Corissa McClay, making personal style a business with MakerCraft
Corissa always loved making jewelry. But it was an expensive and time consuming hobby. To make anything, she had to buy beads and other materials and then sit for hours to figure out designs that would work. She hit on the idea of designing jewelry online, and searched for sites where she could do it herself. But she couldn’t find any sites that offered this.
When she realized that that she probably shared this problem with millions of others who are involved in the do-it-yourself jewelry market, she realized she had a new venture opportunity on her hands. With her degree from the Art Institute in Pittsburgh, Corissa (and her husband Nick McClay) had the skills to build such a site. And MakerCraft was born!
The problem. Jewelry is a huge business. Jewelry online is a huge business. Hand-crafted unique jewelry is a huge business. Witness sites like Etsy which hosts almost 2.4M jewelry items. They sell beautiful things there; I should know – I buy from Singing Cat Studio all the time, run by Kimberlee Peters, who teaches at Rowan University and moonlights making beautiful things!
Corissa has been making jewelry for herself and others since middle school. She learned the craft of jewelry making from her grandmother. As she grew up, she got more serious about making jewelry because she wanted specific jewelry to match her clothes and personal style. She rarely found anything in a store that met her expectations and which she could afford so she always went back to the workbench to make it herself.
The opportunity. That she could both make jewelry and build a site to enable others to make jewelry was a revelation that led her to MakerCraft. On her mind was going after the $187B worldwide fashion accessories market, starting with the $56B fashion jewelry market ($16B in the US). Corissa tells me, “Today, in the US alone, 30 million people spend $400 per year on fashion jewelry. And the US has almost 30% of the worldwide market. Even in the tough times since 2008, the market is growing at 5% annually.”
Corissa is focusing her company around personal style, which is everywhere. Women have a huge amount of buying power. And they like to present themselves in their own particular style.
Etsy and other sites that sell handmade unique personal goods, such as Boticca and Art Fire, demonstrate that people want handcrafted goods. That buyers want personalized items is also proven by sites like Spreadshirt and zazzle. The model for MakerCraft is already verified.
Differentiator. What is unique about MakerCraft is that it taps into the do-it-yourself market, admittedly a sub-segment of the overall market. But that market is big enough for multiple sub-segments! And I can envision MakerCraft offering jewelry components made by other crafters and artists. So, I could buy a fancy bead from Singing Cat Studio and use that as the cornerstone for a beautiful necklace!
Etsy is focused on marketplace. Corissa is not worried about sites like Etsy as competitors. She explains, “We are platform agnostic on the backend. And we have a great team. All of these are competitive barriers. We embody design and development – that’s different too.” In addition, Corissa tells me, “Etsy has an API available – which we only found out last week – so it’s conceivable that we could plug into Etsy, making us symbiotic, rather than competition.”
The team. Early on, Corissa and Nick convinced Dan Dwire to join them as mobile developer. Corissa is proud of the fact that all three of them have startup experience. And they all worked together in college so they know their strengths and weaknesses and how to gel as a team. Justin Endler also joined the team as web developer making a four-in-hand team reaching towards success.
At a suggestion from an advisor, Corissa developed a unique model for fulfillment. She has partnered with Goodwill Industries to provide manufacturing as part of an employment program. MakerCraft handles the inventory, but the Goodwill people put it all together and handle shipping.
Marketing. Corissa is using social networking to promote her business but also to share what others have done, to give you, the jewelry maker, ideas for your own pieces. Her blog posts make it clear that she is going after the younger crowd: middle school, high school, college and young professional.
Leveraging Facebook and Twitter plus other social media, coupled with ads and SEO, will help drive traffic.
MakerCraft today. This is a brand new company, not even six months old. MakerCraft is still in beta. Over 400 downloaded the beta during the first few days it was available. Since then, downloads are trending up week over week. Corissa exclaims, “We are a week away from having our full version out, including user features, accounts and gift cards!
The business model is simple. The average consumer to date on MakerCraft spends $15-20 making a piece of jewelry. Margins are high, at around 80%, since labor and other costs are low.
Financing. And to do all this? Yes, they need capital. Through AlphaLab they got the incubator $25K which allowed them to bring developers on board to get the site off the ground (Dan and Justin). Mike Woycheck, Program Manager at AlphaLab says, “Corissa has assembled a great team and created an engaging application allowing individuals to express their personal style through jewelry. Her background and passion for creative products positions her well to create a company that taps into the greater trend of personalization and self-expression. We think she and her company have a lot of potential.”
But Corissa isn’t paying herself, and her husband still has a full-time job so that they can eat. Now MakerCraft is raising a seed round of $250K which they will use to scale the business.
Growing. The company needs to scale up. MakerCraft is offering only necklaces for the moment. Soon, the company will offer a wider range of possibilities: multi-strand necklaces, earrings, bracelets, etc.
As she expands her market, could Corissa tap the male demographic? Corissa laughs as she recounts, “My co-founder wants to do DIY beer!” More seriously, she adds, “But we could go into a male demographic by offering hats, belts, boots, and things like that.”
MakerCraft has found some early success with kids. The company was involved in a program for the Children’s Museum and they found their table was mobbed with kids wanting to design their own jewelry. That has caused Corissa to think that maybe she needs to cater to this market opportunity.
Challenges. The new venture faces all of the usual startup issues, like making sure the site works, finding customers, customer service, and cash flow. What didn’t she expect? “Everything,” Corissa tells me: “Development takes longer. Double the time you think it will take and then double it again. Even then, it’s still not long enough!”
What about working and partnering with her husband? “I am already the boss,” Corissa chuckles. “But I knew that the three of us worked well together. I was really concerned about bringing a fourth person on – especially on a team that had worked together for years. But I hit on someone early on who was just perfect [Justin Endler]. Now we are a great four-person team!”
Corissa wishes she had expanded earlier to the iPhone; instead MakerCraft spent time developing a full product for the iPad. But she really wants to go mobile, “No one else is doing this mobile. Everyone else is online but not mobile.” At least, not yet.
Parting advice. Corissa encourages first time entrepreneurs to reach out immediately for advice and help: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Everyone is so willing. Reach out and make sure that you leverage them. The community is amazing and you should take the time and effort to network and ask for help.”
She finishes with, “Don’t worry about anyone stealing your idea. Too many people are concerned about this and so they keep it to themselves. If you don’t talk about it you won’t get people to help you. And you need others to give you help. That’s how you get your idea from your head to the world!”
Thanks, Corissa. I am just finishing my new necklace on your site!