Let’s Pivot Again — Handmake Me Is An Ethical Marketplace For Handmade Gifts

Call it a pivot. Or failing and starting over. But, either way, some of the most successful startups and tech companies have done it. After all, the entrepreneurial road can be a long and winding one. The latest example to cross my in-box is Handmake Me, an “ethical marketplace” born out of multiple pivots by the team behind Hobzy.

Specifically, the U.K. startup has re-launched to offer a gift-buying experience where every product is handmade by a “skilled individual” — which Handmake Me verifies — and is customisable/made-to-order.

“We require every product to have at least one custom option so that buyers can have an input into the gift they’re buying,” explains co-founder Dan Rice.

Meanwhile, for sellers, the idea is to enable any individual to make a living — or at least supplement their income — by producing unique handmade gifts, “crafted using the skills they’ve taken the time to learn.”

Handmake Me counts its main competitors as Etsy, and, more locally, Not On The High Street, although Rice sees some key differences.

“Etsy have moved far from their authentic roots, and don’t employ quality control over their sellers and product,” he says, noting that it also doesn’t have the same focus on made-to-order/custom items.

Not On The High Street does put greater emphasis on quality and personalisation. However, the service is “high risk” for sellers, argues Rice, as the company charges a £199 joining fee on top of commission.

“They’re also not available to U.S. sellers like we are,” he says.

In contrast, Handmake Me takes a flat 20 per cent commission on each sale only.

It’s also recently partnered with The Big Issue to power a branded store for the social enterprise — a move Rice says tallies perfectly with the startup’s mission to promote “social and ethical commerce”.

That’s particularly encouraging for a startup that — if I’ve counted correctly — is on at least its fourth pivot.

The company started out as Host My Portfolio, a portfolio service for professional creatives, before entering the U.K.’s Oxygen Accelerator in 2011, where it pivoted to focus on hobbyists instead, and changed its name to Hobzy.

However, despite initially having decent traction, the new venture resulted in “poor retention and zero revenue.”

“We thought we could improve retention by building social features and allowing people to connect with each other around their shared hobbies,” explains Rice. “[We also] tried generating revenue with a theme system (like Tumblr) and adverts. This didn’t work.”

Spotting that 95 per cent of the hobbies on Hobzy were craft-related, the startup thought it could monetise the service by enabling users to sell the things they were showcasing. But this produced a lot of poor quality products that nobody was buying, and a “diluted” value proposition.

“Were we a social network or a marketplace?” Rice asks rhetorically.

Next up, Hobzy took the e-commerce tech it had built and created a “reverse marketplace for handmade gifts” called Handmake Me — letting anybody who wanted to buy an authentic handmade gift to request what they wanted and how much they would pay, after which the site’s community of craft-makers would then bid for the job.

“Nobody was requesting anything,” concedes Rice, so the team decided to pivot once again by switching the model to a more conventional marketplace, while still keeping the focus on buyer input via various customisation options for each product and ensuring strict quality control procedures are in place.

“It worked!” he says. “People are buying, people are selling and we are revenue generating at last.”

Or, as I like to say, you gotta love it when a pivot comes together.