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Crowd Pleaser

Anh-Minh Le | June 24, 2016 | Style & Beauty Story Style National

In 2008, Stanford MBA Mariam Naficy founded Minted with a then-novel idea: rely on crowdsourcing for the stationery designs that the online marketplace offered. The company has since expanded to sell wall art, textiles and home decor—all still decided by votes from the public—and Minted recently acquired Guildery, which specializes in customized home goods. Naficy spoke with us about pivoting her business, design trends and more.

How did you develop the idea for Minted?
I was influenced by seeing how bloggers were revolutionizing media—fresh voices were emerging that were becoming as influential as writers in the bigger, traditional media companies—and I believed that the same thing might happen with product design. I wasn’t completely sure, though, so I launched with a hybrid idea for Minted to sell mostly established stationery brands along with a few crowdsourced products from one competition. However, when we first launched, we saw almost no sales—save for a few orders each week for the crowdsourced products. We took a risk, pivoted the entire business and discontinued carrying the established brands, and rebuilt the company around crowdsourced design from independent artists.

Why do you think the model works?
The crowdsourcing model is fundamentally successful because of meritocracy. It levels the playing field to ensure that irrelevant factors such as education, wealth and connections do not stand in the way of the best work and the best artists finding their way into the market. Crowd-based curation also ensures that the best work surfaces to the top. We select assortment largely based on crowd votes and analytics. We often attract over 1 million votes per design challenge, which gives us a lot of data to work with.

How do you decide on new products to offer?
We get a lot of our best ideas from customers and friends, including bloggers and editors. When evaluating a new category, some of the questions I ask are: Would this category benefit from improved design? Will the crowdsourcing model create sustainable competitive advantage in this category? Is this a category that our current customer base would be interested in buying from Minted?

Any home design trends that you’re noticing?
The interiors market is moving toward customization and hyperpersonalization. Consumers are seeking creative independence when designing their homes. Our home decor line, because it is configurable, launched with 40,000 SKUs and has since expanded to over 80,000 unique products.

Originally published in the May issue of Silicon Valley

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