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Small Business is Big Online

By: Abby Penning
Posted: June 17, 2013, from the July 2013 issue of GCI Magazine.

Digital retailing space and social network OpenSky, which started offering beauty products in mid-2012, recently debuted a marketplace for brands and shoppers to share thoughts, ideas and, of course, products. GCI asked OpenSky's CEO and founder John Caplan to talk about what advantages this new space offers beauty brands and where online retailing is headed.

GCI: Tell me about the marketplace from OpenSky.

John Caplan: OpenSky's marketplace is more than a community, it’s a movement to discover, share, shop and grow the world’s most exciting emerging brands. Together we’re democratizing commerce by making connections between creative and passionate small businesses and shoppers who crave quality and diversity.

GCI: How does it work?

JC: Small businesses can apply to open and manage a store within the company’s network of over three million members. The marketplace offers them the ability to connect, interact and share with thousands of customers and small merchants from around the country. Users can follow the stores and products they discover and shop and share them with friends both within the network and outside.

GCI: How long has it been around?

JC: OpenSky launched in 2011, [and] we have been building our community for the last several years. The marketplace launched on May 1, 2013.

GCI: What inspired you to create the marketplace?

JC: When I ran Ford Models, I would meet these incredible young fashion designers with amazing talent, who were winning all sorts of awards. Despite the buzz around them, they couldn't get distribution. We're seeing the appetite for unique products everywhere—people want to shop small. So it seemed crazy to me that there are a lot of incredible makers out there who aren't able to find and connect to their audience. I wanted to create a platform that does that—connects incredible small brands with the people who want to discover them. The OpenSky marketplace is the social platform that connects people with extraordinary things and the small businesses who make them. We’ve created easy-to-use tools and have given them to thousands of small businesses in a platform they can leverage to reach new customers and build their business.

GCI: How many brands are currently included in the marketplace? Are any of them beauty brands?

JC: Over 3100 small merchants have joined OpenSky to build a store, and there are 150 new merchants joining every day. Of those, there are more than 400 beauty brands to date.

GCI: How do brands become a part of the OpenSky marketplace? What's the process like?

JC: Small businesses can go to www.OpenSky.com/merchants to apply to open a store. Once approved, they can start to build and customize their storefront by:

Opening a store on OpenSky is free. The site takes a commission on products sold to OpenSky members with the exception of any sales made to those members a merchant brings into the network when they open their shop.

GCI: How is the OpenSky marketplace different from other online retailing? What advantages do brands receive retailing this way?

JC: For small merchants, connecting directly to OpenSky users including the many industry insiders, celebrities and experts using the network offers a unique opportunity for their brand and products to spread virally within a community focused on shopping. As members discover and interact with new products, their activities are shared socially among their OpenSky connections, creating a ripple effect of discovery within the network. This effect helps small businesses reach new customers, which they would never reached on their own.

GCI: How are you looking to grow the marketplace for the future?

JC: We want it to be global. We want the artisanal skin care producer in the south of France to get discovered by the emerging supermodel in Australia who recommends their products to the style-obsessed 20-something in Texas, who buys it and shares it with her best friend.