Industry Profiles: It’s Redbubble CEO and Co-Founder Martin Hosking

Industry Profiles: It’s Redbubble CEO and Co-Founder Martin Hosking

Redbubble is an online art and design marketplace of user submitted work. Here it’s CEO Martin Hosking tells B&T about the marketing challenges of the business and what makes him tick…

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

Marketing is changing dramatically but there are two significant trends that are having the most influence…

  1. The emergence of genuine 1:1 marketing. The era of broadcasting messages, where you communicated a single idea to many people, is dwindling. We can now communicate a single concept to an individual person at a specific time. Google led the way with this but Facebook and others are catching up. This is a huge advantage for a site like Redbubble with its 16 million images and numerous product offerings. Marketing in this context becomes all about big data and using the increasing capabilities of Facebook and Google ad properties.
  2. Social is becoming a powerful force through which customers (in Redbubble’s case also includes the creatives) genuinely engage with and share content. But they will only do so if the experience is authentic and there’s a compelling reason for them to share: a reason that’s personal and relevant to them, not to Redbubble. Something in the content and the product needs to be meaningful enough for them to tell others. Or in the case of the artists, there is something in their experience with Redbubble that they are willing to share. Our job is to facilitate this and make it seamless.

One of the most exciting developments is…

The emergence of micro targeting which we can marry with mass customisation, providing a unique product exactly to a customer’s own specification.As well as this, the emergence of social is demanding a deep authenticity in the way brands act and think about themselves.

I start the day early…

But I also try not to turn any device on for the first few hours, since I devote them to meditation and the gym. The early part of the day is often spent in meetings as that’s when we overlap with our US office. The afternoons are normally email time. I also often work Saturday mornings given the overlap with the US. Almost all meetings tend to be via video conference given the split in our management between Australia and the US. We have tried to make this as seamless as possible.

We chose Redbubble instead of Blue or Greenbubble…

Because red is the most exciting colour, and we wanted to keep the name as short as possible.

We don’t market to the masses because no one wants to think of themselves as part of the masses…

We may not necessarily be special but we are all unique. Mass production and mass marketing were efficient but they also robbed us of a sense of our own individuality. Redbubble wants to promote this individuality while also recognising that in our uniqueness there is a shared humanity. The least human thing to do is to arbitrarily conform or to give up one’s sense of personal accountability to others. Redbubble thrives on people finding what is meaningful to them.

The biggest threat in both strategy and marketing is to lose sight of the customer and to try and frame everything from the company’s point of view…

Even very large companies can make this mistake. Google+ for example was a product that served Google’s interest but not its customers (who were happy with Facebook). Google has had to adapt to this reality. Whenever we have a strategy or marketing discussion at Redbubble we always come back to who is the customer and what do they want?  (And in our case the customer is also the artist). The challenge is recognising that the customer is changing. You need foresight about this, which is where product and technology insight come in. But they’re not the starting point.

I’m interested in the moments in our life which give a window onto the bigger context in which we live…

They can be big and powerful moments, such as the death of a mare as she is foaling, or they can be simple moments from which connections are made, such as the sight of sap from a tree. Mostly these days I capture these moments in a journal but I hope at some stage to put it together for publication.

Redbubble is a global online marketplace of 350,000+ passionate creatives selling uncommon designs on high-quality, everyday products: apparel, stationery, housewares, bags, wall art and so on…

For customers, it’s the ultimate in self-expression. It’s a simple but meaningful way to show the world who they are and what they care about. For artists, Redbubble helps them profit from their creativity and reach a new universe of adoring fans. In fact, this year Redbubble will connect artists with over two million buyers.

I studied history at university and was surprised why most people miss the big transformations and fail to take advantage of them, the industrial revolution being one example…

So when I saw the Internet in 1995 I realised that this was going to be a transformative technology and was determined to be involved with it as soon as possible. This led to me teaming up with the founders of Looksmart in 1995.  Looksmart went on to be the most successful Australian VC investment ever – although as a company, like most of the early dotcom companies, it was sadly a failure. I will say that even though I thought the Internet would cause huge change, I could never have imagined how transformative it would be.

I love working on my farm…

Spending time with a chainsaw in hand or working the tractor is very focusing and very relaxing. It is a time with nature and yet it is also productive and energetic. Seeing how our farm has become more and more appealing to wildlife is very satisfying.

The main thing that gets my goat is…

People showing disrespect or lack of compassion to others. I dislike this in myself and I dislike it in others.

The biggest edge we have at Redbubble is the sheer diversity of our content…

There is literally something for everybody on Redbubble. But this also presents a real challenge as sifting through things to find relevant images and products is a real challenge. We have done a lot of work to configure the site in a way which is easily searchable and navigable. The next stage will be improving how we provide recommendations.

I don’t think of Redbubble as a media company…

As our job is to sell the work created by independent artists, not to sell advertising – which is what media companies do.

If I was not running Redbubble I think would enjoy working in the entertainment industry, either theatre or film…

I have a few ideas for musicals and films that would be fun to get off the ground. But all this takes a back seat to my real penultimate role which is being CEO of Redbubble.  At the end of it all my ultimate role is as a dad and husband and as a person who is just trying to be conscious of the world around him.

I think the proudest moment for me is where Redbubble is right now…

LookSmart, despite its financial success, was considered a failure by some.  It would have been tempting to have either left the industry or try something smaller. So I’m very happy that I have “got back in the saddle” and this time created a real company, with real customers and value for them, that’s profitable. The fact we’ve done it in Australia with no VC backing (at least until a few months ago) is very satisfying. But it’s a moment that doesn’t stop. The prize for winning is to be able to continue in the ring.

I think the worst moments were at the height of the dotcom boom when LookSmart was being valued at more than Qantas…

We all knew it was insane. We could not model out any valuation scenario which could come to that outcome. It wasn’t our fault but it was unpleasant and felt very fake.

My favourite ‘celebrity’ is…

I am going to go with Pope Francis. He is genuinely transforming how the Catholic Church and indeed Christianity see themselves and are seen.

I think that others would say that I try to find the funny moment to break a time of tension…

There is ALWAYS something funny to be found in even the darkest and most difficult of times. And indeed it is during those times that is the most important that we find the humour.

My secret skill is…

I am a pretty awesome self taught plumber… There are very few jobs involving water that I will not tackle.

Would I rather bee or a wasp?

A bee. They’re so productive.

My motto is…

It will be OK!