Connecting artisans in developing economies to the global marketplace, with Gijsbert van der Sleen, founder of Discovered

Gijsbert, please introduce yourself…

My name is Gijsbert van der Sleen, I am the founder of Discovered, a social marketplace where artisans (craftsmen) from emerging markets open their online stores and sell directly to consumers worldwide.

I am based in The Netherlands and have a background in e-commerce.

What’s the story behind creating Discovered and can you explain how it works?

I got the idea at the end of 2012. I realized that I needed to have help, that’s why I knocked on the door of Enviu. Enviu starts businesses that create social and environmental impact.

I strongly believe that people want to develop themselves by doing business. During my travels I discovered the best stories are hidden behind special handmade products. Whenever I told these stories to the home front, I noticed that more and more people were enthusiastic.

At the same time the artisans asked whether there was an opportunity to share their stories to Western countries. I saw that they wanted to do business, but sometimes they just do not have the resources to do this.

An opportunity was born, and I wanted to make this possible for them by creating a marketplace where they can sell directly to consumers. By doing so, we take out the middlemen and the artisan will earn more.

We support the artisans wherever possible by working together with local scouts. These are people who speak their language and help them wherever possible. They help them making excellent photo’s and deliver good quality products.

They can set their own selling price, adjusted to the western market, and on top of that we have a 15% margin. We make sure they will earn more selling directly via Discovered then selling via another channel.

At Discovered, not only do you buy a product with a good story, but you really make a difference.

Previously, these products were only found on trips to far destinations, offline visible but online invisible. Discovered brings these products online, giving you the possibility to go on a virtual journey around the world along the nicest countries.

Discovered ensures via scouts that only good sellers and products come online. “Every purchase makes a direct difference. But buyers and sellers can also meet and help each other. That’s the beauty of Discovered.

How’s traction working out so far?

After a great start in The Netherlands it is time to grow internationally. We recently started a crowdfunding campaign to achieve this goal.

It’s is great to see that this subject of social e-commerce really lives among our consumers and that together we can make e-commerce fairer.

What strategies did you use to get your first 100 users?

Networking, networking, networking. We looked around in our own network and started asking, listening and spreading the word.

What were the primary challenges you faced launching Discovered, and how did you overcome them?

In the beginning it was difficult for us to gain the trust of people. We are working together with artisans who are often not familiar with the western way of doing business.

Our consumers weren’t sure whether their package would ever arrive to their house. By communicating regular and often we generated their trust and made sure they were/are satisfied with their Discovered experience.

How does being based in Holland impact the business?

Holland is a small country, and we notice that this is not a big advantage for us. We want to go viral in the USA, however this is a challenge for us since we are rather small.

How do you see the startup and investment ecosystem developing in Holland?

There is a growing amount of startups in The Netherlands, all with their own story. It is nice to see that more and more people are busy to change the world for the good. Currently, meaning full strategies are the top focus of many startups.

What’s next for you and Discovered?

As said before, we are growing fast and want to be grow globally becoming known as the marketplace to find handmade product made by artisans from emerging economies.

Artisans and users are very positive and the ambitions are high. Discovered currently has six countries on the marketplace: India, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, South Africa and Mexico.

To become really global we aim to be available in all emerging economies. As a first step we will have local teams in 12 countries and start by bringing 10,000 products online.

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