SelfMade: Why We Invested
The age of the Micropreneur is upon us. And they all need marketing help.
As my interest in being outraged has declined over the past few years, so has my use of Facebook. Instagram has become a kind of welcome haven, a way to keep in touch and share moments with people interested in them, with fewer negative side effects on my blood pressure, family relationships, and the global world order.
I started seeing things I wanted to buy in my Insta feed. I developed a relationship with a small brand in San Antonio called Bexar (“Leather goods with an adventurous soul,”) and after extolling its virtues was eventually gifted an awesome backpack by my partner, Bob Hower. I picked up a beautifully made pocket knife from a small batch manufacturer in Oregon called Benchmade, then a miraculous little fire starter from a company called Überleben in Idaho. I’m still surprised by how easy the whole process is — even on my phone — clicking with minimal text entry through a post, to a Shopify store, then approving the transaction in PayPal. Returns are just as easy, and it’s only getting easier.
As our faith in Big Everything declines and the robots take our jobs, more and more people are finding a side-hustle in the creation of a product other people love. They’re building a worldwide audience of like-minded folks on social media — with lots of work, but little capital — throwing up a sophisticated storefront and tapping global shipping logistics faster and easier than anyone could have imagined less than a decade ago. The age of the “microbrand,” it seems, is upon us.
The market is already bigger than you think. Cable TV shows celebrate the phenomenon. Shopify is now a public company worth $30 billion, and in a recent Tim Ferriss podcast, their atypically reserved and humble Founder & CEO Tobi Lütke put it this way:
Online retail is one of the biggest entrepreneurial opportunities of our lifetime. It’s a $1.9 trillion industry now, and it’s going to be $4 trillion soon.
Growth = Product + Story + Marketing
The entrepreneurs collectively behind this market explosion want to grow their businesses individually, but most lack the marketing expertise required to make it happen. They’re product people. The good ones are natural storytellers, as the initial push of these brands is powered by the combination of a product people love and a story that helps explain why. But as their businesses begin to scale, the demands of their marketing become more esoteric. What posting frequency delivers the best engagement? How do I create high quality photos at scale, and leverage my audience to do it? What’s the mix of product and lifestyle imagery that gets the most people into my storefront, and how do I evaluate the relative yield of investments in social features, paid media, and e-commerce platforms to make the best decisions about where to spend my precious capital?
Those kinds of questions can be answered programmatically, creating the opportunity for a new kind of SaaS provider… a marketing partner for e-commerce entrepreneurs focused on providing “Just what you need to grow your online business.”
SelfMade is that partner. After pivoting from a business focused on automating the production of high quality imagery on Instagram, the company is laser-focused on giving product-focused e-commerce entrepreneurs just what they need — no more, and no less — to keep their business growing online.
The team is led by proven entrepreneur Brian Schechter, who after figuring out where the business value was in his startup navigated toward it with remarkable clarity and composure. The team he leads is full of talented people with a genuine commitment to helping micropreneurs win, and the mix of product and services they’re building are impressive both in the magnitude of their impact and the economy of their demands on customer.
I’d like to thank my friend and fellow Mayflower Conference alum TJ Mahony for the sweet intro here, and my new partners in both this deal and on the board — Primary Ventures’ Ben Sun, and FirstMark Capital’s Matt Turck — for their continued commitment to the success of this business.
Glad to be on the team, guys. Let’s go make a whole lot of small businesses big.