Artfire Handcrafts – Offers up a New Way for Artisans to Sell Online
If you’re looking to sell handmade items, you’ll find that there are a lot of choices to make as to where and how you’d like them to be sold. Starting a business is never easy, but marketing handmade products isn’t one of the easiest routes to go. Thankfully there have been wonderful websites online that have helped artisans get their start. A new website has launched with these crafty men and women in mind.
Artfire, currently in beta launch, is a free way for sellers to share their creations. Unlike some of the other craft-based store options, Artfire offers a free store which allows someone to list up to 10 items with absolutely no fees while still allowing you to show off your products in an atmosphere that is dedicated to handmade products.
The President and CEO, John Jacobs, is an individual who has always found himself testing the waters of business, ever since he was a young man. Now he is simply an inspiration to those interested in following the same path.
What inspired you to launch Artfire.com?
Artfire started with a simple mission. Help artisans sell without taxing their creativity like all other sites and the old craft shows. The foundation was an ecommerce site with a free option and low flat fee option. Then as we began to research the market we found that few sites had really created a thriving and diverse community. We started discussing how to make positive change in the world for artisans, the planet and people in need. As the concept developed, we realized that there had to be more to this business than just business. We needed to build a revolutionary site that would create both media and marketplace in a completely new way that was more responsive to the artisan and more beneficial to the world. We aren’t done yet. And with our artisans help — we’ll never be “done”. We will always be growing and changing to better the community and our world.
Although you’re still only in Beta, you have quite the community. What kind of feedback have you been receiving from the artisans that sell through your site?
We have created a new type of development at ArtFire. When we started researching successful media sites we found that the old practice of developing, testing and launching a product with long periods of time between updates was outmoded. Facebook, for example, is a constantly changing site adapted by its users in real time. So we are currently engaged in what we call “Artisan Directed Development”. In this process our member Artisans give us constant feedback on needs, desires, bugs, and preferences. It makes every day very interesting as we try to keep up. But In the end we feel that it creates a site product that is exactly like handmade art, crafted with care by real people for real people.
What kind of improvements have you made based on that feedback?
Wow — where to start! We have improved shipping, payment options, listing pages, edit pages, picture scripts and error reporting. We also have larger projects in the work for educational modules, video modules, and more green and environmental efforts, all due to member feedback. Members have been very surprised at how quickly our development team responds and frankly I expect nothing less from the entire ArtFire team who all share my ambition to remain adaptable and agile as a company in general.
How long did it take for Artfire to go from idea to Beta launch?
The original paper idea bubbled for awhile. There were several months of research in place before a single line of code was written. We had placeholder pages online, but really only took the site forward starting in mid July. While the full intellectual development process has been over 6 months the actual site development has only been about four months to this point.
What hopes do you have for the future of this venture? What goals would you like to meet over the next year or two?
Our first goal is to have 1 million members and plant 1 million trees by September 2009. We would also like to create the first truly community-driven interactive selling place for artisans that allows them to be involved in governance, policy, business decisions and development. This is about extending the handmade movement philosophy into a fully community-integrated business model. That is going to be challenging but we think it is worth it.
Artfire has it’s fair share of competition on the internet. What makes it unique?
First of all — FREE LISTINGS. No fees of any kind for a basic member and no catch. That means 10 items at a time with up to four pictures per item with absolutely no cost, commissions, dues, or trickle charges. Our verified level with unlimited listings and full site functionality, including customized shops and stats is only $7/month (limited availability) — that is an incredibly good deal if you compare it to every other site on the Internet today or what it would cost to set up and promote your own web site. We also think that our commitment to green initiatives and charitable work as a community makes us different. There are a lot of companies painting themselves green this year, but no one that we have seen is putting as much of their revenue back into green programs as we are. There are several new programs in development and these will account for millions of dollars returned to the planet and to people in need.
Finally our community functions. With trade guilds and our artifact accomplishment recognition program we help people to find their place in the community and share that with the world. Our site is about selling artisan items first, but creating a vibrant and diverse artisan community is important to making this a marketplace where both buyers and sellers can benefit.
How many companies have you built before now? How has your experience through those businesses been able to tie into this start up?
I started selling cinnamon flavored toothpicks and candy bars to classmates in 5th grade. I added candy bars to my offerings in 6th through 8th grade. My family was lower class. My parents have been entrepreneurs since I could remember and I caught the bug. At 17 I started a moving company and hired my friends to help carry furniture and hide-a-way beds. Since then I have built and run cabinet and construction companies, eBay and import businesses and e-commerce related sites.
Through these experiences I have learned that to be successful in business, you may have to innovate, work harder, be more willing to succeed and perhaps most important, you have to put up wins every day. I always suggest that to start or grow a business start with a list and check off each item on the list. For example; business license, accounting software, company structure, local or market regulations, set up accounts, put a plan on paper about how you will market your business, etc. You may not expect that your company will grow very big, however if it does you will be far better off if you spend a little time on business administration fundamentals. You never know if an idea, a business, or a hunch might launch a successful business. Oh, and I always start a concept off by choosing a name. I was never taught this in business school and have never heard of anyone else doing this, but it always helped me completely visualize the finished business by starting with the name. This also helps with online businesses in which you may want to match the company name with an available domain name. So you might start your search for a business name at godaddy.com.
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
My parents have been self employed for as long as I can remember, so struggling just seemed like our family path. Like most business owners freedom, adventure, and challenge always drove me. I found in my early 20’s that structured corporations valued employees based on tenure and time in service and not necessarily based on contribution, ideas, or drive. So instead of clawing my way up someone else’s corporate ladder, I always opted to just build my own ladder.
Do you have any inspiring words that you’d like to share with other potential entrepreneurs that might be reading this?
Keep learning, remember business fundamentals. Set up an LLC, even though you don’t think you need it. Remember the taxes and accounting and force yourself to do it; the IRS is not your friend, and poor accounting will unravel the most successful business. Your dream and your motivation are important. Your vision is important. But, the hard truth is that the basics of business are where the true success and failure are determined. ArtFire will be here to try to help you with the basics, with education exposure, inspiration and support. Your dream is our dream and you are not alone in this endeavor.