Canadian Startup BRIKA Attempts to Bridge the Gap Between Makers and Consumers

Toronto-based BRIKA combines the art of storytelling with the thrill of the find. By helping makers, artisans and designers cut through the noise and speak to their target audiences, cofounders Jen Lee Koss and Kena Paranjape are attempting to change the way arts and crafts are purchased.

Unhappy with her current career path, Koss found refuge in the blogosphere, eventually stumbling upon In Life and In Fashion.

Impressed by the voice and products featured on the blog, she emailed the author, Paranjape, who was also living in Toronto, to arrange a meet up at a nearby coffee shop. Immediately both women realized they shared the same passion for retail and were ready to start something new. They also had complimentary skills sets: Koss had finance and strategy experience while Paranjape knew the retail sector. The brainstorm sessions that followed led to homework, then competitor and market research. Soon enough, the women had established a formidable threat to Etsy.

BRIKA is a curated marketplace for buyers and makers to secure and sell well-crafted items. Categories include: house and home, jewellery, accessories, little ones and paper goods. For those with a budget there are also a slew of gift ideas under $40. Although the concept isn’t new, the startup’s approach is. The team culls through hundreds of applications on a regular basis looking for makers with a unique point of view, high quality products and a track record of success.

Once selected, BRIKA interviews makers to create profiles complete with personal photos and the story behind their craft. For example, a customer interested in purchasing a cheese board from “Matt” in Michigan, will also learn that his father trained him in woodworking and the board is constructed from 100 per cent reclaimed wood. Beautiful stories are what the co-founders feel will resonate with buyers and keep them coming back for more.

With the help of an angel investor, friends and family as well as their own savings, Koss and Paranjape launched BRIKA on November 20, 2012. Now more than a year old, the startup has grown from 500 to tens of thousands of members, predominantly well-educated, affluent women between the ages of 25 to 54.

“Early on we conducted a consumer survey which revealed that our members were overwhelmed by the gift giving process. They found it stressful and were always doing it last minute,” says Koss. “With BRIKA, we are trying to redefine the gifting process and shake up the e-commerce space.”

So far the duo has done a good job at attracting consumers and artisans looking for an alternative to Etsy’s cluttered and overwhelming platform.

“Many of our makers, artisans and designers were looking to break away from sites like Etsy, Shopify and eBay where the onus is on them to grow and develop their business. You’re expected to do all the work—build your website and try to get the word out there,” said Koss. “The benefits of being part of a high quality community like ours is that you get to discover and interact with other makers and our team of retail experts to get the help you need to be successful.”

Exclusive goods and regular collections from crafters across the US, plus a revenue model, which splits profits 50/50 between makers and BRIKA, have helped the startup make money. To date, the company features 150 US-based makers and has generated tens of thousands of dollars in sales.

When asked about plans for the future, Koss is optimistic and believes BRIKA is at a critical turning point. This past April, the startup was included in Extreme Startups’ third cohort where they will receive up to $230,000 in funding during a three-month program. While they’re still on the hunt for an institutional investor to grow their business even further, there are amazing retail partnerships on both sides of the border in the works that will be unveiled during the December 2013 holiday season.

“The world isn’t about just selling stuff anymore, it’s about knowing your customer really well and listening to what they want,” adds Koss.

Whether it’s online or in line, it seems consumers are demanding more than just flashy packaging and big deals, BRIKA is proving that a good story counts for a lot too.