A stroll in High Park, Bellwoods or The Beaches will confirm the inspiration behind this local startup: we’re a city of dog lovers. We’re even home to Woofstock, one of the largest dog lovers’ festivals in North America.
Launched in the App Store in O…
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If you’re one of a growing number of people who has sacrificed space for the convenience of living in a shoebox-sized condo in the heart of downtown, this startup might just change your life. At the very least, it will de-clutter it.
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Making socially conscious shopping decisions is one way that we can engage with the wider world in our everyday lives. In a city with incredible access to goods from around the world, we’re often given the choice to “vote with our wallets” and buy from small producers rather than big business.
One new local startup, Far & Wide Collective, connects online shoppers with some seriously beautiful crafts with a conscience. Launched in May, this e-commerce company sells housewares, clothing, bags and jewelry hand made by artisans in post-conflict countries, like Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan.
Founder Hedvig Alexander, who spent years working in international development in war-torn regions of the world, believes that her startup has much potential to entice shoppers, while also improving the lives of craftspeople halfway around the world.
What inspired you to create Far & Wide Collective?
After almost a decade in and around Afghanistan, I felt that the biggest obstacle to artisans and small craft businesses was access to international markets and buyers. Despite the growth of demand in America and Europe, an abundance of artisans, and a wealth of authentic, unique and handmade products, artisans in Afghanistan and other low-income countries have very limited access to markets beyond local bazaars.
Mainstream retailers often worry that sourcing from emerging-market artisans is too risky. Online platforms that carry crafts tend to only work with producers who are computer literate, can read and write, can process credit card payments, and have access to reliable postal systems. This excludes most talented artisans in emerging markets.
The craft sector is the second largest employer, after agriculture, in most developing countries. It’s an opportunity for thousands – millions even – to earn a living and own their own business. Crafts are also often made by women, who rank among the most vulnerable in many of these societies. Crafts don’t usually require literacy or formal education, but rather concrete skills passed on from generation to generation. In even the most deeply conservative countries, craft production allows women to participate in the economy, empowering themselves and lifting their families out of poverty.
Far & Wide Collective creates a business model that enables systematic market access for artisans and small craft businesses in emerging economies by tackling challenges like product design, logistics, warehousing, content development, marketing and sales. We think this is a unique opportunity to connect supply with demand and include a whole new segment of producers who has previously been left out of the global economy.
Your business works on fair trade principles. So, how do you make money?
We buy products directly from our partner artisans and give production and design support when needed. Sometimes we work with organizations on the ground to provide this support. Products are marked up to allow for the costs assorted with getting them to market: export, import, shipping, warehousing, packing, picking and sending the product to the customer. Any profits go directly into supporting artisans and buying new inventory. Our partner artisans always receive the full price for the product upfront and we take the financial risk, no matter what price a product is ultimately sold at.
Who are your competitors in this space?
Besides websites that sell crafts like Etsy and Not On the High Street, in principle every business that sells handmade, unique and artisanal products is a competitor. Competition is a good thing, since it helps grow the market and educates buyers. Our main distinguishing factor is our commitment to also helping the artisans formalize and grow their businesses. The only way we’ll grow is if the small businesses and producers we work with also grow.
What kinds of consumers have been loving your website so far?
It seems that 95% of our buyers so far are women. We really want our buyers to understand that they’re doing more than just shopping when they buy on our site. They’re also investing in a small business somewhere in the world.
What’s the biggest challenge working with artisans in post-conflict countries? The biggest reward?
Our biggest challenge is reaching customers, since we have a very limited marketing budget as a startup. We’re only able to help our artisans if we’re able to sell their products. The biggest reward is to see the incredible difference it makes when artisans are able to reach markets, grow their businesses and as a result benefit their families and communities. I just returned to Kabul over the weekend and placed new orders with all of our partners there. Compared to 11 months ago, they’re even more focused and enthusiastic.
For many years you worked in international development. What surprised you the most when moving into the ecommerce business?
I’m constantly reminded how hard it is to sell and how strong the competition is. It’s interesting that I’ve become an online retailer to solve the problem I spent a decade in development trying to solve! If anything, I’ve been positively surprised by how eager our partner artisans are to make this work. When we launched I already had products come from 30 artisans living in six different countries, without delay or quality issues.
What’s next for Far & Wide Collective?
We’re in Kabul this week and just launched our Artisan Toolkit. It is a heavily illustrated training manual that will help get artisans market-ready by mapping out how to get from skill to business. The Toolkit will have an audio version for artisans with little or no literacy. It is a one-year project and we’re partnering with the Export Promotion Agency of Afghanistan and with one of the largest Afghan telecom companies on creating the audio version. We wanted to find a more innovative way of connecting artisans to markets and plan to work with more than 500 Afghan artisans.
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Setting up your computer to handle encrypted communications can be a real fucking nightmare. Figuring out your public and private keys, your OTR plugins for your Pidgin, and getting linked up to Tor is a lot of work for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Which you’ll probably empathize with, considering—like me—you probably don’t know what any of those words mean or do.
Luckily MEGA, the company set up by internet activist-cum-tech celeb Kim Dotcom, among others, wants to change all that by providing a service that allows any activist, businessman, or paranoid Luddite grandmother to send and receive encrypted emails without virtual strangers snooping around all up in their business. To find out more, I called up Vikram Kumar, the CEO of MEGA, to talk about the internet today, the business of selling privacy, and how a company can promise security in a post-Snowden world.
VICE: Hi, Vikram. How has the Snowden case affected the public’s understanding of online security?
Vikram Kumar: There has been a massive undermining of trust—we now have to have a default assumption that the internet is an untrusted environment. The number of people who doubt whether Silicon Valley-type companies are able to protect their privacy, even if the companies wanted to, has changed. If you don’t know who to trust, you trust no one at all.
Does that mean there’s a new gap in the market for reliable communication companies?
There’s always been a need for journalists or activists to remain anonymous or to protect their identity and contacts online. What hasn’t been there is a perceived need [for internet privacy] by the average person. What’s changed is an emerging mass market for privacy.
Right, encryption for the masses. So how does MEGA achieve that?
Right now, MEGA is basically a cloud storage collaboration, but with privacy at its core. Our next step is increasing the communication aspect, which is where email and messaging come in. This isn’t about trying to get privacy and security for the tech experts, who can install their own and are happy to do configuration and key management and certificates. We’re really focused on how we get privacy for everyone.
When you say “everyone,” do you mean everyone who grew up using a computer, or, like, my grandpa?
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There are some tried-and-true pairings in this world that will never get old. Toronto startup Groovie wants to make it a snap to get your fix of one classic combo: dinner and a movie.
The app, freshly launched in September, helps you find the movies playing around you, locates nearby dining spots to enjoy before the show, and facilitates inviting friends from your contact list and tracking RSVPs so that you can make a night of it. Currently available for iOS, the app will soon be available to Android devices.
This is one thoroughly homegrown startup, with all-Canadian owners, investors and development team. I asked founder Josh Hudson why he saw great potential in making this first date standby the focus of his startup.
What’s the inspiration behind Groovie?
The story is a pretty familiar one. We really just got tired of sending a million texts and emails back and forth with our friends and spouses trying to figure out what movie we wanted to see and where were wanted to eat, only to give up and end up staying home on the couch watching a movie and ordering a pizza.
It’s so easy to be persuaded to stay home and just turn on Netflix or Apple TV these days, which is great most of the time, but it’s just not the same as going out to the theater. I remember trying to go see Man of Steel with my fiancee earlier this year – we could have flown to Krypton and back in less time than it took to pick a showtime and restaurant. We wound up staying home and watching The Dark Knight instead.
How does Groovie make money?
Groovie will always be free for users, but theatres and restaurants will be charged to be featured on the app. We’re also planning to sell ‘dinner & a movie’ packages with our partners. The one thing we absolutely won’t be doing is introducing banner ads, pop-ups or any affiliate advertising. Not only are they annoying, but they’re also ineffective. One of the main issues with mobile marketing is businesses are trying to shoehorn in old advertising methods that simply don’t work. Users don’t have the time or patience for irrelevant information.
What does Groovie do better than other movie apps out there?
Our main competition is Flixster and other movie apps, and to a lesser degree, local movie showtime websites, like Tribute or Cinemaclock. Google Search is also a competitor in the sense that if all you want to to do is a find a showtime and nothing else, it’s quick and easy.
With Groovie you can find showtimes, nearby restaurants and instantly send out an invite with texts and notifications to the people you go out with the most, who are all on your phone’s contact list. At the end of the day, Groovie is really just taking something we all love to do, go see a movie with friends, family or a date, and make it a little easier and more fun. That’s it. We’re definitely not aiming to turn the tech world upside down, ‘disrupt’ anything or be bought by Facebook for a billion dollars.
What kind of people would really love your app?
Pretty much anyone who likes going to the movies, whether you’re a hardcore film buff or you just go to the theater once in a while. Groovie is great for any movie fan, from tweens to twenty-somethings to families. It’s also sort of a natural singles app as well, since grabbing dinner and a movie is a classic date. In fact, we’ve actually started talking to dating sites about doing some really fun and cool cross-promotions.
What has been your biggest challenge in getting your app ready to hit the market?
Without a doubt the hardest thing to do is make the app easy to use. Our development team worked tirelessly to build as simple an app as possible, constantly stripping away unnecessary features, information and bells and whistles, while still trying to create an elegant user experience. They did a remarkable job and put in a great deal of critical thinking before even a single line of code was written.
And they’re still working on improving Groovie and responding to user feedback as quick as possible. The most successful consumer software is really dead-simple at its core -Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest – which is a herculean task. If you can’t explain what your product does to a first-grader, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board. And I’m thrilled to confess that my 6-year old niece is a power user of Groovie.
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