KD: Well, it’s actually why...
EP: It’s a good thing.
KD: It’s perfect for the dynamic of the business part, because its just something that I am fine with bringing the hammer a bit.
PG: I love arguing, it gets me my best ideas.
EP: Yeah. As long as you get to a higher ground, I think that’s so important because you have to be able to hash it out. Otherwise, you’re not pushing yourself and your vision.
KD: And Penelope and I are best friends, so there’s a lot at stake.
EP: Yeah, I was just going to say, what is the dynamic then as friends because you have to be able to not take it personally.
EP: Too the argument is about the stuff then again I think its actually helpful even for sometimes your.
NC: Stuff. Then again, I think it’s actually helpful even for, sometimes your personal selves. You can argue through the lens of the business and it also kind of makes you evolve as a person. I don’t know if you guys find that.
PG: I think, Kate. I give Kate a lot of credit because I do have an artist ego and I do have a slightly larger ego than is probably beneficial. But, she’s very patient with it and she really knows how to handle me.
NC: Well, did you? Did we walk dogs, did you say?
PG: Which makes me sound like a monster.
NC: Cause you have to be very patient to do that.
NC: That’s a good, applicable background.
PG: KD is a person who is extremely patient and accepting of people and understands what they can give and what they can’t give. And then, usually accepts them for what they can give and then isn’t personally offended or upset by when someone can’t give her something.
KD: I think so.
PG: Something like that.
KD: Ultimately, I know PG has limitations and they’re not coming from a place of her trying to hurt me, destroy the business of WITCHSY.
PG: This is making it sound so mysterious and dramatic, but it’s really not.
NC: It sounds like you’re an optimist, KD, to some degree because your trying to-
PG: Totally, yes.
NC: Right? And, you need that.
PG: KD is optimist. I’m the pessimist.
NC: That is such an important dynamic because you need the one who’s like, “No. It’s all possible,” or “It’s gonna work out,” or “I’ll get what I need.” You do need those feet on the ground.
PG: Right, realist moments. Right. Yeah, totally.
PG: I’m always like, “Kate, this probably won’t work, but that’s okay and I’m okay with that. But, just so you know, there’s a chance this won’t work.”
KD: Right. I mean, ultimately, our site probably wouldn’t have existed if I wasn’t an insane optimist. But, yeah. Ultimately, I think it’s nice because PG does sometimes pull me down to Earth, but then I also think that I push her to-
PG: Into the heavens.
KD: Be open to trying at times.
KD: When she thinks it’s silly.
NC: No. That’s a really ... I have to say, I can relate to that dynamic from our early Coolhaus days. I was very much the KD kind of optimist, “It will happen.” And Freya, who was the co-founder, was very much the, “But have you done all the things that will make you realize that it might not be possible?” Because a business is a very real thing and it has to function. You guys obviously have a good formula between the two of you. I think it’s so interesting, even the way the business is structured; giving so much back to the artist and having a really strong mission with that. Even one of you had said, I think it was PG, “We don’t care about the consumer.” Which, I know what you’re saying.
PG: I think Kate said that, but we both-
NC: Who said that? You both agree. You’re both in unison.
PG: All the time.
NC: This is something that’s not a debate.
KD: Penelope and I agree on this.
NC: Right. If there’s gonna be 80% to go to the artist, it’s coming from somewhere. It’s coming from the consumer. So ultimately, they are connected obviously. There’s so much around this, I think. Being artists and having the platform be about the artist, but having to have a business element. I feel like there’s a lot of identity crisis around this for really strong creatives. But then saying, but, it’s a business and maybe it kind of feels sticky to embrace it too much because it feels like it clashes with the artist identity.
Do you guys feel like you have this kind of internal push and pull with that? Is there a little bit of discomfort around it or have you had instances where people think you’re selling out or think it’s fraudulent or anything like that? Because at the end of the day, like we’re saying, it’s a business. Does that conflict with what you’re trying to do, ultimately?
PG: Our business probably would be making more money if we did sell out a little bit more. But, yeah. We like to almost make fun of brands that coddle their consumer too much or pretend like the brand is their best friend. We also make fun of capitalism, we make fun of materialism. We constantly are like, “This lapel pin will change your life. It’ll fix all your problems. Buy more.”
And we kind of mock our customers a little bit because we’re also kind of mocking ourselves and our participation in capitalism and consumerism.
KD: Absolutely. I think, yeah. We have skirted a lot of criticism, in general, just because we aren’t trying to mass produce something and tell people, “If you buy this, this is what will make you different.” I think because, at our core, we are a business that is trying to allow artists to make a living for themselves, it allows us err towards the identity of being like a gallery.
NC: No. It’s so cool. I mean, my guess would be a lot of your consumers don’t like consumers either and they’re relating, in a way, to your message. I think that’s also what captures that Gen Z audience. Again, it’s that authenticity. Just owning that message is actually very good for your business.
KD: Right. Also, I think one thing we talked about early on is just the idea that with art, it is almost an extension of peoples’ identities when they buy things; in terms of art, I guess clothing and other things too. Whatever it is, whatever you’re purchasing in that realm is showing who you are a bit. With our business, it allows people to not feel fake when they’re buying something because they’re buying something directly.
EP: They’re just using it for their own personal enjoyment and nothing but.
KD: Exactly. They’re not going into a mall and walking into a Claire’s and buying earrings with feathers because that’s what the model’s wearing. The site is completely barren. It only has the images of what you can buy and that’s pretty much it.
EP: Do you want to add another zero to the amount of revenue that you’re bringing in?
PG: I mean, yeah. We like money. I mean, of course we would.
NC: Like or love?
PG: Like. I would say like. We didn’t make this website to make money. It wasn’t our goal.
PG: We really just wanted to make a good site and a good platform and that was our main goal. And I think that shows in both our profits and our product. Take it away, KD.
KD: I think what we would like to have happen is, yes, of course, everyone would enjoy if we made more money because it would allow us to do more projects. I think that’s something that we want to just slowly keep growing towards. I got to quit dog walking this past year, which was very exciting for me. So, that was a big marker of success.
NC: How did the dogs take it?
KD: They’re fine. They don’t even remember me. No, I miss them. I think that’s the biggest thing. We’re not pushing this because we’re thinking, “This is how we’re gonna buy mansions and Teslas.”
KD: Yeah. We’re not thinking of it like that. We’re just thinking, “How do we keep building this out? Can this keep growing? Can this be a natural progression?” So, yeah. I think that’s our biggest thing. I mean, who knows? I mean, I guess if somebody came over with a check for 30 million dollars to buy our platform, I’m sure PG and I would have to sit and think about that.
PG: Yeah. We might sell it. But then, we’d start something cooler.
KD: Yeah. Exactly.
NC: There’s no shame in it.
EP: There’s no shame in that, at all.
KD: Yeah. I think that’s our biggest thing is just we wanna take what we’ve built and then, as we keep growing, move it towards a way of taking the online community and bringing it into a physical space. And if that can’t happen, fine.
NC: Amazing. So, something we really like to ask the entrepreneurs who come on this show is describe a skill that they feel they possess and break it down for our audience.
KD: I think that PG and I have a great ability to quit and know when to quit.
NC: Also known more commonly in entrepreneurial terms as fail-fast.
KD: That sounds good.
NC: Right? A little snappy, little snappy.
KD: I think that goes back, similar to what we were talking about, having entrepreneurs that are based on ego and everything. We don’t want this to be a miserable process and we want it to be fun and enjoyable.
PG: And, we didn’t want to comprise ourselves.
KD: Yeah. Anytime Penelope and I would have a situation where we would hit a wall and it wouldn’t be enjoyable, we would quit. And, it was something that allowed us to not focus on the small things that we were doing as we were getting started. We didn’t worry about trying to figure out a business plan or do the things that everyone kept telling us we needed to do. We just decided, “We’re gonna quit doing all of these things that everyone says that we have to do to start a business.”
PG: We’re gonna focus on the parts that we found enjoyable and fun, of building the site together, and kind of ignore the parts, the things that we were supposed to be doing, that we didn’t find fun. So, we just didn’t do them.
KD: Exactly. I just remember when we were getting started. There were so many people that had so much advice about how to start the business and what we needed to do. Anytime we would try doing anything that resembled what someone would recommend, we would probably quit within an hour or two of starting it.
PG: Kate and I sort of built this whole thing without really consulting anyone. I think KD owned Business for Dummies and don’t know if you read it.
NC: I think I read that one and Managing for Dummies, also, which are really helpful.
EP: I didn’t know anything. I basically, accidentally started my business.
NC: Many people, you figure it out. It’s street smarts and it’s being able to learn quickly, really is so much of it.
KD: Absolutely. I mean, I did read the first chapter or two of Business for Dummies.
KD: Yeah. So I quit reading that book pretty quickly, as well. So, see.
EP: Well, there you go.
KD: Great use of that skill.
NC: It’s so awesome the way you ladies just own it. I think even to have your skill be failing-fast really says a lot because that is the truth of running business, if you can’t see. They’re not like, “The whole thing’s failing,” but there’s those little obstacles that you have to be able to drop and move on and to pivot, if you have to, or whatever that may be. So, I’m glad that you shared that with our listeners.
I wanna say that maybe you have had to fail-fast in little moments, but obviously you’ve succeeded a ton. I just think it’s so cool, what you’re doing. Your mission is just really, really awesome. I’m excited to see how it all evolves.
PG: We rock.
NC: You do.
EP: You do. I wanna drive that home. What you guys have built, you are in the minority of the minority of the minority of people who want to start and own businesses.
NC: Congratulations, seriously.
PG: Thank you.
KD: Wow, thanks.
PG: I think what helps us keep us focused on the vision is that at the end of the day, we would choose our friendship over the business any day. That makes it so that we never-
NC: KD made a face. I don’t know.
PG: We never really run into too many big problems.
NC: Just kidding.
KD: Yeah. I don’t know.
NC: Tell me if you can relate to this. My co-founder is now my wife.
PG: Wait, did you meet?
NC: It all happened at once. We started the business, we started dating. The ice-cream sandwiches is our love child. Our relationship had to be bigger than the brand and the brand is bigger than the relationship. It’s not only about those two things working together, harmoniously. Freya is no longer day-to-day in the business, but we are married. So I call her the first lady of Coolhaus because she’s not on the payroll, but she definitely has my ear.
I don’t know if you guys would say, “That’s true.” If you guys want to elaborate on that because I do think it’s a special thing too and there are so many things we could talk about. We don’t have time to get into this necessarily, but what it’s like starting your business and being such good friends. That, at least, would be my advice to you is thinking of them as they’re truly their own entities. They don’t have to be only dependent on one another.
KD: WITCHSY is our baby.
PG: KD’s getting married to someone else.
NC: You’re getting married to someone else.
PG: In a couple weeks and I’m her maid of honor. I sometimes joke that she’s actually getting married to me.
KD: That actually was a joke when we first got started because we were signing all the documents together and we thought, “Wow. It’s like we’re forever together.”
NC: It is.
PG: Joining accounts.
EP: My business partner and I definitely feel like we are in a very long-term sexless marriage because it is the most successful relationship of our lives. We’ve stayed steady, we work through our issues, we’re building something towards the same goal.
But, the relationship feels separate as much as it feels integrated into the company. It’s very hard to explain that. It’s like we are business partners, but we are also something else besides business partners. We have a connection that I don’t have with any of my other friends because we’ve built this thing together that’s so much bigger than the friendship itself.
PG: Yeah. I think, there have been not that many times. But on a couple of occasions, the business has caused our friendship a little bit of stress. Surprisingly, not that much. But overall, I think the business has made our friendship way stronger.
KD: Absolutely. And also, because we both are musicians, I think we pull from how to be in a band as a really good way of dealing with things. Bands can be hard if you let them be.
PG: Yeah. Managing egos.
EP: One thing that I think I’ve learned from having my business partnership is how to be better in my other relationships because you have to work though those stressful moments. If you don’t, then the thing that you’re working on will die.
I think I was a lot less emotionally confrontational before I started this company. That business partnership taught me that telling someone how you feel and being vulnerable with the person that you’re working with is really important. Even though, as humans, I think we try to bottle that up and cut that off and it’s scary. I feel like it’s helped me be a better person in my other relationships, friendships, romantic relationships.
KD: That makes sense.
KD: I would agree.
EP: Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer, thank you so much for joining us today on Start to Sale.
KD: You’re welcome.
PG: Thank you, very much.
NC: Thanks for listening to Start to Sale.