Creating Enduring Value

Like most founders, I like building things. I’m driven by an ambition to create something of enduring value. It’s the satisfaction of building something from the ground up that motivates me, rather than being part of an established organisation.

It’s not just building anything however, for me it has to be aligned to a meaningful purpose. Redbubble exists to ‘bring more creativity into the world’, and we do this by “creating the world’s largest marketplace for independent artists”. Those two elements of the Redbubble mission are the reasons why I do what I do.

Redbubble exists to ‘bring more creativity into the world’, and we do this by “creating the world’s largest marketplace for independent artists”. Those two elements of the Redbubble mission are the reasons why I do what I do.

It’s challenging to build and scale a marketplace of any sort. Redbubble faces the additional problem of being a three-sided marketplace, bringing together artists, customers and fulfillers. Marketplaces are hard to get going because there is no liquidity without volume of buyers or sellers. Most startup marketplaces fail for that reason. In Redbubble’s early days we attracted artists, but it took time to attract buyers. We also had to deal with the complexity of partnering with third party fulfillers who initially didn’t have a reason to work with us as we couldn’t guarantee them any volume. It was a difficult model to scale, taking several years of really hard slog while we were trying to get the marketplace liquid.

Almost all marketplaces have challenging early years. We underestimated, as many do, how long it would last. At the same time we were making all the normal mistakes – people, features, scaling – while also trying to raise capital. Inevitably some early customers had a poor experience with the marketplace. In retrospect we could have moved a little quicker in understanding and developing the customer proposition. We built it and thought they would come.

As we sharpened our focus, we realised that customers visit the Redbubble marketplace to not only buy a product, but to express creativity through designs they couldn’t get anywhere else. Just as artists are expressing themselves through the work they create, the customers are finding ways to express themselves and affirming their individuality both by standing out and forming tribes. Buying a particular a product from Redbubble is a way of making connections with people who have a shared interest. It’s the sheer breadth of Redbubble that enables disparate tribes to form. People can find things that are meaningful to them among 11 million images available. At its inception, Redbubble was a fairly niche site focused on art sales, but now it has over twelve million visitors a month. As a founder seeking to create enduring value, that delights me, taking a concept from the early adopter phase into the mainstream and reaching many more people than I could have ever imagined.

One of the biggest changes in the customer experience has been the evolution of mobile. More than 50% of customers come to Redbubble marketplace through their mobile devices. That’s forced us to change how we think about design. We’ve created a consistent experience between the small and large screens. It has been very important to simplify the process of purchasing through mobile devices, while also continuing to honour the art. When it flows, the customer feels they got just what they wanted, while the experience is easy and compelling.

Artists that began selling on Redbubble ten years ago are still with us now. As we have grown, artists get validation and satisfaction knowing that their work is being viewed and well received and they earn along the way.

Redbubble’s central proposition is validation for creative people – ‘we stand for artists’ was an early motto. The evidence is that about 15% of people create artistic works in some form, the visual arts forming the largest component. We’ve created a marketplace for those people to reach a global audience. We make it easy for artists to sell through the fulfillment network. Artists that began selling on Redbubble ten years ago are still with us now. As we have grown, artists get validation and satisfaction knowing that their work is being viewed and well received and they earn along the way. We aim to provide an ‘art gallery experience’ by honouring the works on the site and recognised they are acquired by people with whom they resonate.

The fulfiller network consists of fifteen fulfillers shipping from twenty-four locations globally. It is a relationship with high levels of trust across the network. They have fulfillment skills and capabilities that we certainly don’t have. We have a global demand channel that they could never replicate. It works on both sides. They understand our mission too. Many of the fulfillers are now leaders in the emergence of on-demand retail which is the next wave in retail based on more personalization and customization. Companies as diverse as Levi’s and Nike are embracing this trend.

Redbubble is riding three big waves of disruption simultaneously: the emergence of print-on-demand technology; the demand for unique consumer designed products that are personally relevant; and the ever growing reach of the sharing economy enabled by the Internet and mobile technology. For each of those waves, we’re only at the start of what’s possible. On-demand retail is becoming an increasingly mainstream phenomena. Redbubble is well positioned to be a major player in delivering personalised products for customers for many years to come. The customer proposition, artist relationships and fulfiller network, combined with changes in the way products are created and delivered, enable Redbubble to be a company of enduring value. Enduring value is not about how big you can be in a short period of time, it’s about creating value for a long period of time, and in Redbubble’s case this means creating value for artists, customers and fulfillers.

Martin Hosking is the CEO and co-founder of Redbubble