Wednesday Nov 28, 2012 by Susan Johnston - Contributor, VentureFizz
When Seth Rosen went searching online for a custom coffee table in 2008, he discovered the subscription-based website custommade.com but says the website wasn’t realizing its full potential. “The theory at the time was that we could get people who had never considered something custom to think about custom as an alternative way to buy,” he says. “I wanted to make that available to more people.”
In late 2008, Rosen, along with Mike Salguero, purchased the domain and pivoted its business model. “When we bought the site it was a subscription business,” says Rosen, now cofounder and COO of CustomMade.com. “Woodworkers paid per year to be on the site. The model as it works today is facilitating interactions between makers and consumers and we take a percentage of the transaction.”
Sites like Etsy.com have helped fuel a renewed interest in handmade goods. “All these consumers are focused on personalization and customization and conscious consumption,” says Rosen. “People are starting to care about what they buy. All these trends are moving in this direction.”
Etsy also facilitates interactions between craftspeople and consumers but Rosen is quick to point out that CustomMade serves a different part of the market. “Our average order size is about $1,600,” he says. “Etsy’s is about $25.”
In three rounds of funding, CustomMade has raised a total of about $8 million, the most recent $4 million round in April co-led by Google Ventures and Schooner Capital.
With 30 employees, CustomMade is now based in a former police station in Cambridge, Mass. and has over 3,500 professional artisans, who are vetted by the company. The site adds about 130 new artisans per week and expects to have almost 5,000 artisans by the end of the year. They also project website transactions to reach $10 to $15 million by year’s end. To keep up with this growth, CustomMade is expanding its office space and now has 11,000 square feet.
To help tell artisan’s stories and communicate the value of custom work, CustomMade hired videographer Danny Hoshino in February. “Danny’s job is to essentially tell the stories of custom,” says Rosen, “of consumers getting exactly what they want and makers getting more business. Our brand is about telling those stories and demonstrating why custom is a viable alternative to retail.” Since launching earlier this year, CustomMade’s YouTube channel has gotten over 134,000 video views. CustomMade also updated it homepage last month to place a greater emphasis on images.
Looking ahead, Rosen says, “I think you’re going to see the experience improve a great deal. I think you’re going see a lot more streamlined abilities to post a product much more effectively and communicate with the artisan.”