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The “baby” of eBay and Instagram: How Depop married ecommerce and social media

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Social networking is a big business. In August, Facebook racked up one billion users in a single day, while Twitter has expanded its SME advertising service to span 200 markets.

Then there was Instagram which was acquired by Facebook for $1bn in 2012 – a move it followed up a couple of years later when WhatsApp was taken over for $19bn.

Meanwhile Snapchat’s founder Evan Spiegel was determined to go at it alone and refused multi-billion dollar offers from Mark Zuckerberg‘s empire and Google – a decision that saw the 23-year-old named on the Forbes billionaires list of 2015.

So let’s talk about Depop. It’s fair to say that the business is lesser-known than its aforementioned kin, however, it has a seemingly devout following that’s growing at an impressive rate.

A peer-to-peer marketplace, Depop is comparable to eBay with regards to the formula, it doesn’t charge a listing fee – just a ten per cent commission on successful sales. That said, it is entirely unique in that it comes equipped with a social media-like design and functionality laced throughout.

It means that shoe fans can browse footwear and like photos to their heart’s content, just as they may do on Instagram, but with the added option to go ahead and buy what they happen across.

Of course, it’s not just shoes found on the Depop app – which is available from the App Store and Google Play. Sporting goods, clothes, gadgets, collectables, music, art and more can be browsed and purchased, and all that’s required to list is to take a picture.

Founded back in 2011 by Simon Beckerman at the H-Farm startup centre in Italy, Depop caught the attention of investors Balderton Capital and Holtzbrinck Ventures, and promptly set up a HQ in London’s centre of quirky creativity – Shoreditch.

With hubs in the UK capital, Milan and New York, Real Business caught up with Depop CEO Runar Reistrup – an entrepreneur himself – as the firm witnesses sevenfold growth and tens of millions of items sold.

You started developing mobile ventures before smartphones launched. What were the biggest difficulties you faced at the time?

Before the Apple App Store was around and later when the Google Play Store came along, app distribution in Europe and US was very challenging. Back then, the only way to get your app on a lot of phones was to work with mobile operators and handset manufacturers to pre-install it.

This, however, was a lengthy and expensive process that meant that, paradoxically, even before your app was out it was already old. For this reason, it was almost impossible for new apps to take off before we got the Apple and Google app stores.

A breakdown of how the average Brit spends time online each day

How did that change with the arrival of the smartphone?

During the first year of the iPhone nothing actually changed, simply because there was no easy way to install new apps. However, when Apple launched the App Store with the second iPhone, the road was paved for entrepreneurs and established companies alike distribute their own apps through the App Store, and the rest is history.

The introduction of the two app stores defined the paradigm we have today, where anyone with a great idea can produce a great app and potentially get it on the phones of millions almost overnight.

Are there any key shifts that you’ve seen in the evolution of the app space that you feel have benefitted entrepreneurs like yourself?

Yes, for example, mobile payments used to be very challenging. Now, with the arrival of Stripe and other mobile payments solutions, entrepreneurs can take the app economy to the next level by adding seamless payments to the apps. As a result, instant booking and shopping apps started thriving.

In between your entrepreneurial exploits, you had a stint at Vodafone. How useful was it to start working for a corporate outfit after working independently?

When Vodafone acquired our previous company, the whole telecommunication industry was at the very beginning of a transition from relying on the traditional telecoms services, voice and SMS, to serving the growing customer demand for internet access to any device anywhere. It was a very exciting and challenging time for the industry and a great experience to help lead this transition.

In any larger company, driving execution at an entrepreneurial pace is hard and that makes it interesting. Spending time as part of the leadership team of a telecoms giant taught me a lot about how to succeed with execution and innovation at large scale.

Depop is now your main focus, so where did the concept come from and how would you define the business?

The concept of Depop came from its founder, Simon Beckerman, who came up with the idea in 2011 as a mobile shop for a magazine he had founded a few years previously. The idea expanded to what is now Depop and became a mission to create the most fun and simple way for anyone to buy and sell.

Depop was once described by a senior social media manager at ASOS as “eBay and Instagram having a baby”. It’s a mobile app that works as a marketplace for sellers and buyers to connect, chat, buy and sell.

Continue on the next page to find out how Reistrup and the team plan to build on the existing two million app downloads and sevenfold year-on-year growth.

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