Tristan Pollock, co-founder of Storefront, shares his experiences with on-demand retail and event space, like a boss!
Storefront helps brands, designers and artists open brick-and-mortar retail experiences by connecting them to beautiful local spaces. https://www.thestorefront.com
For more information about Tristan Pollock, CLICK HERE.
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Kevin: Hi. Welcome to The Crowd, a Podcast by Near Me. We’re talking about peer-to-peer marketplaces. We’re talking about collaborative economy and we’re talking about thought leadership. We’re talking about all these things, any and all of them with some of the best minds in the field. And of course, I’m your host, Kevin Cohen.
So this next interview is really exciting for me. Why? Well because I learned about a concept that I had no idea about. I didn’t even know this thing existed. So what is it? Well, it’s pretty cool. Tristan Pollock is the cofounder of Storefront. What is Storefront? Well, it’s actually a really unique concept. What they do is they create or facilitate pop-up shops. A pop-up shop is where they sublet unused retail space so that you can sell your goods or have an event inside that space. They take care of all the details so you as a retailer or a host can have your event and you don’t have to go and deal with all these leasing issues, the insurance issues, all the stuff that you normally will have to go through to rent a space. You can just sublet it through Storefront. Anyway, let’s jump into the interview. Tristan, how are you?
Tristan: Feeling great, Kevin.
Kevin: Tristan, you are a serial entrepreneur, a marketer. You’ve done a lot of things. Tell us a little about your journey to Storefront. How did you get there? What did you do before that?
Tristan: Yeah. So I spent a little bit of time in the retail e-commerce realm at BestBuy.com right out of school where I split my university between Fargo and Auckland in New Zealand. So I kind of got a nice realm of different ideas and started getting excited about the world around me and how businesses were doing interesting things to empower people. And so right about the time I was doing Best Buy, I met Erik, my cofounder at Storefront and also in SocialEarth and that was the startup we worked at before Storefront.
With SocialEarth, we created this media platform many compare to Huffington Post for social entrepreneurship; so news, resources, helping social entrepreneurs do really cool things. And through that experience and growing that for a few years, we came out of that with the – it was acquired by a larger media company in Boston who was looking to expand its network and we built one of the largest networks of social entrepreneurship news. And we wanted to find another way to empower people, empower business people that were looking to do great things in the world. So it kind of turned into the realm of creativity.
And at the same time, 1 in 10 stores was vacant in the US. And so we’re looking at all these stores sitting empty but there are millions of small businesses, creative entrepreneurs, artists and designers and emerging brands trying to get into these spaces and have more of a say in the urban dialogue in their city and at the same time meet customers, sell products, grow awareness of what they’re doing. And so we wanted to match those two. And so Storefront became a marketplace for short-term retail and we’re live in New York, San Francisco, LA and Chicago.
Kevin: Very cool. Are these essentially subleases, short-term subleases?
Tristan: Yeah. I mean so generally if you look at the legal contracts, there’ll be a license agreement. We’re even more frictionless than a sublease because you’re literally renting just that space. You don’t need all these extra rights and things like that because you’re generally going to be in there a weekend, a week, a month. So it’s very, very short term.
Tristan: And it just gives these companies the flexibility to move in and out of retail spaces throughout the city. It could be vacant. It could be an established boutique where you’re renting part of the space like a shop in shop. And it allows them to open pop-up shops and different retail experiences throughout the year without having to bring out a lot of risky high cost leases.
Kevin: But I assume that all of the expenses, electricity, utilities are included in that short-term rental. Is that correct?
Tristan: Most of the time, most of the time. Sometimes in vacant spaces, it depends.
Tristan: If they’re looking for three months, they’re probably going to be responsible for the utilities as well.
Tristan: But if they’re renting a space for a week or they’re going for a store in a store or gallery or something like that, it might be included. So what we’re really good at in Storefront is connecting the two parties and bringing all these types of short-term retail spaces that we’re already pre-vetted and available on the platform and then we rent them faster and easier.
Kevin: Great. Well, a little later in our conversation, we’ll go deep into the mechanics of Storefront but I just want to ask some more kind of personal questions and then we’ll jump back into the Storefront realm if that’s cool.
Tristan: Sounds good.
Kevin: What are your favorite marketplaces? What do you use on a daily basis? What do you think is cool? What do you think is fun? I like to hear what, where you like to play.
Tristan: Yeah. So I’ll do that by usage. So I’d say the top three most used marketplaces for me are Lyft, Postmates and Getaround.
Tristan: So as a person that doesn’t own a car and haven’t for the last five years, two of which were in San Francisco and then the three years prior was when I moved to Minneapolis where I grew up in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. And so, I mean Getaround and Lyft and that combination have been incredibly useful, incredibly easy. And I like them both for different things. Getaround, it’s easy to use, on demand or rentals. I can go take a weekend and go to Yosemite and I don’t need a car to do that.
Lyft for intercity transport and also I like the social component. I love what they’re doing for creating your commute and making it more social and you’re meeting people. I’ve met friends off Lyft. I’ve hired people off Lyft. So it’s a pretty great avenue to interact with people in the city where oftentimes even you think – in New York in the subways or maybe you’re riding Muni in SF and you’re probably not talking to people that much. And that’s probably another thing that could be innovated on with the public transportation commute. I think what Lyft is doing also with like Lyft Line and making affordable cost options for transport where you can also [engage]– the premise is to engage with the people you’re with.
Then obviously Postmates, I mean they’re great. They’re also an AngelPad company like Storefront is. And anything you need to get around town, they make courier system so much more efficient and easy. Most people probably use it to get food. I like to use it for more creative ideas like sending flowers to my girlfriend on our anniversary. And that’s been a really great experience as well and a great company coming out of a great accelerator.
Kevin: Very cool. So tell me about your experience at the accelerator?
Tristan: So in AngelPad, it’s a 10-week program. They bring in 12 companies oftentimes out of thousands of applications and you have a co-working space. So now, they’re splitting their time between San Francisco and New York. When we went through it, we were AP5, the fifth class. And it’s founded by a bunch by ex-Google folks led by Thomas Korte. And he basically brings you in and he looks through your business, sees what’s working, where to focus and then you build your [company] – you continue to build traction and build your picture for a demo at the end where you meet hundreds of – you pitch to hundreds of investors in one of the rooms. So it was definitely invaluable for us to go through that program.
We’re still very close with the other companies in that program. Some of the other ones were – other marketplaces in that company were UpCounsel which is on-demand legal services. That’s another service that I use quite frequently for our business and Kinek, one that helps small businesses procure large machinery or say like 10,000 beer bottles. There are quite a lot of breweries but they’re another marketplace based in New York.
Tristan: So any of these businesses, any of these [types of] marketplaces helping small businesses gets me excited.
Kevin: So let’s kind of now jump over to the marketplace landscape. In terms of marketplaces and as a cofounder of a marketplace and someone who’s been [in] an incubator with other marketplaces, what are the big trends that you’re following that are on your radar right now.
Tristan: Yeah. Obviously, I’m highly involved in the sharing economy. So Storefront’s unique like in the B2B side of the sharing economy. We’re helping businesses met other businesses and more effectively do business. Then you have the whole consumer side of it where – that’s where GetAround or Lyft comes in. So I think it’s a really interesting area. I mean the underlying premise for me is the communities they serve and how they’re helping communities become more tightknit. It’s almost reverse evolution, back to the same experiences we might have had in a small town 50 years ago where you have house calls by your doctor and you’re talking– you know [to] everyone in your neighborhood. I think that arguably with the rise of cities, 50 percent of the entire population living in urban areas right now, I think that is going to be the future. Like what are other ways that we can connect to each other and create relationships and meaningful connections?
And there could be – my go-to example is always like, what if I had a heart attack and I’m sitting in my apartment and I have to get an ambulance then go to the hospital? What if there’s a doctor a floor above me? And why don’t I know that? And why can’t that be a possibility to potentially save my life? So I think that’s a really compelling use case for how this kind of on-demand sharing economy movement is going. The same thing applies to Storefront where I may be shopping at big-box stores but now I’m online at Etsy. And why not give opportunity to that entity or seller to be able to sell their art or their craft in that vacant space down the block? Because they could live in my neighborhood and I might not even know and I’ve been trying to find the same sort of thing online. So it’s like I think [it’s] building that kind of local economy through some of these other movements. It’s really powerful.
Kevin: For sure. It’s interesting because I think about some of my wife’s spotting behavior. I mean she’s gone to jeans and purse parties in the last couple of years with friends. And it’s really fun because it’s a social event and it’s atypical of shopping. It’s fun. There’s music. There’s glass of wine. A bunch of girls get together and they go try on jeans and end up spending way too much money. But the cool thing about it is it usually occurs in someone’s home. But I think the thing for Storefront is if these jeans entrepreneurs where to have it in a Storefront, they could also have it in a much cooler environment and rent out a piece of property from you where maybe there’s a retail store that is closed or may have excess capacity. That would be an awesome customer for Storefront.
Tristan: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Like you have Chloe + Isabel, Stella & Dot, Trumaker. We have all these businesses that are basically empowering people to sell their products and grow their own business through that. And we’re also seeing them use Storefront that way where they can rent a very affordable space and host these events. And it’s a dual benefit for the space because they’re getting more foot traffic themselves. They’re getting more awareness of the space. They’re bringing these cool experiences and interacting more with their neighborhood.
And the person renting the space gets a lot of those same benefits. They’re getting sometimes – if it’s a boutique that’s already established, they’re getting some of that foot traffic as well and as well as bringing their own. And I believe the retail experience is about just that, the experience. How can we make it different? How can we make it engaging in a consistent basis? Because just throwing up four walls in this box shape and having products there you can buy isn’t really – you need something more than that. And that’s what we’re seeing today.
Kevin: Well then, it becomes an event rather than just a straight retail experience. And I think to your point, I think people are looking for new and different and they’re looking for connections and they’re looking for interesting people to do business with. So I think these are all elements that play into the marketplace revolution. And it’s just going to continue. In terms of Storefront, what’s going really well? What are kind of the highlights and wins that you guys have had in your short history?
Tristan: Yeah, yes. So Storefront has been around for about a year and a half. We’ve got a great team. We have about 20 people here in San Francisco working on, making us a solution that we can expand and help more creative people in more cities. And we’ve helped open over 1000 stores so far. So we’re incredibly excited about that. Those are 1000 stores that potentially wouldn’t have been able to happen without the Storefront marketplace. So continuing to help empower those creative entrepreneurs is always our main goal and what gets us the most excited.
To give you an idea of like who those people are, we’ve helped everyone from, on the large end, like a Nike or Kanye West opening up a store while he is on tour. To amazingly creative small businesses that are developing new types of technologies, wearable tech. One for example is Ministry of Supply and they do basic high performance business wear and they do that by – well, they communicate that in their in-person experience by having a heat gun and show you how like the clothes can distribute the heat and where it builds up in your body. And so like, you can’t point your laptop screen at yourself and do that. So those are like some of the interesting things we get to see every day.
Kevin: Wow. How cool! So what are some of the challenges you guys have faced being a young company dealing with obviously resource constraints? What are the big challenges you’ve had?
Tristan: Yeah. So with any marketplace, I mean there are a lot of ups and downs. Everyone says the start is a roller coaster. I mean I think a marketplace is like a Richter scale. You’re constantly trying to make sure supply matches demand and that’s – if you don’t have the right for us – it’s like if you don’t have the right spaces that are going to be in the right areas, then that hurts the people looking for those spaces and those opportunities. So you really have to constantly be paying attention and monitoring how do these people match. You’re the matchmaker as a marketplace business. And you need to make sure that you have the right dynamics.
And then everything is always changing when you’re an early stage company because you’re figuring things out, you’re testing things. And when you get to these learnings then you need to slightly tweak things as you go along. So that’s kind of always the challenge for us. How can we be the best matchmaker with the new data that we’re gathering? Because we have a year and a half of data of where people are renting space, what they’re using it for and what those spaces look like, the cost, the size of them, all sort of things like that. And so we’re just – and that makes us smarter about the types of inventory that we want to have on the site in order to make people successful when they do open a store.
Kevin: How do you acquire customers inside your marketplace? How do you acquire both, people looking to rent space and how do you acquire inventory of rentable space?
Tristan: Yeah. So on the space side [of] things, all those spaces are out there, right? Yelp lists all the boutiques and galleries. There are real estate listing sites that have vacant spaces listed. The problem is that a lot of those retail sites weren’t built for retail. They don’t have a lot of the information that’s necessary or helpful in making decisions. We’re also not getting them for short term. And so a lot of this is kind of going through and curating a little bit to make sure we have high foot traffic spaces in the best shopping areas in these cities.
On the demand side, we’re looking at Etsy, we’re looking at Shopify users. We’re forming partnerships like that. We’re going and attending craft fairs like Renegade and many other things, everything from community events and having speakers talk about their experience in opening a store to working with the press and telling our story and telling the story most importantly of our customers and how they’re utilizing vacant space or utilizing other types of spaces to grow their business. So we focus a lot on our customers and just tell those stories on either side.
Kevin: Right. Is social media a big part of your amplification strategy for driving your information about what you’re doing?
Tristan: I say our blog is. We do a lot with our blog. It’s blog.thestorefront.com. There, you can find information on how to do a lot of [the] parts in the process or introductions you may need. Maybe I need temporary retail staff for my store. Well, we have a post on that. Maybe I need – [or] wondering how to promote it and get more foot traffic, the same thing. So we put a lot of helpful information on there and then distribute that through our networks.
Kevin: So you do provide educational resources for your customers to help ensure their success it sounds like.
Tristan: Exactly. I mean we’re not going to be successful if our customers aren’t successful. And although what we’re best at is finding these spaces for people, we’re the one-stop shop to find any short-term retail space that’s available and curating those in the best areas and helping them rent them quicker and faster, we also want everyone to succeed. And sometimes, it may be their first time going into retail or maybe they’ve rented a booth at a market before but now they’re trying a store. So we want to make sure that everyone is best prepared as possible and thinking about all those things that they might run into coming into it.
Kevin: In terms of the short-term rentals, what are some of the cool viral marketing campaigns that you’ve seen around people opening up let’s say a weekend shop in a retail center? Have there been any that kind of pop in your mind?
Tristan: Yeah. So Combatant Gentlemen is a brand that owns the entire supply chain to the very sheep that they take the wool from. So they’re a really interesting brand and they were our first pop-up in LA. And what they did was they had a three-day store in the weekend and they had really interesting events every night. And so they kind of tailored them to their customers. One time, they had someone come in and they did like cigar rolling. And so they showed people how to roll their own cigars and then went through that entire experience. And then like the next night, they did whiskey tasting. So things like that I think kind of add to it. It’s like a level of fun. It builds some of the experience. It shows you really know your customers and you know who will be interested in your products but also like coming and having this experience and getting to know them better.
It’s really about building those relationships I think and through that, you gain a little bit of brand awareness. You get learnings about how to best put on these experiences in the future. And that was one of their first times experimenting in this realm. It started as an e-commerce brand so it’s like really helpful for them. And then, the virality comes naturally I think when you do certain things like that. Let’s take like SK-II for example. SK-II is a Japanese beauty brand and they basically have this amazing story where the basis, their main ingredient in their beauty products was a derivative of sake. And they found it because there would be these old men working in these factories in Japan making sake and their faces were really weathered but their hands were beautiful.
Kevin: Oh wow.
Tristan: And so they were like, what’s causing this? They ended up turning this into this beauty line of skin regenerative products that will help you regenerate your damaged skin. And so they actually have a machine when you go in there to their pop-ups – they did one recently in San Francisco and New York through us and you scan your skin and tell you what age it is. Obviously, you can compare that to what age you are and they can tell you, here are certain things you can use to kind of build back the vitality of your skin. So things like that are really interesting. It’s like wow, like I’ve never done that before. We actually brought the entire team over there because we really want to live and breathe what we do. And all got facials and all went through that experience. And I’ve never done anything like that before and you probably have seen me on Twitter talking about that right after it was done and proudly posting photos of my cofounder Erik in his face wrap.
Kevin: That’s so funny. So what was the biggest aha moment or biggest thing that you’ve learned over the last year? I mean there are obviously tons of little learnings that happen all the time but there are probably some big ones that you didn’t see going into it that really kind of were big moments.
Tristan: Yeah. Obviously, it’s an always learning, evolving thing with a startup and I guess especially with the marketplace. Biggest learning is probably something along the lines of going back to the matchmaking. And now that we have this buildup of data and knowing where people are renting spaces, I think there are some really compelling things that we can do out of it. And so, some of those learnings are like – down to the very product you’re selling during what time of year on the street you’re selling it, I think there’s like a lot of interesting things that we can do to help these businesses that are trying to grow be smart about where they go. And so a lot of that stuff – we’re planning on building into the platform to help people run their businesses more efficiently.
So we’re a tech startup. We’re a retail business. We’re a marketplace. We’re also potentially a big data company and I think there’s a lot of interesting things there even to like how many people are walking in your store in real time. And so that’s probably one of the biggest learnings. It’s like here are all these possibilities that we can do now that we’ve gathered this data and have gotten the marketplace going and really seeing what other values we can provide. So I know one of your questions is, what’s going to happen in 2015? One of those big things is very early in Q1 in 2015, we’re going to be launching a new site. There are going to be some redesigns, add more functionality and there’s going to be a lot of helpful ways that businesses can utilize Storefront and just be smart in what they do.
Kevin: Right. Yeah. I think data is the opportunity for marketplaces because understanding consumer behavior has really been in an e-commerce world limited to the big-box guys, the really, really successful online guys. But the smaller e-commerce company really just didn’t have the toolsets to get their hands around the data. And now with the advent of some really incredible data tools that are out and ones probably that you’re developing internally, what you can do and what you can learn are pretty amazing.
Tristan: Yeah, yeah.
Kevin: So last thing I want to ask you about is more on a personal nature. On your website among other things, we’ve talked about how you’re in big-box retail at Best Buy, we know about that you started another social entrepreneurship company but I want to hear about the email. And you know what I’m talking about. So on your record, you talked about how you wrote an email for Best Buy that was the most widely read email that they’ve ever had. Can you give us the quick story about that?
Tristan: Yeah, definitely. I don’t know – and I can’t speak for the last few years if that still holds true but – so I did a lot of things, a lot of hats in Best Buy specifically bestbuy.com. I worked on a lot of content. I worked on a lot of online, offline strategies on how we were communicating with our customers. And so there were some favorable events going into writing that email. I mean one, I had great mentorships. So I can never speak enough about having great mentors. Best Buy was one of the places that I met a couple of people I still stay in touch with today who were incredibly helpful and supportive.
Two, it was in November so coming into Black Friday. That was definitely a benefit. So you kind of think of it like the cyclical yearly things for any business and that’s one way to try to really push certain messages when it’s relevant. So that’s the same thing with PR and how you get certain stories covered. They have to have a timeliness. So those are some of the two big factors I would say but overall, I think with those emails that I was writing at Best Buy, it had a lot to do with just knowing your customer and writing to that. I can go into all the science behind subject lines and copy but that basically, that’s a lot of it. Knowing the certain person that’s dropping at a Best Buy, that’s our email list and what sort of things are they always looking for.
Kevin: So who was the email to? What was the avatar?
Tristan: So that was one of our emails that was wildly circulated because we sent it – it was basically, hey, like – we tested a lot of different types of emails and this one in particular was kind of an aggregation of different things. And so one thing we were testing was aggregated emails versus emails that broke up different categories. And so this was kind of an argument for hey, like these aggregated emails work very well. So maybe we should sometimes combine into specific categories. And so I think some of those learnings play into the site where that was how we would structure certain parts of the site and how you could browse. So overall, it included messages for a variety of different products. Best Buy is a retail business and they kind of combine that aggregation with different special offers if you will. Nothing too exciting really.
Kevin: It was just an awareness campaign tagged to certain offers within each a different division within the store. Is that correct?
Kevin: Okay. The reason I asked – I think if you’re not aware of the importance as a marketplace owner of email marketing, if you’re not on it, you’re missing the gravy tray because obviously once you acquire a customer, that’s one thing. And once you acquire a marketplace vendor, that’s another. But how you keep that top of mind awareness, how you keep that relationship going via email and other methods – if you have push notifications via an app, that’s important too. But I think email marketing is the holy grail for marketplaces. So once you make that initial opt-in and get that front-end conversion done, that’s how you monetize your long tail in my opinion.
Tristan: Yeah. 100 percent. I mean email has been huge for Storefront in our ability to reach business owners through email. We’re on it all day every day. It’s been a huge part in our awareness and getting people to know what we’re doing.
Kevin: Right. Well, Tristan, I really appreciate your time. Some great nuggets here in this conversation. It’s been fun and I hadn’t talked to you before so this was a pleasure. So everybody thank you. Tristan Pollock, cofounder of Storefront. I look forward to watching your success. Thank you.
Tristan: Thanks, Kevin.
Kevin: So that’s it for today’s show everybody. I have to thank Tristan Pollock for chatting with me today. He’s doing an exceptional job at Storefront. If you want to learn more about him and Storefront and everything that was talked about in the show, go to www.near-me.com. Click on the blog and then go to the category podcast. Also if you liked today’s show, we would really appreciate it if you go to iTunes and leave us a five-star review. Also, comments are always appreciated. It really helps us out. Also, make sure you subscribe to the podcast. You can get them automatically delivered to your device. Anyway, take care. We look forward to seeing you at our next episode.