Etsy, the crafter’s online marketplace has been around since 2005 and is one of the most visited sites for homemade wears. A new London startup called MyMzone is hoping to disrupt that, at least across the pond.
MyMzone is hoping to become the curated online market place showcasing unique and authentic items handmade, handcrafted and designed by merchants selling in local markets in London. That’s actually the part that differentiates the platform from Etsy.
Back in August we interviewed Nashville startup Street Jelly. The premise for the company founded by Frank Podlaha is to take street performers and put them online to make real money for virtual tips. MyMzone is hoping to provide an avenue for street and market merchants hawking their ways in London, and put them online as well.
MyMzone co-founder Ravi Jay says he’d describe MyMzone to his Grandma by saying: ”Grandma, Remember going to Portobello Market in 2006 and not buying that gorgeous handmade sweater from that lovely young woman because we did not have any British Pounds on us? You know what, she is still there and continues to hand made amazingly beautiful sweaters. Finally, you can see her online along with all the other goodness from local markets of London.”
It’s an interesting proposition for a city that has upscale street markets with handcrafted items you could find on Rodeo Drive in the United States.
Check out the entire interview with Jay below.
myMzone is the first curated online marketplace that showcases unique and authentic items handmade/handcrafted/designed by merchants selling in local markets of London.
In layman’s terms, how does it work? (In other words how would you explain it to your grandmother)
Grandma, Remember going to Portobello Market in 2006 and not buying that gorgeous handmade sweater from that lovely young woman because we did not have any British Pounds on us? You know what, she is still there and continues to hand made amazingly beautiful sweaters. Finally, you can see her online along with all the other goodness from local markets of London.
A word of caution, hide your credit cards because you can pay for it with US Dollars. ;)
Who are the founders and what are their backgrounds?
The concept behind myMzone was conceived in an MBA classroom by classmates Ravi Jay and Asaf Nahum. The company was co-founded in associated with Tal Etzyon, a very close friend of Asaf Nahum.
Asaf Nahum, Chief Executive Officer – holds an MBA degree and is a serial entrepreneur who has succesfully started and sold businesses prior to starting myMzone.
Tal Etzyon, Chief Operating Officer – holds a BA in economics and has been involved with leading product development of a major toy company. He now leads product development at myMzone.
Ravi Jay, Chief Technology Officer – holds a Master of Science degree in Artificial Intelligence from Chalmers University and an MBA from Middlesex University, London. He has been working in the industry for more than 7 years and have been engaged by Multi-National companies like Infosys Technologies, Royal Bank of Scotland and Union Bank of Philippines.
Where are you based?
myMzone is based in the heart of Camden Market, one of the most vibrant, colourful, unique and alternative local markets in London.
What’s the startup scene/culture like where you’re based?
While we work with a lot of small businesses and startups ourselves, we are a small startup ourself and understand exactly the kind of problems that are faced by merchants in local markets and where we can add value. We have set up an office in the heart of the market overlooking the Camden Lock (Camden Canal) allowing the merchants to ‘pop-in’ if they have a question about marketing their product on social media or if they need help with photographing an item or quite simply to have a chat with us. We have a simple open plan structured office place allowing open meetings and discussions within the office where we believe ideas can originate from anywhere and no idea is a bad idea until it is heard. Since we work individually, we endeavour to stay in touch with Camden & Islington Council and other organisations that hold Startup competitions and encourage London-based startups. This has helped us enter competitions successfully and win them.
How did you come up with the idea for Mymzone?
During my MBA program in London, I’ve nursed and nourished the idea of myMzone in my head. I was always fascinated by London and the local markets and I couldn’t stop myself from falling in love with the markets’ uniqueness and authenticity. I am an avid book-marker and I take pride in spotting talented designers and craftmen. I always had to come back to take a second look at something I had seen in passing – imagine my horror when I could not find a merchant in the same spot I saw them last time!
So, I discussed the idea openly with a classmate from the MBA program who is a serial entrepreneur and together, we started to specialise in bookmarking wares from designers and craftspeople based in London’s local markets. Our passion and drive grew to such levels that our friends started to ask us for recommendations about where to buy a vintage dress or a tribal horn or a designer hat or a 1980′s style retro lingerie or homemade English mustard and we used to tell them exactly where they could get them. It was enough for us to see the smiles on their faces or a smiley in their texts to understand that we had made someone’s day.
What problem does Mymzone solve?
Among these ‘mini-fist-bump’ moments came those brain-crunchers when we were posed with practical questions based around
1) Not being able to use credit/debit cards in markets
2) Not being able to carry things home because of airline baggage restrictions
3) Not being convenient to carry things across London because of previous late evening commitments
4) The market place closing too early or not being able to find the merchant
5) Quite simply, not living in London.
This is when the light bulb flicked ON. We realised that there is no single online portal that curated products from local markets. On the back of experience and rapport we created with our local merchants over the years, we attempted to gather them all in one place where you can shop from a variety of different designers and craftspeople and checkout in one easy interface. We went a step ahead and pioneered the ‘one-page-one-click-checkout’ for registered customers.
Now, we specialise in curating those wonderful things from local markets that make your heads turn. Also, we identified during our 6 month University MBA project that road traffic on markets were dwindling and that they were on a decline – so, our solution of giving an alternative source of income to market traders resonated with our target B2B customer.
How did you come up with the name?
myMzone is an abbreviation of ‘my’ ‘market’ ‘zone’ – it is intended to the place for everyone to hang out – whether you are a seller or someone who loves the markets. It is intended to be the hang-out-zone for anyone. We choose this particular name as opposed to LondonMarketsOnline.com after discussing the expansion strategy of recruiting merchants from outside London’s local Markets like Berlin and Paris. Having sellers from local markets from Berlin in LondonMarketsOnline.com sounded a little off and opening a new website like BerlinMarketsOnline.com for every new geographical marketplace made less sense than having an all encompassing name called ‘my Market zone’.
What’s your secret sauce?
This is an interesting question. We have several:
1) Since we are the first of our kind to attempt this, we had to make sure that the technology we use is extremely easy to use for merchants who are not usually tech-savvy. In addition, our engine is extremely powerful and has been built with expansion in mind.
2) Our knowledge of the markets and experience in selling all over the world is something that can only come over time.
3) The relations that we have built with merchants over the year is something that cannot be easily replicated. It will take time and a lot of effort to do what we did.
4) The people behind myMzone, not just us – our merchants and markets who believe us and understand the value we add for them, really, is the secret sauce as without them, the technology, knowledge and experience counts for less.
Are you bootstrapped or funded?
We are 100% bootstrapped and funded by the co-founders. The concept behind myMzone is new and we endeavor to prove the concept and our business model by investing in the business ourselves before opening up the business to an Angel Investor to accelerate growth.
What is your goto market strategy?
myMzone hybrid business model allows marketing offline and online. We have focussed on simple online marketing techniques that consist of building Search engine friendly pages, being active on leading social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ etc and using our blogging platform to deliver useful content to users. Since we work very closely with merchants, they market myMzone (and their online shop on myMzone) through their retail outlets.
Eventually, we intend to be a Content Delivery Network for all things related to local markets.
What’s one challenge you’ve overcome in the startup process?
From inception, we knew that we were going to be technology dependent and since we were the first online platform to bring together local markets in London; the challenge, really, was to build a website that looked good, is user-friendly to customers and merchants who upload products. In addition, the concept of myMzone is new and travellers who visit the markets are unaware that they can purchase products online even they are not in London – so, we needed to get the word out and this is where we faced challenges financially.
In addition, with regards to having local merchants on board, the classic chicken and egg scenario holds where merchants do not sign up and actively participate in a new idea until they see results and without active participation, there cannot be results.
Who are some of your mentors and business role models?
In the beginning, while we were identifying partners to work with, we chose them carefully making sure that we all knew different things. This way, in their own disciplines, we have all been mentors to each other. There are so many business leaders and successful businessmen and women in London we could draw inspiration from. Personally, we feel that Sir Alan Sugar, the self-made billionaire from East London is one we consider as one of our main role models quite simply because he started off with nothing and worked his way up with hard work and perseverance – qualities that we hold very dear.
What’s next for myMzone?
Since we have reached a stage where we have proven that the concept works and that small merchants in street markets can be made online, we are looking at improving the product, gamify the website and to expand to other local market places. So, in 2013, myMzone will seek investment from Business Angels for growing the business and meeting the true business potential.