This week I sat down with Sam and Capri, the co-founders of Thryft. We talked about how Thryft began, what it’s like to be a YC founder, their favorite trends within the industry, and more.
Check out our discussion below!
1. What is Thryft and how does it work?
Sam: Thryft is Shopify for Instagram sellers. We turn your Instagram page into a website in <1 minute. Thryft simplifies the 5-6 step process of a sale on IG — across collecting payments, creating shipping labels & sending tracking — into a single step.
2. What inspired you to start the company? Pivot?
Sam: We had tried to build a couple different secondhand marketplace apps, but when we started talking to Instagram sellers, we learned that despite the fragmented, manual process of selling on Instagram, they loved doing it because of the massive — but tight-knit — community, the ability to personalize their brand, powerful features like Instagram Live and the lack of fees. So, instead of trying to get these sellers to sell on our own marketplace, we decided to pivot to building software that improves the selling process on Instagram.
3. Who are your biggest competitors and how do you differentiate yourself from them? Who are your customers?
Capri: Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, etc. We differentiate ourselves by focusing entirely on Instagram sellers. Thryft helps them facilitate drops, sell over Instagram live, manage shipping and makes it easy to create listings in seconds rather than minutes/hours on other platforms.
4. The failure rate of startups is so high, why do you think Thryft is going to be successful? What are signs that it is working?
Capri: We’ve seen some early signs of product-market fit — despite not having too many customers, many of them love the product and use it for nearly 100% of their transactions on Instagram. In addition, several customers have switched from popular website builders to Thryft and one seller decided to make thrift selling a full-time career, a decision inspired by Thryft.
Sam: Another reason is that our initial target market of Instagram sellers is pretty niche; many legendary e-commerce companies from the last 25 years — eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Shopify — also started with hyper-niche markets; first finding product-market fit within the niche market before expanding.
5. How has Thryft been impacted by COVID. What’s the hardest decision you’ve made so far?
Capri: We initially launched Thryft in 2020 as a marketplace for brick-and-mortar secondhand stores to solve a problem largely caused by COVID: over 25% of these stores had closed their doors since the pandemic started, and most of the ones that remained were struggling. We believed we could help them out by building an online marketplace just for brick-and-mortar thrift stores, but we realized we wouldn’t be able to scale the business due to a supply-demand mismatch, and decided to tackle a different problem. Making that pivot was the most difficult decision we’ve had to make.
6. What is the biggest risk facing your company? What is the biggest success?
Sam: The biggest risk for us is Instagram essentially copying our idea and building it directly into their platform. However, we don’t believe they will do this because they are not particularly interested in micro/small businesses — they’re currently working on a native checkout solution for large retailers like Coach, Zara, etc which is where the bulk of the money is.
Capri: Our biggest success up-to-date is having one of the top Instagram thrift sellers switch from using Shopify to doing 100% of her sales through Thryft.
7. What is the most critical initiative you are working on now and how do plan on achieving it?
Capri: Customer acquisition. We built a solid product, so we’re now primarily working on onboarding more sellers through outreach, referrals from our current customer network, content marketing, events & more.
8. What is your vision for the company?
Sam: Our vision is to become the infrastructure for social commerce. In other words, we will power all P2P sales happening through social media platforms like Instagram & TikTok, and replace P2P marketplaces whose value is declining. Many sellers on these existing marketplaces use their social media as marketing channels, but sell on the marketplaces because the process of selling through social media is too tedious. By making this process more efficient, we believe we can eventually pull people away from these marketplaces and become the ubiquitous platform for social commerce across different channels.
9. What has your company done to work towards sustainability in their operations? Where do you see sustainability at your company, and in the industry overall, going in 5 years?
Capri: We target thrift and vintage sellers, as well as sellers with sustainable practices like customs sellers or sustainable boutiques. Our software is specifically designed for sellers of unique items, which are always more sustainable than drop-shipped or mass-produced items — what our competitors specialize in. As more and more people prioritize sustainability, the US secondhand market is projected to double in the next 4 years. The recent Poshmark and ThredUP IPOs are a clear indication of this trend.
10. What are certain factors you considered when dropping out of college to work on Thryft full-time. Do you ever plan on going back?
Sam: Commitment. The notion that you can ‘focus on two things at once’ is an oxymoron. Startups are incredibly high intensity, so I think running a startup and doing school indicates you are not truly committed to either one. I don’t think I plan on going back to school.
Capri: As of right now, I don’t plan on going back to school anytime soon. I’m committed to seeing where this crazy journey takes us, and I’m motivated by how much we’re learning every day and how much of an adventure it feels like.
11. Favorite part about being in Y Combinator?
Sam: Being able to meet other startup founders. The people I met are driven and serious about their companies, and I feel motivated and held accountable by them. Being in an environment with similar people going through this unique set of struggles is a rare experience and taught us about taking initiative and doing things with a sense of urgency.
Capri: Like Sam, I love that we went through the program with a ton of other ambitious founders. Everyone has a unique area of expertise and everyone is willing to help each other out. The group partners are also great. They always tell us like it is with very direct, honest feedback. It’s clear they care about us and want to help us become great founders and great people.
12. What is the hardest part about being leading a startup?
Sam: Work-life balance & making sacrifices. Realizing that startups are a marathon rather than a sprint. It is important to figure out what your balance is. For some people it is all work, but that may not be the right lifestyle for you — it certainly wasn’t for me. I regret not realizing this sooner, because by the time I did I had already sacrificed some things I really wish I didn’t.
Capri: Managing your own emotions and psychology. The YC partners talk a lot about this and for a great reason. When fundraising and facing rejection, when something goes wrong, or when the startup isn’t having its best day, it can be incredibly challenging and demoralizing. But the intense ups and downs are also what makes this experience special.
13. What is a company you admire and why?
DoorDash. It was founded by three Asian-Americans. In the beginning, to test their idea they drove door-to-door to pick up & deliver orders themselves, and that level of dedication is inspiring. The company has proved to be a lifeline for many businesses during the pandemic. The CEO, Tony, worked at his mother’s restaurant for many years so he understands genuinely understands their customers’ experiences & pain points. It’s clear that he cares deeply about their product and their customers, not just monetary success.
14. Favorite trends within the ecommerce space?
Sam: Emergence of the creator economy. Many platforms — like Beacons.ai — are enabling creators to monetize their online presence. Cameo is another example; they’re a marketplace where you can purchase a shoutout video from anyone. Opening up new ways for creators, especially those from underserved communities, to make money online is game-changing.
Capri: Social commerce! I’ve been following trends of social commerce in Latin America and China pretty closely and we predict that within the next few years, the social commerce wave is take the US by storm, and most purchases by Gen-Z will happen over social platforms like Instagram. In particular, we predict that transactions will move away from 3rd party marketplaces and onto social media platforms.
15. What motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?
Sam: Customers get me out of bed. We’ve built a small community of Thryft sellers and it is great to see that we’ve already made a genuinely positive impact on them and the community. We have had a series of small wins that have added up. When customers come to tell us that we’ve helped them solve a problem, or that we’ve enabled them to take their business to the next level, it motivates me to keep going, keep building.
Capri: As Sam said, the small wins are the most motivating of all. We recently had a new customer send us a few video messages where she told us that our product empowered her to transition to running her thrifting business as her full-time job. It’s moments like those that inspire me to work towards solving our customers’ problems.