LAST year, e-commerce sales worldwide topped $1 trillion (£671bn), and the UK online retail market alone had an estimated value of £78bn. So creating an easy-to-use, e-commerce website with a clean interface seems like an obvious business proposition. But until Tictail, the free platform that allows entrepreneurs and retailers to set up an online store quickly and easily for free, no one had plugged that gap in the market with such panache.
Carl Waldekranz, one of Tictail’s four founders, thought the e-commerce industry was held back by old-fashioned practices and a fixation on business to business platforms. So Tictail launched in May 2012 with the aim of helping anyone with a product sell easily online. It specifically targets indie brands and retailers, and those unaccustomed to using technology.
Most of its users come from Sweden, the US, Germany, France and the UK. But unlike its main competitor Shopify, Tictail wants to create an online community, so it is putting emphasis on making its stores more social by connecting users to each other and to their customers. I ask what differentiates Tictail from other e-commerce platforms. He challenges me to “try any e-commerce platform and then try Tictail. It is so much easier with Tictail.”
Tictail has no transaction or startup costs. Instead, it makes its money through add-ons and apps that can improve the service and usability of the shops on its platform. Many are built in-house, but Tictail is now opening the platform, “like Apple does for apps,” to developers looking to market their apps online. Tictail then charges 30 per cent commission from any sales.
It is hard not to feel inspired by Tictail’s co-founders. Waldekranz and Kaj Drobin started their first company at 18, a digital design agency. They quickly began working with another startup – Spotify. And as Spotify grew, so did their business. Two years later, it was acquired by Identity Works, one of Sweden’s largest branding agencies.
But rather than sit back and enjoy their success, the duo continued doing design work for e-commerce clients. Soon after, they and their newest recruits Birk Nilson and Siavash Ghorbani created a business that offered a platform for people “who did not care about e-commerce, but who cared about product and branding”.
For six months, the founders put half their salaries into a joint savings account. This would eventually become the seed capital for Tictail – it enabled them to leave their jobs and focus solely on the new venture. Waldekranz’s mother, an artist, was their first user. “Knowing nothing about technology, she was the benchmark customer.”
When their modest pot of money ran out, Tictail raised €1.2m (£1.03m) in a funding round led by the UK firm Balderton Capital and Swiss investor Klaus Hommels. And they were fortunate to be able to hand pick their investors. “The investor-company relationship goes both ways. We chose investors with extensive experience and a wide network we could tap into.”
Waldekranz believes entrepreneurs usually make two mistakes. The first is to spend too much time planning and too little time executing. “They try to come up with solutions before they even know the problem.” The second is to underestimate how long things take. “Building a great product takes a great many hours. There is no shortcut.”
Tictail’s founders want theirs to become the world’s most used and loved e-commerce platform. And they are brimming with ideas to make it happen – like enlightening users on how social media can help build their profile. With predictions that 24 per cent of UK customer retail spend will be online by 2015, and with 17,000 users already, perhaps their lofty ambition is more doable than it would first appear.
CV CARL WALDEKRANZ
Company name: Tictail
Founded: May 2011, platform launched May 2012
Number of staff: 12
Company turnover: Too early to say
Studied: I created my first company at 18 straight out of senior school
Drinking: Gin and tonic
Eating: A recent vegetarian, I now love Vietnamese food
Reading: Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely
Favourite business book: The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Talents: I’m a great catalyst. I ignite and engage great people
Motto: “Just get started, the rest will figure itself out”
First ambition: To become a world class tennis player
Heroes: My mother Eva. She is a great entrepreneur
Awards: Digital entrepreneur of the year (Sweden 2012 IDG), one of Europe’s top 100 Startups 2012 (Wired Magazine)