In Their Own Words: John Jacobs, Artfire CEO

recycled plastic bracelet

recycled plastic bracelet by artworkbykd

i’m beginning a series of interviews with movers & shakers in the handmade community. these people are passionate about craft – as i know you are! – and eager to share their story and vision. if there’s anyone out there that you would like to hear from, drop me a line or leave a comment and i’ll see what i can do!

John Jacobs - Artfire

today’s interview is with john jacobs – the ceo & founder of artfire. artfire is one of the newer marketplaces joining etsy and its competition providing a place for artists, crafters, designers, and purveyors of all things cool to sell their wares.

artfire has focused on listening to its crafter community to set itself apart. all features are driven by the community & its customers.

john was kind enough to answer some of my questions – and concerns – about artfire.

scoutie girl celebrates “passion” – passion for great design, passion for the act of creation, passion for life. what is your passion?

My passion is to innovate and build the communities and business platforms I see as desperately lacking in the current creative business environment. I grew up in an artistic family, I have a very deep appreciation for creativity and making things with my own hands. I feel very passionate about handmade crafts and independent art because there is a story behind each product, a face you can put to each studio. It was those two passions that led me to create ArtFire. I wanted there to be a venue that treated sellers as business partners and helped support individual creativity without taxing it. My passion is to serve artists and to do so in the best way that I can.

aside from the fee structure, what makes artfire different from other handmade marketplaces?

Our commitment to customer service; we put the leaders of ArtFire on the front lines, myself included. Our interaction with the community, we’ve pioneered a website development process we call Community Directed Development (CDD) where the direction and development of a site is decided on by the community that will be using it. We are also the only venue that backs up our 100% commitment to our artisans success by allowing our members to link out to their other venues that they sell at, we give our artisans tools to help them build their personal brand online; we want our artisans to be successful, we don’t mind if that success happens on another site.


print of acrylic painting by fugsly

while my readers & i greatly appreciate diversity in the marketplace, many are concerned that maintaining shops at several sites spreads their limited resources too thin. why should an artist open an artfire studio in addition to or in place of their existing shop?

I can speak from experience that having all of your eggs in one basket is a poor business choice. I ran a multi-million dollar craft supply company on Ebay for years: had over 85 employees working for me, and one day, Ebay decided to “flip a switch” and shut us down. There was no reason given or fair process in which to contest or debate their decision. We have told our artisans and anyone who asks us for advice that we do not want them to sell on only one venue, from a business standpoint it is simply unwise. We know that resources are limited but they will be substantially more limited if your selling venue goes down or you lose your “right” to sell on a site unexpectedly. We have always said you should run ArtFire AND other venues or sites not ArtFire OR another venue or other site. More channels means more chances to sell and in most businesses diversifying your marketplace exposure will lead to hefty increases in sales.

Why should an artist open a shop on ArtFire? Well for one they have absolutely nothing to lose, if you sign up with a basic account you won’t pay us a dime, ever. You’ll also get access to our best in class selling tools like “Rapid Cart” which allows you to sell your items on your blog or website in such a way that your blog readers don’t ever need to visit ArtFire or open an account with us, they can complete the entire process on your site in a simple shop window. All of our members also get access to our guides on SEO, SMO, marketing, pricing, and business management. We give away as many tools for free as possible because of the commitment we’ve made to artists success. And of course you can link out to your other venues, social media sites, or websites which will help build your business and your brand.

artfire seems to be a marketing juggernaut and i value the marketing information that the site has put out there for crafters to use. however, marketing means nothing if the product isn’t fabulous! what does Artfire do to help artists learn new techniques, improve their skills, and hone their craft?

We have a great community of artisans and crafters, many of whom are happy to share advice and tips about crafting. We have craft guilds for our Verified members that share tips/techniques all the time. We also recently launched which is the largest collaborative craft blog ever built to support artisans and handmade. We have 60 columnists and editors writing on topics ranging from business tips to craft trends. HandmadeNews actually has an entire department dedicated to Craft Techniques where we have skilled crafters hired as columnists to share their experience and advice with the craft community on the web as a whole. Handmade news publishes 8-10 new posts and articles every day on top of featuring products and artisans from all venues.

many artists that i work with are concerned about the overall aesthetic of artfire, as compared to etsy and some of the smaller, curated marketplaces. i understand that artfire strives to provide equal opportunity for exposure to each artisan however, merchandising sells. what is artfire doing to improve the cohesiveness & aesthetic of its front page & gift guides?

We’ve gone through several site redesigns already. Our current design, which can be seen on the front page, will very shortly be implement throughout the site which we feel will help a lot with the overall site cohesiveness. As for the items that populate the front page, we are still using the most recently listed items so that everyone has a chance to get some exposure. In the future as ArtFire grows we may implement a collection feature that would involve many different methods such as a combination of user selected, featured guilds, contest winners, and search algorithms. The gift guides page are populated in a similar way to our category pages, the items show up in a random order that is different for each buyer. However, we believe strongly that all artisans deserve support, encouragement, and commitment to their success from their venue, not just the chosen few who match the trend of the moment.

Earmark on Artfire

“you park like a jerk cards” by earmark

what is the timeframe for artfire to complete beta testing?

This is a very difficult question. We don’t want to ever stop innovating or rolling out new tools and functions for our sellers. There are many very big sites that stay in “beta” for years (GMail comes to mind), all that beta means is that we are still building the core functionality of the site. We figure that we are about halfway done, there are still many functions that we want to give to our artisans and shopping methods that we need to build for our buyers.

7 thoughts on “In Their Own Words: John Jacobs, Artfire CEO

  1. This is a great interview. I was definitely aware of ArtFire but this sheds new light on their viability for handmade sellers. Thanks!

  2. Tara, great questions, especially about the front page aesthetics. I agree that it might need some improvement. Overall, it made me think about opening an account but I would have to do some more research. Thanks so much for this really good post.

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