In May 2017 I gave a talk at TDWI Leadership Summit in Chicago. The general message I was trying to convey was that businesses operate as ecosystems and public API platforms play a crucial role in ecosystem leadership.
It is possible today to build a startup with a very negligible up-front investment. This startup can deliver an existing product or service in innovative new ways by building upon established ecosystems.
In preparation for my presentation, I wanted to talk to a startup leader about ecosystems they rely on and intend to create. Anthony Brovchenko and Aneta Vayradyan are founders of R. Culturi – a startup that hopes to deliver authentic artwork in the form of scarves, ties and pocket squares. I happen to own a tie and a pocket square from them.
I sat down with Anthony for a conversation over a glass of whiskey:
Oleg Dulin: Scarves, ties and pocket squares are not new products. In what ways are r.culturi products innovative?
Anthony Brovchenko: You’re right, they aren’t. In fact, most pocket squares, ties, and scarves tend to look more or less the same. Major manufacturers in Europe and Asia have design teams in-house producing seasonal patterns and prints, which brands license from them. While the designs fulfill their purpose and the accessories are well-made, there isn’t anything imaginative behind the whole process.
R. Culturi stands apart because living artists from around the world create all of our designs. In this way, what you are purchasing is an original art print turned into a fashion accessory. There is much more depth behind each design, and we try to connect the customer with the artist so that each product takes on a personal meaning rather than being just another tie, pocket square, or scarf in the closet.
Oleg Dulin: What ecosystems does r.culturi rely on today to build a business? How do you accept and make payments, for example? How do you deliver your orders to your manufacturer? What shipping and packaging ecosystem do you rely on?
Anthony Brovchenko: Quite a few. The backbone of our e-commerce business is Shopify, which seamlessly integrates with Stripe, PayPal, and Amazon payment gateways. Via Shopify, we can also track what channels (Facebook, Instagram, Email, Direct, Referral, etc.) traffic arrived at our website from, which makes it easy to see what part of our marketing effort is yielding the best results. Even ten years ago, having this type of functionality would require a custom-built website costing thousands of dollars up-front in addition to continual upkeep and administration. Now e-commerce platforms allow small shops to launch in a matter of weeks with an investment of no more than $400/year.
We also utilize the Amazon marketplace, which allows us to list and sell our products while Amazon handles payments and fulfillment. Obviously, the Amazon marketplace is one of the biggest ecosystems in the world, marching millions of buyers with products that are relevant to them and handling the transaction every step of the way. Both customers and sellers are incentivized to utilize the platform for both its scope and easy-of-use.
The popularity and infrastructure of third-party fulfillment have grown exponentially over the past several years, and this is a service we plan to utilize for both our domestic and international shipments as our business grows. For example, all of our products are produced in Italy. Instead of importing them to the United States, paying customs, and then incurring shipping fees when mailing goods to customers back in Europe, we could have our products shipped to a fulfillment center straight from our manufacturer. They would check the products for defects, package them, label them, and send them directly to our customers when orders come through. The process becomes much more streamlined and efficient, in turn saving us (and our clients) money. Because fulfillment centers handle thousands of shipments per day, they have negotiated discounted rates from major carriers, which get passed on to their customers and, in turn, to their clients’ customers.
Also, social media platforms play a significant role in our business. Most of our grassroots marketing happens on Facebook and Instagram, either via paid advertising or regular social interaction with users. We benefit from using social media because we can see in practically real-time how people react to our products and message as well as having access to demographic information based on the people interacting with our content. Consumers benefit because they can interact directly with brands and content, making it a much more personal experience. I feel that this is a major reason why big-brand retailers have been doing so poorly lately. Consumers don’t want to give their money to faceless entities. They want to buy from people or companies that they know and trust. Social media allows for genuine relationship building from both sides.
Crowdfunding has been hugely disruptive in how physical products are sold. A business can now produce a sample product and ask its customers if they are interested. If enough people want the product and commit to purchasing it, the business can then manufacture exactly the right amount of units using the funds it’s already received. There is no waste, no investment in inventory, no forecasting, and no uncertainty. Platforms like Indigogo and Kickstarter were pioneers in this approach, but now there are tools available for brands to crowdfund products directly from their websites.
Oleg Dulin: What ecosystem does r.culturi intend to build and become a leader?
Anthony Brovchenko: Our intention is to grow into a robust platform that connects artists and consumers interested in menswear and womenswear. We want to be a digital gallery selling curated, wearable art. This way, we can not only offer a unique product but also provide exposure for talented individuals from all corners of the world. Achieving this means leveraging all of the resources and other ecosystems mentioned earlier in an optimal way to increase value for customers and facilitate a great user experience.