What does Ethik do?
Ethik connects Artisan cooperatives worldwide with conscious companies. So much of the value created by artisans is taken up by middlemen. When we looked at the problems that artisans were facing in developing countries they were assuming a lot of entrepreneurial risk. You have to go buy all the raw materials and build the products and then you go out and try to sell it. From a regional perspective, we’ve seen a lot of cooperatives that have stood up and started making really beautiful products and they pay a good wage. They help their artisans be able to financially plan better, but they don’t really have a marketplace for large orders and a lot of them get stuck just selling to an e-commerce brand who repurposes their product and ships it off. What we wanted to do is match them with wholesale buyers or gifters, where they could purchase a larger order up front–it would give the artisan cooperative a longer than normal contract for their work and reduce inventory risk. And for us, what our clients really like about our product is that it allows them to match either the products they offer or their corporate gifting with their stated impact goals. All of the companies we work with and increasingly more companies have specific impact goals that they want to reach.
What’s different about marketing and selling ethically-sourced goods vs. other types of products/services?
It’s more story driven than a lot of other products. Also- we have to be clear that when you’re working with artisans you’re getting handmade products and that doesn’t work the same way it does when you’re working with manufacturers. It needs a longer timeline and a different quality control schedule to make sure that there is consistency in the product and so with that we really have to be early in the planning cycle when marketing. What we do to market that well is keep a lot of samples on hand and we share those with clients early and help them plan six to nine months in advance versus the usual two to three months they’re used to with manufacturers.
Are you currently more focused on acquiring new customers or growing engagement of existing customers? What are you specifically focused on?
We were fortunate to have a few lighthouse customers when we started who ordered a lot with us, but the concern there is that a lot of our revenue is concentrated with them. What we got from that is that we were able to self-fund for the first for the first year, and we could build out new product verticals focused on clients outside of our core lighthouse cluster. What’s good for that one client might not be the most generalizable product though, and the messaging that works for growing those accounts might not be the best approach for getting our overall brand out there and so the way we’re marketing with our existing client base is very different from our how we’re marketing to new clients. For our existing clients we’re helping them with new product development. Getting in early, demonstrating the value of the product, using previous year’s data to how quickly it sells through. That last part is primarily for our wholesale clients. With our new clients we’re still trying to figure out the best messaging. Our current method is finding companies with stated impact goals and then reaching out to them with a proposal of what they could potentially do based on based on what their company’s Foundation or charitable arm is already doing.
How does your work contribute to building trust with customers, in order to persuade them to place orders with Ethik?
Great question. Since we’re a marketplace we have two unique sets of customers. We have to provide a seamless experience for artisan groups to get their products onto our platform and find ways to consistently generate orders for them in order to help them grow. We only win if they’re winning and we become a stable source of revenue for them. Also- given that artisan labor is so heavily exploited by middlemen we’ve taken on the mantra (borrowed and tweaked slightly from Atlassian) of “Don’t Screw the Artisan.” To us that means giving steady work to the cooperatives on our platform without becoming unrealistic about timelines for handmade goods. The last thing we want is for artisans to be working around the clock to fulfill an order because we didn’t protect their value enough when we were marketing this to our clients. On the purchaser side of the platform we’re able to succeed if and only if the story and message of handmade artisan goods resonates with them. Part of our mission is to show that companies can have an impact through their purchasing channels, not just their charitable work, so we commission impact analyses on our artisan cooperatives to show that not only are they making great products, but that there is a job creation component that is greater than a simple lump sum charitable contribution. We’re investing in capacity building and skills training with each of our groups. That’s also a message we freely share with our clients to use with their own marketing material because they’re playing a huge part in providing these artisans steady fairtrade employment.
How does personalization give Ethik a marketing edge in meeting customer needs? Give one example of how this is done via outbound marketing or in-product experience.
We’re early in the development of the in-product experience but we’ve spent considerable time personalizing our product offering for each client. We do this by matching them with specific artisan groups that match with the client’s stated impact goals. For example, if you’re a CPG company that sources from a certain region in the world, we can help identify artisan groups in the towns where you’re already buying product and so your gifting can align with and further develop that region. If your goal is more specific to a type of impact, female entrepreneurship for example, we can match you to an artisan group that fits those criteria and helps your company tell the story. In outbound marketing this is done through personalizing our outreach. We research before each call so we know the causes a company is working with and how we can specifically augment them. Our in-product experience is in development but will eventually include a self-service channel where our clients can assemble gift baskets based on a specific impact goal.
What is your favorite marketing channel or platform, and why? E.g. out-of-home, organic search, email, TV, etc.
I come from an Enterprise sales background and so I have some biases I’ve had to overcome. In my past life everything was high-touch/white-glove with our clients, and that’s served us well so far at Ethik but we really need to move past that to reach a broader audience. What we have that’s truly special is the individual artisan stories. I’ve been overwhelmed the past year learning the stories of some of the women we’ve worked with whether they’re making ornaments in Uganda, jewelry in the Navajo Nation, or ceramics in Vietnam- the personal component is just incredible. We need to to get that story out there and the enterprise sales approach isn’t the best way to do that so we’ve hired a content marketer and begun opening up our social media channels to start using some of the content we’ve already generated. You’ll see more from us in the coming months on this.
What’s the largest single marketing initiative (spend, audience-size, etc.) you’ve participated in and what lessons did you learn from it?
I was a Dropbox in the early in the early days working on the first enterprise sales team. The difficulty of selling a consumer product propagated through a company by shadow IT is that when you speak to a decision maker about how wonderful your product is since it’s already been adopted by so many accounts on their domain it almost always turned into a hostage negotiation. CIOs and CISOs would threaten to block us at the firewall or would demand a list of usernames. It wasn’t a very fruitful exercise. This changed when my team began working with a cross functional group from product management, data science, and legal to begin to surface our best accounts. These were accounts where not only were there a lot of users, but there was a strong degree of connectivity between these users through shared folders. We called this “Project Gopher.” Once we surfaced these accounts we reached out to decision makers at these companies and showed visuals of the collaboration going on within their company using Dropbox. We did this using a domain tool that could look up a domain and show a neural network of users, both free and paid, using Dropbox with lines between users that had a shared folder connection. It was tremendously powerful. It eventually evolved to show the amount of external collaboration at the company. This eventually became the basis for all of the enterprise sales pitches at Dropbox and made for much more persuasive and productive meetings with decision makers.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career so far?
It’s hard to say but if I had to pick just one example from Ethik I would have to say it’s been my experience with the Holyland Handcraft Cooperative in Bethlehem. Right after we started Ethik we had a small order of olive wood spoons from Palestine and our client asked us to gather some video and photography to showcase the artisans so my wife and I flew to Palestine in February of 2020 (did not know then that it would be my last time on a plane for a while). We had a lovely time and were immediately embraced by the group there. Our first night in town we were invited to an Orthodox wedding and stayed out til the early morning dancing and singing with our news friends. The next few days we spent learning their operation, from where they source their olive wood, to the individual homes of the artisans who hand carve each piece. Hearing their stories was beautiful and how the tradition of handcraft remained strong in their community. It wasn’t a large order initially for us, but when we returned home we were able to grow the relationship and close several large orders with the cooperative for the holiday season and in the process becoming their largest customer. I’m most happy each time we send them an international wire because I’ve been in the homes where that money is going. It gives me joy each time I think of it.
What are you most looking forward to?
I’m incredibly excited about the next year of growth. Our team is just the best. Each person is bringing in a unique skillset and we’re at a really fun stage in our growth. We’ll continue to onboard wholesale clients, but what I’m really excited about in 2021 and beyond is our long-tail offering. We’re building the functionality in the product to order much lower quantities of some of our more popular items and with this we hope to make artisan handcraft available for small and medium sized businesses, not just large enterprises.