Five With: Ross Petersen, CEO, Co-Founder, Blitsy
Ross Petersen knows the crafting business. After selling his first startup to Michaels and being brought in-house by the company, he became frustrated by the fact that the big dog in the industry sold exactly zero products online, relying on only brick and mortar stores to bring in $4.6 billion last year alone.
As an astounding $30 billion market with over 60 million crafters in just the US, Ross knew there was huge untapped potential to capture online shoppers worldwide. So in 2011, Ross, his twin brother Ryan, and sister Katy launched Blitsy, a creative e-commerce company that provides curated selections of arts and craft supplies at a discount, making it easy to find and receive deals that are delivered to your front door.
And three years later, their experiment has been wildly successful. Blitsy has a rabid following, with users who have ordered hundreds of shipments, high engagement with nearly 500,000 Facebook fans to date, and habitual shoppers, with 90% of five-time buyers likely to buy again. We talked to Ross about what makes Blitsy special, how they’re evolving to adapt to new e-commerce practices, and where there’s opportunity for a tech company in a traditionally non-tech industry.
1) Why did you start Blitsy?
Most arts and craft supply sales happen offline. It’s a huge industry, estimated at $30B, and the industry-leading big box retailer sold $4.6B last year, zero dollars of which came from online sales of craft supplies.
Besides these staggering facts alone, crafting is in my blood as I was first introduced to the industry in the early 90s by my father, his brother, my crafty sisters and my tech-savvy twin brother who initially launched Blitsy as a means to help craft suppliers sell more effectively online. We sold our last company, a SaaS platform built for craft retailers to Michaels Stores in 2010 and felt like there was a much larger opportunity within reach. Blitsy is proving that the large opportunity exists.
2) What does Blitsy do that the other guys don’t?
We provide a curated list of arts and crafts supplies at a discount and make it easy to shop online for the same items you’d find at a big box retailer, and more. We’re about to launch the first arts and crafts mobile app that truly makes it easier to buy online, and while our existing site is already responsive to mobile shopping, we will be able to provide hyper-curated and highly personalized offerings.
We also pride ourselves on delivering unique, creative content everyday to our members. This could entail inspiration for their next project, or giveaways and contests that bring excitement and social interaction with our crafty team. To put it simply, we’re providing unbeatable offers on products that our members may not be able to find all in one place elsewhere, including Amazon, and combining those offers with content, community engagement and exceptional customer service.
3) How has Blitsy evolved since it started?
We initially focused on papercrafting and scrapbooking promotions and have evolved into selling products from every arts and crafts category. This has resulted in larger orders than when we first got started and has allowed us to grow our team from 4 to ~ 25 people at this time. We’ve also been developing proprietary technology that allows us to streamline our operation and cater to all of the various use-cases that arise in a unique e-commerce business.
We also have a heavy focus on content and have built out a video studio to support more in-house inspiration and are actively introducing new ways to engage our audience. I’d suggest you look up “Blitsy Haul Videos” which took on legs of its own without the need of much support from team Blitsy as our members naturally started filming their purchases and promoting their own YouTube channels. Or check out what we just started doing internally via our YouTube channel and search for our “Stash Crashers” episodes where we randomly choose a member’s order from our warehouse and envision what projects we’d do with their “haul” and provide them with random shopping credit as a way to thank our members for their loyalty.
4) What ecommerce trends are you seeing that you’ll need to adapt to?
Beyond creating mobile applications to better support our mutual communication with customers and fostering an easier way to shop online, we will continue to leverage the primary social media channels that everyone knows about, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. These channels are now trying to figure out their own e-commerce strategies and as they face less competition we anticipate the cost to advertise on these platforms will go up.
This creates a higher barrier of entry for e-commerce startups who will have to figure out ways to grow fast organically or else pay a premium for an initial proof-of-concept audience. While we will continue to follow outside trends and will always utilize 3rd party social media platforms to foster engagement, we’re extremely focused on delivering an experience worth coming back to directly on our own domain.
5) What are the biggest challenges you face as a startup CEO?
Any startup CEO faces many headwinds that more established or perhaps better funded companies may not have to deal with; however, being an early-stage startup enables us to react quickly and provide solutions to challenges that more established companies may struggle with due to having multiple layers of management or greater internal complications.
Startups are usually dealing with limited resources which requires creative solutions that are often unproven and create “do or die” situations. With the high rate of startup failure, the biggest challenges we face are usually coming from mismanagement of capital or people, or both. When proper expectations are set and everyone in the startup realizes that a big idea may result in a marathon that consists of many sprints vs. instant success, it’s easier to keep team members in a startup aligned and moving in the same direction.