With everything converging towards being social, social-commerce is the new hot thing. Now that Chinese are savvy internet shoppers with cash to serve their lifestyle, social commerce is a great business to be in.

Originally incubated in Taiwanese Government organization, III, Pinkoi.com is a social e-commerce platform for designers and artists to sell their unique products.  While walking around a night market in Taipei sipping my bubble tea, I stumbled across small market stalls selling hand-made designer t-shirts, jewellery and lamp shades. It is these independent artists that Pinkoi aims to support in getting their products out to the world. This week, I talked with one of the co-founders, Peter Yen, to get the story behind Pinkoi.

Starting Pinkoi

Peter started Pinkoi when he was in his 4th year at Yahoo as a software developer based in the Bay Area of San Franciso. In his spare time he would explore the Bay Area and other cities markets with his wife to scout out great designers. When he discovered Etsy.com, he found that it was the collection of quality designers he was looking for. As a native of Taiwan, Peter thought “there are so many designers in Taiwan, but no website focused on design.”

Launched in October 2010, Pinkoi focuses on two channels to sell designer goods; 1) B2C – designers sell directly to buyers where Pinkoi will take 10% on the sale price and 2) B2B – bigger design brands can sell their own inventory, where Pinkoi will manage the postage and take 35-45% on the sale price

The three pillars to Pinkoi: design, social and ecommerce.

  • Design: 90% of the products are sourced locally from Taiwan, with the remaining coming from Taiwanese people based in the UK, US and Japan. Designers like to sell on Pinkoi where quality and uniqueness are the focus, compared to mass market platforms like Yahoo, Taobao compete on price.
  • Social: “We are more social (with Facebook integration), which helps people make better decisions by following designers or what their friends are buying.” said Peter. Designers can use Facebook as a viral marketing tool, by embedding a link on Facebook to their Pinkoi storefront with one click; 45-50% traffic referred from Facebook.
  • E-Commerce: Pinkoi has a standard procedure to review designers based on their engagement and activity on their fan page. “When we do accept a seller, they can go to the management panel and upload items in bulk, which only takes 25 seconds to upload.” To cater to a global audience, Pinkoi uses Paypal.

Art of the start: getting the first stores onto Pinkoi

“It was very challenging to get the first seed designers to join. But we personally went to meet every single designer and called every major design brands in Taiwan. We tried to sell them the story of Pinkoi, that is, supporting Taiwan’s local design talent to reach the world.” Said Peter.

To improve on visibility of the site, Pinkoi launched a design magazine in March to feature Taiwanese designers and get insight from opinion leaders and influential bloggers.

400k page views a month and growing, 95% from women

Pinkoi has seen impressive growth with over 300 designers and aiming for 700 by the end of the year, 3,100 unique products for sale, 400k page views per month. This is amazing, considering the small team and only launching in beta in October last year.

Women account for 95% and mainly consume shoes, bags, accessories and home décor. However, Peter mentioned that in the future they will steer Pinkoi to become more neutral and male friendly.

The vision to be the Asian market leader. Next stop – China

By the end of Q3 this year, they will release their mobile app which can be used to browse products and interact with the Pinkoi community. By end of Q4 this year, they will launch an English version to be more international.

Currently they are doing due diligence on the opportunity to enter the China market.

Currently closing an angel round of funding

As the growth trajectory of Pinkoi is promising, they have already received two offers for investment in January, but rejected it because it was deemed too early. Now they are at a stage ready to scale, so are now closing an angel round of investment and pursuing another institutional investment in Q3 or Q4.

Pinkoi now has a team of 6, consisting of engineers, designers and marketing and sales.

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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