Today, my online guest is Jason Markow (a.k.a. TEKSTartist) from FiveSpotDerby.com who will take us through how he left his daily job to become an entrepreneurial artist! In his own words, he “artistically twists, warps, and distorts letters & words into the very thing they describe.” [Update in March 2018: FiveSpotDerby is currently down. I got no answer from Jason when I emailed him about the reason for taking the site down.]
The twist here is that Jason creates a special weekly limited-edition design. This design goes on sale for 7 days. Afterwards, any remaining prints are moved into the archive and are offered at $99. Each Five Spot Derby begins at just $5, and every 5 sold prints drive up the price by another $5.
Q: Tell us more about TEKSTartist, Jason Markow.
I decided to quit my job and sell online really after really spending a good amount of time researching / learning / understanding the space. I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone else, and I saw more potential in the web than any other avenue.
I wasn’t exactly ‘new” to the tech scene. The job I quit was actually a web design / web strategy firm called ThinkCore. ThinkCore had reached a major tipping point. We had just crossed the hurdle where more work was coming in than we could handle.
Things were booming, but I felt miserable. My time spent focusing on user experience, design, and web strategy there were all tremendous tools when it was time for me to open my first Online Store.
For me, the ability to market and sell a product online, on my own time, meant I had the potential to live the life I always wanted. For me, money was never a factor… though it has been a much welcomed side effect.
Q: Did you pick up a free e-commerce solution or chose to develop your own?
From the time I left my job and decided to pursue a career as an artist / TEKSTartist, I have had 3 major web projects. The first was actually a bit different than the current incarnation of FiveSpotDerby.com. A quick breakdown:
Project One (2012) TEKSTartist.com:
Although we have since pulled it offline the first version of the site, TEKSTartist; my true first dive into e-Commerce, was a tremendous success. With the help of a developer I modified a Shopify template to resemble a calendar. Every single day of the calendar contained a different TEKSTartist art piece available for purchase.
At the time I was (VERY) new to the art scene, and I knew my early pieces would be… less than perfect. With the help of Jason Sadler of iWearYourShirt.com I crafted a solution- a tiered pricing model.
One Year, $55,000
Long story short the price of the piece correlated with the day of the year it was featured. January 1st’s piece sold for $1. January 2nd, $2 and so on, all the way up to $366 for the piece on December 31st (2012 was a leap year). At the end of the year I had managed to sell 335 of the 366 art pieces and raked in $55,000. Not a killing by any means, but I knew I was on the right track.
Outside of the modified theme, all the heavy lifting (cc processing, customer management, etc.) was handled through Shopify. It really is a great platform and the only reason we transitioned away from it in 2013 was that the new development team found it easier to build some of the more complex elements on a different platform.
Project Two (April 2013- Present) FiveSpotDerby.com:
For the next iteration of the site I tried to take the elements that worked, amplify them, and eliminate the rest. I teamed up with a new development team (StudioAceOfSpade.com) that I found through Reddit.com. Our entire site was built on WordPress while the e-Commerce elements are handled by a combination of Shopp and Stripe.
Q: You started a second online store selling t-shirts. Is it easy to handle two online stores? Would you launch a 3rd and 4th?
The shirt site was really created as a side project, but certainly came to light due to a combination of two things. The first was the success of the first two shops, and the second was how well Studio Ace of Spade executed the design for FiveSpotDerby.com
As soon as one store is up and running adding another one is as simple as laying the foundation. The real trick is getting people to visit both and to actually drive sales.
I actually have three other online stores currently in development (hopefully launching the first of the three later next month). Stay tuned!
Q: Take us through the logistics of your stores, do you stock or print on demand?
AmbidextrousShirt.com is a simple answer- I hold stock, and reorder when quantities run low. All sales are processed manually.
FiveSpotDerby.com (FSD) is a bit more complicated.- It actually ends up being a combination of print on demand and holding inventory. What I mean by that is we generally don’t print a TEKSTartist design until a week before launch (in some cases it’s only a day or two before launch!)
How many we print is generally little more than an educated guess based on past performance, expected growth, and any potential collaborators influence (if applicable).
Every single sale through FSD is processed manually. The order comes in, I get an email, my wife creates a shipping label and packs up every single print. From April to December last year (2013) we moved over 1,100 pieces of artwork. (over 230 prints sold on our busiest day last year!) No small task when handled manually.
All that said, we have learned a TON in the past year and have really got a great system in place. We could easily process ten times the orders we had last year manually without any real scaling issues.
Q: Does selling on Facebook matter? Does it have a potential?
I never really saw the potential to actually drive sales if Facebook. To be honest, I lost all hope in creating any meaningful results with Facebook when they started throttling the percentage of fans who actually see your content.
Although I understand why they did it, it doesn’t seem like a beneficial platform for driving sales unless you have a SIGNIFICANT fan base (Over 100,000 Fans)
I’m not sure if I know of any artists selling well on Facebook. I’m sure there are some out there who have found the secret sauce there, I’m just not one of them at this point.
Not that I don’t see sales come in when I post to Facebook, but if I see two sales come in from a handful of Facebook posts I see 5-6 sales every. single. time.
I post to instagram. This is significant. This matters, and the fact that I have almost the same number of followers on each platform shows just how much more valuable instagram is to me.
Q: Can you share some numbers with us?
So my two personal goals for FiveSpotDerby in 2013 were as follows:
– 1,000 Units Sold
– $100,000 in Revenue
I moved over 1,100 units so goal one was a success. As for goal two- I was close. In fact, I was about $3,000 shy of my goal. Best months were actually April (launch) and December. Worst happen to be February and November.
The only item I could consider an “advertising cost” is my business cards. I use MOO.com and spent nearly $3,000 on business cards in 2013. We include a handful of cards in every order and our customers have done a tremendous job passing them on.
I’m shooting for the moon here in 2014. January has already exceeded last year, but I know I’m capable of more. Really trying to put everything in place to see my first seven digit year.
Q: How do you market for your online stores?
This site has spread primarily through word of mouth. I don’t use Google Ads, I don’t pay for ads on Facebook or twitter. It’s not that I didn’t try them. I did… all of them. Maybe I wasn’t throwing enough money at it, maybe I’m just impatient, but I simply didn’t see results with them.
Early on I gave a ton of product away to spread the word. Basically, anything I could do that was over the mood, I would do. If the deal is good enough, and the product is something people REALLY want the word will spread on it’s own.
Q: What are your best selling products?
Currently, the best selling products are the letterpress prints. We have sold out of over 20 of the 40 designs we have released so far. They are our highest quality product, but also the most reasonably priced.
After two years at this we are beginning to decipher the difference between seasonal highs and lows and random spikes.
In slow times I get on the computer and hustle. I reach out for new opportunities, new collaborations, and try to come up with new strategies.
The most effective campaigns seem to be ones that are well thought out, with simple (definable) goals.
Q: Did you face any fraud cases? How do you deal with fraud in general?
We’ve been very fortunate so far. The beauty with incorporating Stripe (our payment gateway) is that they really do most the heavy lifting there and in general, it’s not something I have to worry about.
We sell products. Replaceable products. If someone really wants to put time and effort into scamming us out of a few pieces of art…. I’m flattered. The only thing I every would worry about would be the person who may have their identity stolen.
Q: What lessons did you learn from selling online?
Selling online makes it possible to live where you want, do what you want, and be who you want. It’s so much more responsive than selling in a traditional ‘brick and mortar” environment, but it still takes time!
Try to incorporate A/B testing wherever possible, you may be making mistakes or hurting your business in ways you didn’t know. Obsess over data, BUT recognize that how many followers you have doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t convert them to paying customers.
Q: What tips would you give to someone who is about to launch his / her online store?
This might defy conventional wisdom, but if have a product ready and website ready to go and you failed to generate community BEFORE launching the product, I would wait.
My most successful projects had 4 months or more of “coming soon” prep work. I used launchrock.com to set up a splash page that captured emails of people who were interested. Why? So I would have a hustling, bustling community from day one. The “hype” around launching a product amplifies like nothing else I have had experience with.
Honestly, the shopping cart you use is all up to personal preference. We are fortunate to live in a time where there are SO MANY great tools to choose from.
I’ve used Shopify, Square, PayPal, FreshBooks, Shop, Big Cartel, and others. Honestly, it doesn’t matter which one you pick. Just pick one you think suits your needs, read a couple reviews, and GET STARTED!
Photos credit, TEKSTartist, Jason Markow