LoveCrafts is a business that aims to bring everything that a crafter might need under one online roof.
My fellow co-founder Edward Griffith started the business in 2012 after watching his girlfriend struggle to find crafting supplies and inspiring patterns online. Our sites, Loveknitting.com and Lovecrochet.com are sociable, inspiring and well-stocked craft sites.
There are more than 850 million people actively crafting in the world but there isn’t a go-to online destination for them, like there is for travellers in Expedia or Trip Advisor. Craft is a huge market, with people spending about $100bn a year, but craft suppliers had been left behind by the online world. Perhaps part of the reason is that crafting and tech seem at odds with each other – one requires traditional skills and reflects past habits and cultures, the other is distinctly fast-moving and forward-looking. Well that wasn’t a barrier to us.
Initially Edward took an office, hired a small team and launched a website with the goal of bringing global craft brands together. It grew very quickly and he got in touch with me and our fellow co-founder Nigel Whiteoak. We had been at university together, worked at The Boston Consulting Group and then we’d all gone on to a variety of entrepreneurial tech things. Edward ‘got the band back together’ and we developed a clear vision that LoveCrafts was going to be a global, multi-craft start-up, with a social commerce angle and native brands.
Our mix of skills and experience works really well. I had been an early employee at fashion retailer boo.com and at 26, I was the Strategy Director at Computacenter Plc and then moved into managing one of its operating divisions, which I grew to £250m of turnover. I have good commercial and general management experience, which is why I lead finance and retail. Nigel is an extraordinary digital marketer with deep ecommerce experience from eBay and Expedia so he leads marketing and private label. And Edward is a true visionary, and most recently led the build of a social network for teachers where so far over one billion lesson plans have already been shared. So he leads on tech and product management. As a team, we have such different, but complementary skills and approaches.
The importance of listening
One of the first things we wanted to do was to bring experienced crafters together so that we could hear what they had to say. Listening to our community has been the single most effective tool for deciding how to develop our business. Lots of the things that we have done have been prompted by our customers including creating a marketplace for independent designers to sell their patterns. It was a great idea and is one of the things that we are most proud of. We now have thousands of designers selling through our marketplace and about 300,000 patterns are downloaded every month.
A disruptive social commerce business
LoveCrafts deliberately mixes traditional arts with the digital age. We’re a genuinely disruptive social commerce business. We have created a social network built for crafters, underpinned by an e-commerce platform. So you can find inspiration, share your projects and follow other makers and designers and at the same time you can also buy all the supplies you need. We have two in-house yarn brands selling direct-to-consumer, and more in development. Eventually, we expect a third of our revenues to come from own brand products.
Crafters are very social people. Even before we rolled out our community tools, we had people sending us photographs of what they’d made or posting pictures on our Facebook page. If you put so much of your time and soul into making something, you’re proud of it and want to show other people. The demand was there for a social network function for crafters and we’ve met it.
So far, we’ve shipped a billion yards of wool and fulfilled over a million orders. The secret in building a business fast is to combine the big picture vision, while also managing the detail. There are so many details to get right and so many small levers for developing the business and making it really effective, but you can’t lose sight of the vision. Get 10 or 20 of those small commercial levers right and you can propel the business onto a different level.
We are now headquartered in London’s Soho with just over 100 staff and another 20 in our new office in Kiev and we also have operations centres in Manchester and Missouri. We’ve been able to attract the most incredible talent into the business, possibly because the interplay between tech and craft is so new, and because across the crafting spectrum there is something appealing for everyone. It’s also why we have an unusually high mix of women. Encouraging women into the business was important, but above all we wanted people who share our cultural goals of being smart, kind and creative.
The biggest challenge is choice
Our biggest challenge is deciding what to do next. We picked knitting and crochet as our first two crafts but we want to start sites for sewing, cake decorating, tech craft and jewellery making, to name a few. We also need to decide which geographies and languages we will target next. Equally we could develop more tools for our existing communities or enhance the e-commerce offering. There is so much opportunity to go after, the biggest point of friction is deciding what goes first on the roadmap.