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Big Cartel: An Etsy-Style Marketplace for Bands and Artists

Big Cartel offers bands, fashion designers, poster printers and other talents an online platform to market their merchandise.

This story appears in the April 2011 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Big Cartel

  • Based in Salt Lake City
  • Nine employees (all working remotely across the U.S.)
  • 100 million page views per month
  • 26 million visitors per month (15 million unique)
  • Sellers generated $50 million in revenue in 2010
  • 53,000 new stores signed up last year

What It Is
Art meets commerce head-on at Big Cartel, an online platform that enables up-and-coming bands, fashion designers, jewelers, record labels and other creative types to launch their own customizable web storefronts.

Big Cartel now boasts more than 125,000 registered stores in all, each tailored to the seller's unique business needs and distinct artistic vision.

How It Started
Co-founders Matt Wigham and Eric Turner met amid the Salt Lake City design community, collaborating at software shops and creative agencies before launching Big Cartel in 2005. "I've been in bands and designing band websites forever, and I realized there wasn't a way for musicians and artists to sell stuff online easily," Wigham says. "The e-commerce systems at that point were too expensive and too complicated to mess with. We knew we could do better."

Why It Took Off
Wigham credits Big Cartel's growth to shared sensibilities: "People can tell we're independent artists, like them," he says. "We relate." Big Cartel also stresses an accessible user experience for sellers and consumers. "We've kept our focus on simplicity--we haven't bloated the platform," Wigham says. Turner credits word-of-mouth: "Artists like to collaborate, so if your store is a success, chances are you're going to recommend Big Cartel to other people in your circle."

The Business Case
Big Cartel offers four pricing packages that range from free to $29.99 per month depending on levels of customization, marketing tools and customer data. When orders come in, payment and order info gets transmitted directly to the seller's PayPal account. Sellers are responsible for packaging and shipping each item sold. Big Cartel does not charge any listing or transaction fees, and there are no contracts--all accounts operate on a month-to-month basis.

What's Next
Big Cartel plans to expand beyond its hipster image into more conventional arts and crafts. "There are a lot of traditional artists that don't sell their work online, and we're trying to find out why," Wigham says. "We want to help them." Under the Indie Labs banner, Wigham and Turner have rolled out digital download sales platform Pulley and designer T-shirt site Emptees. "There's something about handmade, personal projects that people are drawn to," Wigham says. "Our sellers are passionate about what they do. This is their life, and they're trying to figure out how to put it online. It's personal for them--and for us."

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