I Built a Handmade Marketplace to Rival Etsy for $50K — And it Failed
I never thought I’d sit here and write this story, but here we are.
It was 2020 and the pandemic had just hit.
I was working full time as an Art Librarian at the University of Pittsburgh. My days were filled with spreadsheets, teaching students, collaborating with faculty, and lugging around antique books (very carefully). My mornings, evenings, and midnights were filled with a crying 9 month old baby.
In the small hours of the night, I was planning a business.
After nearly a decade of selling on Etsy, and nearly 7 years as a Pinterest Marketer & Strategist for handmade business owners, I started seeing some major gaps. Etsy had recently gone public, and some of the makers I looked up to started leaving. To top it off, Etsy started allowing mass produced items onto the site, something that vehemently went against many makers’ values.
I wanted the old Etsy back.
So I set out to build a new handmade marketplace. Three weeks after the pandemic hit , I launched Happening Hands — the marketplace that “does the marketing for its makers.”
During the first 6 months, Happening Hands grew to a total of 15 makers. I know — pathetic. But I was still working full time and had a baby at home.
Late that summer, I decided to give it a real go and quit my full time job. The same month I left, a local non-profit reached out to partner with me.
Fast forward to a year later, I had written my business plan and successfully landed $50K in funding to build a new marketplace platform.
I was SO EXCITED. My dream of a new handmade marketplace was coming true.
I took the $50K, hired a branding strategist, web designer, marketing firm, and chose an out-of-the-box marketplace software for the site.
We launched at the end of November, 2021, with a brand new website and community space on the back end. By March of 2022, we had gained over 40 new makers on the site, and over 100 had joined our private maker community.
While building out the marketplace, I was also building out the private community space I just mentioned.
I decided early on that I wanted Happening Hands to have two parts:
- The marketplace.
- A community space for business resources and coaching. In this space, I invited guest speakers to provide marketing advice and expertise. We had a resource library, courses, and spaces to chat.
But then, something crazy happened.
(This is one of those moments that would make most entrepreneurs feel like someone walked over their grave.)
The same day that Happening Hands hit the local press and was getting hundreds of hits every hour from our big feature, the developers I hired decided to shut down the site out of nowhere, with zero communication.
Then they ghosted me.
Now you might be asking, but didn’t you sign a contract with them? Yes, yes I had. Or couldn’t you have sued them? Yes, I probably could have.
It was a nightmare.
I was so shocked that I didn’t cry until 5 days later.
Over the 24 hours following our site literally disappearing off the face of the internet, I had to completely pivot my business to a membership model.
Then, I had to figure out a new direction for my business and tell my funders that the marketplace was gone.
Fast forward to 2023, Happening Hands is doing much better.
We’ve since pivoted to a membership community only, that helps makers build thriving, profitable businesses. It includes a resource library, workshops, group coaching, a podcast, and more. Happening Hands has grown to over 160 members. We even have partners with the folks from Inventora, the Made By Her Marketplace, and Hidden Path Creative.
And the best thing of all? It’s what I know makers need.
After hundreds of conversations with makers over the last year, I’ve come to realize they don’t need another marketplace to sell in.
They need to learn how to market their businesses and scale them to success, no matter where they sell their products.
That’s what Happening Hands is here for. And I’m so glad we’ve come out stronger on the other side.
Do you have a business you’ve had to pivot in a crisis or leave behind entirely? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.
Kiana Jones is the Founder & CEO of Happening Hands, and the host of the Handmade CEO Podcast. She is also an artist, granola business owner, medieval history enthusiast, toddler mom, and works as the Earned Media Manager at Wealth Assistants. You can find her @happeninghands on Instagram, and learn more about joining her community here.