TV Shows like Shark Tank, and success stories from the Silicon Valley had reaffirmed our beliefs in American capitalism. Our entrepreneurial spirit is at all time high, and boy, it’s time to start that website, phone app, and online store to bring your idea to life. I did something similar a year and a half ago. Today, Wizardry Foundry is one of the top makers of premium card storage for Magic: the Gathering. I am going to share the story of Wizardry Foundry in this post, and will dive into some specific topics in eCommerce business over the next few weeks as well.
April, 2014, I was leisurely organizing my Magic collection with the off-the-shelf cardboard tube boxes. Even though I had been collecting Magic since I was 12, my collection didn’t really start to expand in size and value until recently (I got a good paying job, and I could afford to buy more cards). It dawned on me that it was absolutely ridiculous for me to sort and stow away my thousand-dollars collection in those silly cardboard tubes. Just as all entrepreneurs would say, “There must be a better way”, I pulled out my Moleskin notebook and sketched the first Grimoire concept – A box that makes collectors feel like a wizard.
The business opportunity might seem silly to outsiders, but it made perfect sense to a unique niche market like Magic: the Gathering. I did a lot of thinking about this business, and here were some of the notes:
The average value for a collection is about $5,000 – $6,000
Average players spend about $1500 to $2000 a year buying new cards
There is really only one player in the game storage – Ultra Pro, and it has been around for 20+ years, and it is currently making millions of dollars making plastic boxes.
There has been a huge gap in the market – there are storage for decks but there has never been a commercially viable, non-custom made large size deck box that can store up to 1,000 cards
The game format cube or battle box was gaining popularity and those game required decks that had more than 100 cards.
Those observation suggests that high end gaming box is a niche vanity market. Traditional business thinking would make any sense because there was no price to vanity – simply ask the question “why would someone spend $2,000 dollar a year on pieces of paper?”. The race was on to bring an artisan box to the market. The strategy was dead simple to me:
To make a box to hold 1,000 cards – there was not a single box that holds that many cards.
To design a family of them with different artwork so people would buy more of them.
To produce the deck box at reasonable cost so we could price it perfectly between $25 bucks (the time master series box) and $120 bucks (cube vault).
End of April, 2014, I setup my social media accounts, and boy, was I ready to bring this to the world.
“What is the name for the product?”, Yasu asked.
“Hrmmm, I didn’t think that far ahead.”, I said.
Yasu, my trusted friend and marketing expert, was just about to make our first announcement on Facebook, and we didn’t even have the name for my deck box.
“It looks like spellbook.”, I said.
“Ok… hrmm… call it Grimoire?”, Yasu asked
There! That was how the brand Grimoire was born. We had no inventory in hand, not even a factory selected yet, and we made our first post about the Grimoire Deck Box. The post was in the aether of the net for two days, and there was nothing. Yasu turned on the paid traffic ads and we started to receive massive number of hits. We made our first $10,000 dollars in less than 30 days and it was such a morale boost.
As usual, Murphy’s law got us, and our first production lot was delayed due to some quality issue with the lot. We had booked over $15,000 dollars worth of orders at that point. Some customers were patient with us but some were simply angry toward us. What could a software geek like me who knew nothing about eCommerce operation and manufacturing do at this point? I hired up and doubled down on my investment – I got extra customer service staff to man the email inquiries. I was sending weekly update to make sure my customers and I were connected. 30 days later, the first Grimoire was shipped and everyone was happy.
By then, I was already designing for the second edition design, and we started accept pre-order right when we started to ship the Alpha Edition. I believe my fans would treat the Grimoire as a collectible product, and the introduction of the Beta Edition was simply a test of my theory.
Let’s just say that the test was a success (the order volume was not even close to the Alpha Edition), and around 20% of the customer came back and bought from us again. What could be better than repeat businesses. From that point, we shipped the Beta Edition around Oct, and started to accept pre-orders for the 3rd Edition in Nov. We did a holiday sales on pre-order item. That was something….
Feb 2015, we shipped the 3rd Edition, and I had decided to challenge my competition. I noticed there were a few players creating deck boxes that hold 2-3 decks. The goal was to create a box which players could store everything they need for a game outing, a grab-and-go deck box. I decided to create the Grimoire Pro Tour line of product. It was a battle tested design – I was going to a lot of tournament so I pretty much built a box for my own tournament use. This time, I also did our pre-order a little differently. I created a whole new Kickstarter Campaign for this product!
The campaign raised over $10,000 in 30 days, and it was the most popular Magic deck box campaign till that day. I gotten praises and hate throughout the campaign, some of which were definitely constructive but some of them were just plain mean (learn to have a thick skin folks). The Kickstarter campaign was the launch pad for 2 more Pro Tour releases (Beta and 3rd Edition). Right after that, I also released a brand green themed product to create more options for my fans.
Wizardry Foundry was a fun experiment that made me over $100k so far. I could safely conclude that it was successful because the nature of the vanity niche market made it very straight forward to enter. While the market was straight forward to enter, it was also risky because there was no other customer segments other than magic player for me to pivot. For that, I was very grateful for the support from my gaming community.
Do you have a product you want to launch? What is the nature of the market? Is it general or Niche?
It is 4am in the morning. You have gotten the sample for your first production run. Everything is going smoothly, and you are about to launch your first online store to start selling your product. What marketplace or online store software should you use? There are so many of them out there — Shopify, Amazon, Etsy, etc. I will share my experience and discuss the difference between Etsy and Amazon.
List a Product
To start, you have to list a product into the store before you can start selling. Since Amazon might be a more mature / older platform, they have massive amount of fields to describe almost any products. Some of which can be very redundant as well. Etsy seems to be way more simple and you can list a product with just title, description, price and photo.
Things on Amazon listing process that really stuck out like a sore thumb:
You have to have UPC number for your product in order to be listed
Update takes about 30–45 minutes to propagate
Your listing will show that you are “one of the vendor” who sells the product while you might be the “only” one selling the product
Checkout and Payment
One might argue that Amazon has a better checkout experience because it has stored almost everyone’s credit card information on there. While Etsy definitely does not have that setup for their shoppers, I don’t think this is necessarily a deal breaker for Etsy. Pre-storing credit card information is great for frequent and repeat purchase. If you are buying a lot of things over and over from the same source, it really makes sense if the store can store your information for you. Etsy tends to attract new vendors with unique products that warrant a single purchase, the ability to store credit card number is not exactly needed. Also, most products are unique and tend to be on the expensive side in Etsy, not having the credit number stored should be the last road block for your customer’s buying decision.
Built in Advertising
Both Amazon and Etsy have built-in advertising support to help you sell more product. Etsy advertising product is CPM based so you have to bid on a per impression basis. On the other hand, Amazon offer a CPC based advertising product where you only pay for clicks to your product. Both products have their own pros and cons, and it’s very hard to tell whether one is better than the other without experimentation. Based on my experience at Wizardry Foundry, I have way better luck with Amazon CPC. That could have been because my product is in a special niche and it’s not really that competitive.
If you have to ask me to pick my favorite eCommerce platform, I am going to have to pick Amazon. While Etsy is a solid platform for selling craft goods, Amazon has way bigger reach and the CPC is pretty effective. I saw way more sales coming from Amazon than from Etsy. I highly recommend you try all the channel until you have found the right one for your product! You never know which one will be more optimized for your vertical.