With Part One behind us, let’s now get into the meat of things and meet DaWanda founders Claudia Helming (34) and Michael P?tz (27). And to set the record straight immediately, they are nothing more than business partners and friends because as Claudia says, “He is too young for me!”.
decor8: So tell us, what is your background?
Michael: I grew up close to Cologne, with a little sister. I went to high school there and while finishing my friend and I developed our first internet project. It was a website for old classmates to reunite. Half a year later it was purchased by an English company, where I continued working during my studies as a software developer. It was very exciting how this first project became a European platform! And in 2003 I met Claudia there.
Claudia: I grew up in a very small village in Bavaria with only 2500 inhabitants. Though it?s small, the Pope was born there, too :) I studied in Munich (Romance languages, and tourism) and after my studies started working for lastminute.com. This was back in the very early days of internet and I was so enthusiastic about it, and the possibilities! In 2003 I changed my job and met Michael there. And a few years later we decided to create our own company.
decor8: What are your roles at DaWanda?
Michael: We?re both Managing Directors. I?m taking care of everything related to the software, technical issues.
Claudia: We?re still a small company with 13 people including Michael and me working for DaWanda. I?m responsible for Marketing and administration. But as we?re still a small company there are a lot of tasks and responsibilities that both Michael and I share.
decor8: Who had the idea for DaWanda and how did it come about?
M/C: At the very beginning we had decided to found a company together but we were still unsure about the idea. This was in 2005 at a time when a lot of new start-ups were founded in the US and web 2.0 was born. It was a fascinating time! At this time I also discovered Etsy ? and fell in love immediately. In the meantime we developed a couple of ideas and plans for our company but hadn?t decided yet. We actually decided to create DaWanda during the Christmas season since we were trying to find gifts that were both special and unique and affordable. We noticed that it was really hard to find them though there were so many talented and creative people.
decor8: What does DaWanda mean?
M/C: DaWanda is an African women?s name we chose because it stands for something lovely and unique, a one of a kind.
decor8: People often compare you to Etsy, even going as far to say that you’ve copied their idea. How do you respond to this?
M/C: Our idea came about because we wanted to offer a marketplace to the creative community in Europe. DaWanda and Etsy are very different when you get past the initial similarity that both are marketplaces dedicated to handmade products. The way people are inspired to create is not the same here in Europe as it is in the States, as an obvious example – everybody knows how much the Swedish design aesthetic stands out. The European style of handmade, creating a piece of art work or a design, is very strong and individual. We don?t think it is bad for anyone that we?re doing something similar to Etsy… do people blame Mercedes to have copied Ford?
decor8: How many DaWanda shops do you currently have?
M/C: At the moment there are close to 30,000 shops on DaWanda. Today there are nearly 400,000 products in 427 categories. The community has over 200,000 buyers.
decor8: Wow, impressive numbers. Now let’s talk about your forums. I’ve heard from some DaWanda shop owners that your forums, while useful at times, can also be negative because there is no moderator. Do you plan to add a moderator to your forums in the future?
M/C: We have three separate Forums on DaWanda, and while for example the English forum is moderated by Elizabeth and we get very good feedback that it is a helpful and friendly place for people to hang out, the German Forum is a bit more difficult to deal with ? due to the huge number of people that use it, and also due to the high emotional engagement of people hanging out there. We did try our best to take care of the posts but difficult situations developed to the point where we had to decide how much time we could actually spend there. We?re still a very young company with limited resources so we need to set priorities. As primarily we?re not a forum provider but a market place so we couldn?t spend as much resources there as demanded by some. However, we are feeling brave and trying to dedicate members of the customer support team to this Forum again. We provide the Forums because we want everyone to have a helpful and friendly place to find out information and connect with the rest of the DaWanda community, and we try to guide everybody and encourage them to be respectful.
decor8: When you look at other sites that do what you do, what do you think makes DaWanda stand out as different?
M/C: The quality of the products really stands out, from cool innovative ideas to beautiful techniques and stunning craftsmanship. People who use DaWanda often comment on the friendly atmosphere, the community really makes it such a special place, it has become such a heartwarming and loving community. We celebrated our 2nd birthday this week and got so many hundreds of birthday messages from our members, it was amazing! Behind the scenes we also work very hard to make DaWanda a fun place to be and take part in.
decor8: Do you have top sellers, and if so, who?
M/C: The top sellers are different for each interface of DaWanda (English, French and German). For example, some of the top sellers on the German site are modern fashion designers Pionie, My Dear Love, and Kenpanda. On the English site people are going crazy for these stylish purses by Looby Lou Crafts , very graphic 70s vintage fabric bags by Osix, and this amazing shoe designer from the Czech republic, Pleasemachine. The French site top sellers include crafters like Pat and this supplies shop by Pulsienette offering handmade hand dyed fabric materials is doing really great sales. Of course, we have many others but these are just a few that come to mind.
decor8: What are some of your goals at DaWanda?
M/C: In the future we are aiming to launch another language option (at the moment you can choose between English, French and German). We would also like to offer more promotional tools to the English and French community. Hopefully we will organise a DaWanda outdoor market to take place in Berlin, perhaps in the Spring.
decor8: Do you plan to host more events similar to the one we had in Berlin this past Fall? If yes, what kind?
M/C: Yes, the blogging workshop with you (decor8) in September was an amazing day! We would definitely like to run more workshops where inspirational speakers like yourself can come and share their stories and ideas, artists from DaWanda can share techniques, and the community can meet and talk in real life.
decor8: How do you think a seller can increase sales in their shop?
M/C: If you would like to increase your sales, you should always make sure you are taking the utmost care of your shop. From taking good photographs of your work, to explaining your inspiration and technique. It?s also an excellent idea to do online research and find out about blogs, who is showcasing products that your aesthetic would fit to? Writing a short note to a blogger inviting them to visit your work and consider posting about you can be a great help.
decor8: Do you have any favorite sellers on DaWanda that you personally shop from?
M/C: We are big fans of Kenpanda (it is so funny when DaWanda staff often comes in wearing their Kenpanda hoodies on the same day) and also Smil. Especially at this time of year, we are all doing our Christmas shopping on DaWanda.
decor8: What ways do you think blogging helps a small business to grow online?
M/C: A blog is an amazing way to connect with the community who is interested in handmade, there is a whole network of people out there – other artists you may end up collaborating with, people who like to buy handmade products, and of course business people who are always on the lookout for new creative talent. Keeping a blog can open up a lot of possibilities for you as an artist – to collaborate with other artists inspired by your work, the exposure you can gain by getting yourself out there so people know who you are and can find you, find out about you and commission you when they like your work so much! On a personal note, documenting your personal journey as an artist may lead you to some interesting discoveries about how you work and find inspiration!
decor8: Do you have a blog?
M/C: We have three blogs for DaWanda, again one in each language, it?s a lot of fun posting about what?s going on within DaWanda, it could be a behind the scenes look at what we?re getting up to in our office in Berlin, or a new craze ? for example last month a faux-bacon felted phone case made by Antjes caught the attention of so many techno-geek bloggers, over thirty thousand people visited Antje?s shop to look at the phone case and she has sold hundreds of them in the last month. We also like to interview artists who take part on DaWanda, to share a little bit of their world with the rest of us. You can check it out here.
decor8: The German crafting ‘aesthetic’ is much different than what I’m used to in America. Do you think that it’s more difficult for Germans to be creative here based on lack of good shops and quality crafting shows and magazines? Crafting supplies are also quite expensive here I’ve noticed! Do you think that Germany is moving towards having more products?in the future? Do you think people will drive this change?
M/C: In the first place I think there is a totally different crafting tradition in the US compared to Germany. We haven?t grown up in the States so we cannot tell by experience but from what we hear crafting is really a part of everyday life in the US. It makes such a difference if your family is crafting and lives in a community where crafting is a thriving activity. There are so many more options and possibilities at US schools to develop creative skills. Just imagine that in Germany a lot of pupils never took a crafting course… I think this is all about to change right now. Though for a very long time crafting was associated with bored housewives knitting while watching the soaps young people have rediscovered the pleasure of producing things themselves. There is especially a huge trend in young fashion designers here in Germany. Obviously, the products they produce are different. They are new, crazy, different – made to please young people.
decor8: In your opinion, how is crafting viewed in Germany, is it respected as a profession? If not, do you think this view will change in Germany? What?is DaWanda?doing to help change this view?
M/C: There are people in Germany who are crafting as a profession. As mentioned above the image is about to change. DaWanda certainly plays a role in the change of the crafting image ? bringing together creative people and handmade products in one place. People learn that they?re not alone doing crafts and the public audience learns that the products are really of good quality and high creativity. I also think that this motivates people to learn more about techniques and supplies and
Thank you so much for talking to us today, Michael and Claudia… it was a pleasure to introduce you to decor8 readers. All the best!
(images from DaWanda)
When I helped pull together an event with DaWanda this past Autumn in Berlin (photos here) I was a bit surprised to learn that few decor8 readers outside of Europe knew about DaWanda and what their online marketplace is all about. I thought it would be a good idea to interview the founders and talk to them today so more could learn about them and what they are doing here in Germany. But first, a little background from my perspective on crafting in Germany and my personal opinions…
In Germany DaWanda is the equivalent to what Etsy is in America, ‘the’ site to go to when you want to shop handmade. They are gaining popularity throughout Europe as being based over here gives them a definite competitive edge as they are the first handmade online market based in Europe with sites available in three languages – German, French, and English (British) with more languages to come. This is really helpful, but aside from language is how the payment method differ from other online sites outside of the EU — the ‘standard’ form of payment here when purchasing products online is to wire money via your bank account. Credit cards are not nearly as common as they are in the states and though Paypal is gaining popularity it is still not as popular as wire transfers are. There is also something called the “EC” card, which is what residents can apply for, you basically go to your bank and have them issue one for you and then you shop using your EC card in stores. I have one, it’s pretty much the same as using a debit card in the states, the money is deducted from the bank account that it is linked to. But I won’t bore you with that. Simply put, you cannot use the EC card to purchase online so again, the wire transfer is the preferred form of payment and DaWanda offers this with ease.
In addition to different languages and payment methods, there is also the difference in aesthetic to notice that makes DaWanda unique from other online marketplaces. The Martha Stewart perfection isn’t part of the culture here, you can barely find a book authored by her in any local book shop and the crafting magazines are, well to put it gently, crap. Television isn’t loaded with crafting and decorating channels as I’m used to in the states and art supply stores are easy to find but a variety in supplies is a bit harder and the prices are quite expensive. The German equivalent of a store like Michael’s back home is called Idee but they have about 25% of what Michael’s offers. There also isn’t a lot of competition here yet within crafting circles. Crafts also tend to be much more personal, freestyle, and even a little wild at times as rebellion to ‘the man’ (large retailers) is popular and being overly formal with crafts (sticking to set instructions and ‘looks’ aka Martha style) isn’t a trend here at all. When you look at the DaWanda website you will immediately notice the difference in product offerings from other online marketplaces.
With that being said, do you know much about DaWanda and how it got started? I’ll interview them in Part Two (a post to follow this one) so stay tuned. First I’d like to give you my personal impressions. I met the founders, Claudia and Michael, in person obviously because we did an event together but I had no idea that they would be so down-to-earth, warm, and extremely welcoming. When I first met Michael though I thought he was going to beat me up, he came across a bit like he did not know what to expect from me and that he was not that keen on me. It was funny because I understood immediately why he was coming across a bit unfriendly. Here I was from America and set to speak for 2 hours and he only knew me from my blog so of course he was a bit nervous about it. I was nervous as well. A few hours after first meeting him, I was exiting the stage and felt amazingly relieved when he patted my shoulder and told me I should do this for a living (public speaking) and he gave me the warmest smile ever. I immediately felt like Michael is my new homeboy. He gave me what I call the “typical German treatment”. What I mean by this is that many northern Germans are skeptical at first but then you have a friend for life the moment they understand who you are and gain trust. It’s actually different for me as everyone I meet in America is my best friend the moment I greet them, we all a culture of ‘insta-friends’ just add water as I put it… Here in Germany it takes longer but the effort is worth it. Michael is a really warm and friendly person so I’m glad I’m in his circle. :)
In fact my entire visit to Berlin to meet DaWanda and to speak at the event was (gladly) not what I expected. Before the event started, I was talking to as many people as I could but everyone seemed a bit shy and unsure, you know those ‘pre-event jitters’ where no one knows the other, each one is checking out what the other is wearing trying to make some kind of assessment, and the vibe is a bit of fear combined with Why Did I Come To This Thing? The moment I hit the stage and started speaking, faces in the audience warmed up, arms unfolded, pads and pens surfaced from handbags and people started taking notes. Then laughing was heard and I saw hands raising to ask me questions, then more laughing and in the end, I was quite pleased with my welcome to Berlin and to part of the very large crafting community there in which DaWanda is at the very center of and this is just excellent.
I guess when I thought of young up-and-comers from Berlin I expected very fashionable, snobby types with very large brains and egos to match. It’s funny, the city is nothing like that, they are fashionable at least within the independent arts & crafts circles but they are not snobby at all, in fact those I met were extremely encouraging, eager to learn, and very friendly at least once they feel like they can trust you — then they are very friendly. I cannot believe what a melting pot Berlin is, everyone seems to live there from Polish to Turkish, to Scandinavians and even a huge American population. In the audience I met people from all over the world, all had flocked there because it’s affordable and filled with culture, it’s a great city for artists to live in because so many reasonably prices spaces exist that America sadly doesn’t have as much of these days thanks to greedy investors buying up so many great artists lofts and knocking down former artists spaces to build high rise condos. If you are ever interested in visiting a really large, really cool city go to Berlin. Or better yet, move there and be part of this amazing growth period because after the event I spoke to so many people and I was immensely inspired by the reasons for their move there.
With a little history behind us, I will now proceed with my interview with DaWanda founders, Claudia Helming and Michael P?tz Stay tuned for Part Two: The Interview, in just a moment…
I mentioned earlier today that I’ve had mandala patterns on the brain again. When I say again it’s because I was very into them back in 1999-2000. I purchased every mandala book I could at that time because I saw them everywhere and had to know more. I even purchased coloring books with mandala patterns for kids (yes, kids!) just so I could use the outlines to fill in with my own paint colors, found paper, etc. I really enjoyed experimenting with them in this way, but never had I thought to sit down and make my own from scratch without a general outline until recently. In fact I hadn’t thought much of mandalas in quite a few years. This is what made me think of them again…
One of my favorite bloggers is Kat from Secrets of a Butterfly and she recently inspired me in one of her October posts because she was touched by the work of California artist Anahata Katkin (the designer for PaPaYa!), a lady I’ve known about via the web, but Kat’s words about her touched me and it was only then did I really feel like exploring Anahata’s work myself. Do you know about her? She is an artist with work that is quite amazing and now I’m wishing I could somehow meet her and take one of her classes because the art fest she taught earlier this year seemed pretty great (images here).
Kat has never met Anahata to learn her technique so I’m quite impressed that by using her paintings as a guide she created this very lovely mandala mixed media painting using vintage wallpaper and old sheet music. You can see Kat’s painting above shown in her craft room in England. So pretty and well, REAL. I’m more and more attracted to such work, art from the heart and that is handmade at home because something the person saw motivated them to use their own hands to create something similar. So many times we consume, consume, consume without thinking, “Hey I could make that myself!” and I don’t mean COPYING work because a one-to-one version isn’t using your own creativity and it’s not fair to the artist. But if something you saw moved you and you just cannot afford it to buy it (or you rather do it yourself), then there is no reason NOT to try to do something for your own personal use.
This makes me think of cooking. In America we have nearly every meal you can imagine in the frozen food aisle. Here in Germany it’s much different, the selection is smaller. You are forced here to cook many things from scratch because you cannot conveniently buy them already made by someone (or something) else. I think it’s easy to get a bit lazy and not make your own recipes because it’s often easier and faster to buy it frozen or to order take-out. I think we sometimes forget the joy of making things for ourselves, you know? Add to this art, things around the house, etc. So much can be made by our own hands without buying it from someone else. Not everything of course, but a good amount.
Maybe we don’t have the time, or confidence in what we can do, but what about making time this month to make a few things handmade? I think it’s good for our self esteem, our wallet, and we can be a good example to others because often our children, friends, and family members (even e-friends) can be so inspired by something we’ve made and it may motivate them to create as well. When it comes to self esteem, the more you practice something you do not consider yourself very good at, you will improve and those improvements build your self confidence.
It’s not about quantity either. You don’t have to be some kind of energizer rabbit super crafter.
It can just be ONE painting, one apron, one really good batch of muffins… Just make something and how you feel afterwards. Imagine the fantastic circle of joy in that — you inspire others, yourself, and you have things around you made by your very own hands and heart. Nice!
Lots of us pledge to buy handmade and I’m all for that, but let’s pledge to also make handmade and do some things for ourselves this winter season. It’s such a good idea in this economy too. Take out those old copies of Martha Stewart Living and those PILES of arts and crafts book, pick a SINGLE project, and just do it. Want to make a pledge to make something handmade? You can leave your pledge in the comments section below and then when your item is finished, photograph it, place it in your Flickr account, and link it here once it’s finished. Or if you’ve already made your own things recently, comment with a link below because it’s fun to share.
You can see a roll of gift wrap and decide to go home and create your own like Ez did (and displayed a tutorial for) over on her blog Creature Comforts recently. I’m absolutely amazed by what some of my fellow bloggers are doing with their own hands lately and so impressed by their creativity.
Have you made anything with your own hands lately? Just ONE thing. Anything that you are proud to share? If so, please link to it in the comments section below, please show & tell!
(images from kat and the secrets of a butterfly)