We're contuning today with another expert interview in the area of social commerce. Today's spotlight features Sean of Wanelo.
Sean Flannagan is VP Product at Wanelo. Sean has been working in ecommerce for almost a decade, and spent a few years at Etsy prior to Wanelo. He blogs about product design and marketplaces on his personal blog Deeplinking, and shares links on those topics on Quibb. You can also follow him on Twitter at @seanflannagan.
What are you working on? What does your role entail?
Wanelo is a catalog of products organized by people. Members post products that they think are worth sharing, and those products get bought, saved, collected, tagged, and sent to friends by other members. It's growing very fast and is addictive to both build and use, and to read what members have to say about it.
I joined in May of this year and we immediately set out to rewrite, redesign, rebuild, rebrand, and relaunch the service. That relaunch happened in late June, and since then we've managed to grow the value of the product and all the key numbers, and launch an iOS app that's been climbing the charts (#8 in Lifestyle and #66 overall at the moment, not that I'm checking constantly or anything). We're about to launch a version for Android.
My role entails a lot of prioritizing, analyzing, designing, writing, making, refining, guiding, testing, editing, synthesizing, hiring (world-class product designers wanted!), and engaging in heated debates with Deena, the founder.
What are your favorite tech/startup news sites & blogs?
I still find Hacker News to be the best filter for what's going on out there, though it's not as good as it used to be. AVC is an old standby. Chris Dixon's blog is always worth your time. Platformed is a recent entrant I've been giving a chance. And I'm getting sucked into Quibb!
What is the most innovative company right now in the social commerce space?
A lot of the notable commerce startups that come to mind are working on making selling incredibly easy, like Gumroad, Ribbon, and ShopLocket. They're built to allow people to use existing networks (like Facebook and Twitter) to sell, which is great for some sellers. I like the simplicity they're aiming for.
There are actually a lot of people doing interesting things around commerce, but I honestly look more toward non-commerce services for guidance right now. At Wanelo, we've learned more from Instagram and Tumblr than any commerce site.
Many commerce sites set out to "add a social layer" and the result is inauthentic and ineffective. But that "social part" — enabling real discovery and growing the kind of community where transactions can flourish — is a lot more challenging than facilitating transactions in some ways. At the same time, non-commerce networks often have a hard time when it comes time to make money. Maybe the ideal scenario is a commerce-oriented network that focuses on the social aspect first?
You spent a few years at Etsy - what did you learn there that you've been able to apply at Wanelo? What hasn't been applicable?
I learned a ton about product design and development at Etsy, as well as community management, as well as Greek, beer-brewing, dog breeds and craft techniques :) Many of the things we try and do at Wanelo — designing in code, iterating quickly, experimenting continuously, pushing to production frequently, making use of feature flags, questioning assumptions, being open and communicative with members — are things that became ingrained in me at Etsy.
The main difference between the two experiences is that Etsy is a much larger company than Wanelo, and with large companies quite a lot of energy becomes focused internally rather than externally. When a company is small enough for everyone to fit comfortably in the same room, and you're all racing in the same direction and staring at the same numbers, different dynamics apply. You "do" more than talk. Some of the things I learned at Etsy about getting things done at a large company are not applicable at Wanelo (yet).
Social products are built on networks - friends (Facebook), close friends (Path), professional colleagues (LiinkedIn), etc. Do networks exist for social commerce? How are they different and/or similar?
Commerce-oriented social networks exist — I helped build one at Etsy — but I think they have a long way to go. Many of the existing ones are populated largely by sellers. Unlike the examples you mention, there are usually two distinct roles in commerce-oriented networks: sellers and buyers. Sellers are often much more motivated and engaged, because they're making money and have more of themselves invested in the system. The buyer perspective gets drowned out, which is one of the core deficiencies I find in a lot of marketplaces today.
A good, robust network populated by buyers that enables commerce and is untainted by spamminess is not easy to build. (But it's a lot of fun to try :)
What do you see as the key benefits of social shopping, from the perspectives of both shoppers and merchants?
I think the act of shopping for the kind of unique or unusual products that people feel are worth sharing is so inherently social that qualifying it with "social" feels weird. It's like saying talking is social. People are the best path to these products, because they aren't things you search for specifically. When people discover these products, they share them with other people. And the internet is enabling this at a grand scale.
A platform for this kind of shopping gets out of the way of the users, and doesn't talk down to them with heavy-handed merchandising or intricate product taxonomies. It's about helping people help each other out (whether they're conscious of it or not), and letting the good things happen.
From the shopper's perspective, the benefit of this kind of platform is in the thrill of discovery, and the sharing of those discoveries, which is addictive and life-enhancing.
From the merchant's perspective, the benefit is sales, and the opportunity to engage with customers as peers. Many of the merchants behind these products really don't have the time, budget or expertise to fully figure out marketing on this conversational medium we use called the internet. Their energy goes into making the cool things that they sell.
Luckily for everyone, it's easier than ever to discover and sell these things.