Mariam Naficy

CEO of Minted.com & board member of Yelp

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON March 16, 2016

Discussion

Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
Hi, I’m Mariam Naficy, Founder and CEO of Minted. I’ve been interested in e-commerce and consumer business models since 1998, when I founded Eve.com, the first online retailer of cosmetics. I founded Minted in 2007, one of the first crowd-sourced marketplaces that gives artists and designers opportunities for success through community votes. We specialize in stationery, art, home décor and digital design. I’m passionate about disrupting design trends and offering a one-of-kind, customizable experiences to customers. I’m excited to share my journey and what I’ve learned along the way with all of you. Ask away!
Sunyan Lee@sunyanlee · Increase engagement = wiya.io
Thanks for doing the AMA Mariam! What is your biggest takeaway in building a successful marketplace, especially in the early days of Minted (What was the best way to get early adopters on board, etc.)?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@sunyanlee It's always been the case that we've stayed really close to our designers - we treat both our customers and designers as part of our Minted family. Now we have an ecosystem that's seven years old, we're lucky to have built up a deep level of trust.
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@sunyanlee - Also, it is critical to balance the supply and demand in a marketplace to create 'liquidity' - try to prevent the supply growing faster than the demand, for example.
Martin Skakala@mskakala · Founder & CEO WakesApp.com
Hey Mariam, thanks for the AMA! Got two questions: 1) When you guys started Minted, what marketing you did in the first 6-18 months (at the beginning)? 2) As far as Europe goes which places you see as the most open to creative stuff? 3) Last one - as a CEO responsible for the whole ship - how you make sure you effectively delegate & let go, without compromising the quality of an organisation? Thanks again Mariam & good luck!
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@mskakala 1) in the first 6-18 months we relied on free or pay for performance marketing exclusively - PR, Affiliates, SEO - plus we tried to do inexpensive print magazine buys
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@mskakala 2) I think most of Europe is open to creative endeavors like Minted
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@mskakala 3) I think you have to pick and choose carefully what to delegate, and stage it. I have delegated piece by piece, leaving a) the most differentiating success factors for the business, b) the things where I can uniquely contribute well, c) the pieces where a leader really needs help, and d) the places where I haven't hired yet for the last (always trying to hire to fill holes, though!) for the last pieces
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
Hey! what industries do you think would benefit from being 'beautified' as you are doing with e-commerce at the moment?
Elise Marie Collins@mysticflavor · Founder Chakratonics
@bentossell what is beautified? I like it already.
Ben Tossell@bentossell · newCo
@mysticflavor haha I guess making non-'sexy' industries, seem more sexy.... I wouldn't say amazon is a 'sexy' way to shop but different interfaces and things like that can make it a pleasure
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@bentossell - gosh, I see so many opportunities. I am looking out the window in SF right now and I see so many things that could be made more beautiful by enabling talented independent designers and artists to take a crack at design. One thing that Minted just did was run a global competition to decorate the outside of our office building with a mural. The results were really stunning. We're going to do more with outdoor art. On a more everyday level, I'd like to crowdsource art for Kleenex boxes and other objects around the house that could bring a bit of joy to people's everyday lives!
Elise Marie Collins@mysticflavor · Founder Chakratonics
@bentossell ok great I have thought of that idea in another context I guess. how unhealthy products get beautified, macdonalds and coca cola and then doing healthy stuff is not beautified. It is changing, but there is judgement or you are treated like a wierdee if you do healthy stuff sometimes, like you don't enjoy pleasure, sorry for rant. Again it is changing, but that word beautify helps me, thanks
Elise Marie Collins@mysticflavor · Founder Chakratonics
@mnaficy @bentossell yes love Creative reuse. The homeless ppl in SF to me is a huge issue. It is not about beauty, but why do we choose to look away and not help ppl who are suffering when we have so much in SAN FRANCISCO. I am a local and 5th generation San Franciscan so I want beauty and justice here!
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
Hi Mariam thanks for joining today! What have been some of the biggest challenges to founding Minted? How did you overcome these?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@ems_hodge - I think that one of the biggest challenges to founding Minted was the availability of capital. I founded the company in 2007, when there wasn't much interest in funding e-commerce companies. Then we hit the recession in 2008. We had to bootstrap for a very long time, and every month for years we were worried about the cash running out. We overcame it with a very strong focus on revenue growth and hacking/optimizing to grow revenue, and very strong financial planning capabilities. This has become one of the company's core strengths - so I think in retrospect I'm glad that our culture was shaped in the middle of a recession rather than in a bull market.
Elise Marie Collins@mysticflavor · Founder Chakratonics
@mnaficy @ems_hodge glad you stuck to it.
Ellie Li@li_ellie · Co-Founder@Projections.io #DidYouSeeThat
Hey Mariam, interesting to get your advice on 2 sided marketplace, which side did you grow first? Also, what's your view on bootstrapping? Thanks!
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@li_ellie - this is a fascinating question. We have been serving two constituents - designer and consumer - from the beginning. We tried to always be doing something to make progress for our designers' experience, but the truth is that in the beginning we had no cash and we had to prove the revenue model in order to get progressive rounds of funding. So we had to make sure we were developing the revenue side and yet try to do our best to make slow progress investing in the site features and functionality that would make our designers happy and our community healthy.
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@li_ellie - And now that we have more funding, we have shored up holes in the designer experience and have a fully funded eng/PM team dedicated to making the designers' experience better and our community healthier every day.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
How has the landscape of e-commerce changed since you first launched Eve.com in 1998? What has most surprised you about this?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@ems_hodge - The landscape has become more competitive and it changes much more quickly. Fewer dollars are needed to start companies and start-up/VC/funding information is much more broadly available, which means the playing field has been leveled and much stronger entrepreneurs are entering. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that not all the good ideas have been taken - there are simply endless opportunities to start businesses if you keep a careful eye on shifts in consumer behavior. And sometimes, just because someone else tried an idea initially and it didn't work, doesn't mean that you shouldn't try it again with a different approach.
Xuan Li@mrxuanli · Growth, Kamcord
Hey Mariam, I've read before that when you started Minted, the idea was to sell high end greeting cards from different designers. Why do you think that never took off? Was it mostly the lack of marketing, or do you think it was something larger (didn't solve any problems for the designer greeting card consumer)?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@mrxuanli - Yes, it is true that at the beginning we didn't 100% crowdsource our own unique designs. We had initially a hybrid model of offering existing brands for sale on the site. The problem was that consumers truly wanted unique designs and fresh perspectives they hadn't seen before. Offering existing brands that were available already in stationery stores around the country just wasn't good enough to build a business. It was only when we solved the problem of fresh, unique design through crowdsourcing new designers and fresh designs that our business took off. We pivoted away from the hybrid model and went 100% to crowdsourcing.
Xuan Li@mrxuanli · Growth, Kamcord
@mnaficy Thanks for the response. I always thought the stationary space was really interesting and it's awesome to see the innovation Minted is bringing!
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@mnaficy thanks so much for joining us today. Huge fan of Minted (Spoiler Alert: I am a massive stationary geek and yours at Minted is the best!) I would love to hear how you approach brand building in the very crowded world of ecommerce and home goods. What have been your most effective strategies and what social networks have the highest conversion rates for you? Would love to have you on @twentyminutevc would be an honour.
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@harrystebbings @twentyminutevc Our brand is so core to who we are at Minted, it’s very important to us that the brand is consistent across all of our businesses. We’re fortunate that our core brand message has been able to stay consistent year after year. Our goal is to build a brand on unique design, high quality products and exceptional customer service.
Elise Marie Collins@mysticflavor · Founder Chakratonics
@mnaficy @harrystebbings @twentyminutevc stay true is my takeaway
neeharika sinha@neeeharika · Google, Threadchannel
Hello Mariam! Great to meet you here. Would love to know which growth strategy worked well for your ecommerce startup? Thanks!
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@neeeharika - Our growth has been driven by focusing on understanding who exactly our consumer is, what she/he wants or possibly might want, and delivering a product that adds significant and differentiated value. We have stayed true to our value proposition for 8 years: 1) unique designs from independent artists, 2) luxurious quality of printing and materials, 3) customization to make products unique to you. We also talk to consumers directly all the time - in the beginning, all we had to offer them was pizza for their participation in focus groups. Now we can offer them gift certificates to Minted! I myself facilitate our focus groups with Minted customers. We stay very close to our customer to understand her and spot opportunities.
GuruRajaSubbaiah@gururajasubbiah · Product Manager - Zoho
Hey Mariam, Glad to interact with you. What's your take on the explosive growth of e-commerce in markets like India?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@gururajasubbiah - I think that the macro environment is very compelling as a business opportunity. The sheer market size and the inevitable shift from offline to online purchasing behavior with successive generations means that there is a huge amount of revenue at stake. I think that what we are seeing across the globe among Millennials is a clear preference to shop online rather than in physical stores, and this is a very important generational cultural shift to track and understand.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Miriam! what's something you used to fervently believe that you now see as fundamentally misguided?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@eriktorenberg - Back in 1999, I thought that it would be very difficult to sell clothing online. When I saw Zappos, I didn't think people would buy shoes online because they had to try before they bought. People actually said that to me when I founded Eve.com ("women want to try on cosmetics, this idea will never work") and Minted ("people want to touch and feel paper, this idea will never work"). Now when I hear that argument ("X will never work - people don't want to do that online"), I know not to believe it.
Riza Herzego Nida F.@rizaherzego · Product Manager, Cozora
Hi Mariam! Glad to have you here. What do you think about business opportunities in South East Asia? Do Minted and Yelp target this market?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@rizaherzego - I've been delighted to meet many great designers in Southeast Asia who are part of the Minted community. I think there is a vibrant design culture in Southeast Asia as well as strong English language skills, which makes this an important place for Minted to build partnerships and relationships.
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Community and Marketing, Product Hunt
What do you see as future trends for the e-commerce space?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@ems_hodge - Fun question. Consumers are increasingly inundated with products and marketing pitches in their inboxes and on social platforms. I think that consumers will be searching for ways to sift through all of these products. A few predictions as to what may come of this: 1) consumers will seek increased meaning associated with their products, so possibly they would want a high degree of uniqueness and personalization in their products, as well as understanding the story behind their products (who made the product, who designed it, where was it made, etc.), 2) Great images will become essential to differentiating products and brands in a world where the winning social platforms are visual, 3) Storytellers may be invited into bigger marketplaces and brands to help sift through all the products and shape stories that differentiate products - storytellers may become sellers.
Arleigh Jane@arleigh_jane
I’ve been a Minted customer for a while (love the Art!) and noticed you recently announced that you’re offering Home decor. What is next for you guys?
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@arleigh_jane - this year, we are really focused on building out our Art and Home Decor offerings. In Art, we will continue to expand into a great range of framing options that bring our limited edition art prints to life. In Home, we crowdsource fabric designs and we print them on fabric and make products like curtains, lampshades, pillows, and more on demand. We just acquired a company called Guildery two weeks ago that specializes in offering home decor on demand. Guildery, for example, offered upholstered furniture products among other things. We are also doing more and more as a platform for other companies - we are now sourcing art for both West Elm and Pottery Barn, for example.
Arleigh Jane@arleigh_jane
@mnaficy Great to hear, looking forward to decking out my home w beautiful Minted decor!
Mariam Naficy@mnaficy · Founder & CEO, Minted
@arleigh_jane THANK YOU to everyone who participated - it was fun chatting with you and I appreciate all the great questions!!