It’s never been easier for would-be inventors to take a harebrained concept and turn it into an actual, sellable product, but the process of getting those products to the masses could still use a little work. Sure, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have laid the groundwork for a revolution in how these passionate folks sell, but the team at YC-backed Swish feel like there are even better ways to do it.
“Kickstarter is way too much work for small creators, manufacturers and businesses who want to get their projects out into the world,” said Swish co-founder and CEO Iolanthe Chronis. “We’ve built something that’s truly retail just for the little guy.”
Swish came about, curiously enough, because of a keychain. Six months ago, Swish CTO Brad Stronger came up with a design for a new kind of keychain, but was summarily shot down when he submitted the project to Kickstarter for reasons that were never really made clear. That unfulfilling exchange at first filled Chronis, Stronger, and fellow MIT alum Heather Brundage with the desire to build “a Kickstarter with better customer service,” but they soon realized that they could (and should) do so much more. Thus, Swish was born.
At its core, Swish is a crowdfunded marketplace that focuses strictly on physical products, but what really makes it so special can’t really be discerned at first glance. There’s no behind-the-scenes curation process here. For one, anyone at all can list their product on Swish for 30 days for all the Internet to see. The Swish team is very keen on delivering a Reddit-esque experience, with users and buyers pushing the best products to the very top of the site while kitschy, useless projects fall away from the public eye.
After those 30 days are up, Swish takes all the money that users have pitched in and places a single wholesale order to the manufacturer. From there, the folks making the product have 350 days to complete the full batch of goodies, and in the event that they can’t come through, all that money is refunded to the product’s backers. That said, the real magic happens when the products are completed — the full shipment is delivered not to individual buyers but to the team at Swish instead.
Rather than put the onus of fulfilling every single order on the product’s creators (an often overwhelming process that puts plenty of strain on smaller operations), the Swish team does it all themselves. The end result is a process that’s incredibly friendly to inventors and creators. All they really need to do is focus on creating the best products they can, because the hassle of fulfillment is handled entirely by Swish.
As you’d expect, this seemingly altruistic move can come at a cost. While services like Kickstarter take 5 percent of a project’s funding total, Swish’s approach is more akin to the one seen in traditional retail. The prices of the products sold on Swish all have some degree of markup built into them, and Swish keeps 35 percent of that markup for themselves. That seems like quite a jump, but considering the costs that go into fulfilling orders for a successful project, it’s a more equitable arrangement than it seems at first glance.
At least, that’s the sentiment that the Swish team has heard when bringing word of their service to the masses. According to Chronis, many people trying to get their products out into the market get stymied by risk-averse retail buyers, and often wind up shelling out considerable chunks of money in exchange for oft-ignored booths at trade shows. To that end, the four-person Swish team has been criss-crossing the country hitting up these major events to put the service in front of ambitious product designers and inventors that probably wouldn’t have discovered Swish otherwise. Their recent travels include visits to CES and the International Gift Fair, and the team’s itinerary is already loaded up with future trips.
For all the smack that the team had to talk about Kickstarter, there’s little question that they owe the popular crowdfunding platform a bit of gratitude for being so limited.
“We are indebted to Kickstarter for inspiration,” Chronis said. “They’ve made it clear that there are some very interesting things to be done in this space.”
“There’s a kind of land grab going on here,” Stronger added. “And we think we’re ahead of that curve.”