A quick browse on Toronto-based Ippinka’s website can be dangerous on the wallet, particularly before Christmas.
The site offers quirky, interesting curated design products, offering up two new products every Tuesday and Thursday for just two weeks.
This week one may find a set of portable, magnetic LED bike lights for $39. Or one may stumble upon the UV Toothbrush sanitizer, for $49. It kills up to 99.99 percent of germs using a UV light.
Such are the offerings on the site that Jerry Chang built in the summer of 2012. Before that, he graduated in the same class as Eric Migicovsky, the cofounder of the Pebble smartwatch that ended up raising over $10 million on Kickstarter. They both graduated in systems design engineering.
Chang, now 28, was always intrigued by product design. He moved to Japan to study minimalist design in 2011, but was forced to come back to Canada after the massive earthquake struck Tohoku’s pacific coast, killing nearly 16,000.
Chang worked for a few companies as a software consultant before settling on the idea of Ippinka in March 2012 as a simple blog that would feature cool design products that people could buy. By the summer time he had worked out the ecommerce backend and began selling. A close friend invested a small amount- less than $100,000- and Chang was off and running.
Nearly two and a half years later, a team of four others now surrounds Chang. Meanwhile, the company has tripled in growth: he predicts revenues will hit $1 million by the end of 2015.
“We’re finding curators who find really well-designed products from different parts of the world and we bring these niche and independent brands into North America,” said Chang. “Much of it comes from small-time makers who have a lot more passion towards their products.”
About two months ago, Ippinka soft-launched a wholesale platform that connects independent, smaller, or foreign product makers to larger retail stores that generate high amounts of foot traffic. About 200-300 retailers tested the product.
“A lot of these foreign makers and smaller-time brands, they don’t really have the resources for marketing and reaching out to other stores that might be interested in their products,” Chang told Techvibes.
He’s hoping for the platform to take off next year.
According to Larry Smith, an adjunct associate professor of economics at the University of Waterloo, Ippinka’s success as a venture could have been seen from far away.
Smith has now taught applied economics to over 8,000 students, including Chang, and he places a strong emphasis on entrepreneurship. He was lecturing while future entrepreneurs at the school like Migicovsky and even Thalmic Labs founder Stephen Lake were still undergraduates.
Then, Smith developed a close mentorship bond with Chang. Today the pair continues to discuss topics that range from the general business to managerial strategy to fundamental marketing organization and more.
In Chang, Smith saw an exceptionally talented student, and in Ippinka he saw a business with commercial potential.
“The simple fact is I have a very high opinion of Jerry’s capabilities,” Smith told Techvibes. “When students are 20, 21, they’re exploring a number of options, and I would have bet on Jerry being successful. And when I say successful I mean on a significant scale.”
As for Chang, he’s looking ahead to 2015 as a significant year in the company’s growth. He can easily foresee the company growing in head count, but admitted that he’d like to keep it at five people.
The way Ippinka’s growth has occurred, though, that may not be possible.