By Michael Giardino
I turn off my computer and step away. That moment, push notifications start flooding my iPhone screen. 300 monthly subscriptions within the first hour. 800 in the first week.
Let’s rewind to me in 10th grade. Those stories in your Facebook News Feed about limited edition shoes selling out so fast that you have to pay five times retail on eBay? That was probably me — or, rather, bots that I taught myself to program, fetching some of the world’s most exclusive sneakers before human hands could click “buy.” I was turning thousands of dollars of profit selling sneakers on the secondary market every month, money that would get rolled into purchasing more sneakers.
One night, I purchased 100 out of 120 available pairs of limited edition sneakers from an Italian online boutique, at an average margin of $150 per pair above retail. The retailer caught on to my bots and cancelled all of my transactions, losing me $15,000 in potential profits overnight.
After that incident, my obsession with competitively optimizing my bots for the KPI of “exclusive sneaker purchasing share” began to become joyless. I was a faceless mercenary, coding increasingly sophisticated algorithms and bots to detect and crack websites so I could turn one dollar into two. While I was scrolling through the usual underground sneaker community sites, though, I noticed another trend emerging: Funko Pops. Funko Pops are small, licensed plastic figurines that are oftentimes limited edition collectibles. Their collectors also aren’t as hardened as sneaker collectors, and many of them expressed their disappointment at missing out on limited releases on Instagram.
“I had it in my cart, but it sold out while I was checking out! I hate these flippers [slang term for resellers]. I wish I had a bot or a way to get it on my own,” one comment read.
And then it struck me: What if I used my botting prowess to help build up a community of devoted fans, instead of turning it into another vehicle for simple profit?
So I spent the summer of my junior year building Funko Dojo, a subscription-based community aimed at collectors looking to discuss and acquire the most coveted Funko Pops on the market. Instead of a KPI or traditional growth metrics, I became obsessed with creating the perfect brand presence and online community for Funko Pop fans. I crafted messaging to customers to avoid attracting resellers and to cater it strictly toward the collector community. I planned philanthropic campaigns for my users, including a partnership with Pops! For Patients, a charity dedicated to delivering Funko Pops to a nationwide network of children’s hospitals.
One problem: I had no users. The service hadn’t yet been pushed live. This thing I had spent my entire summer working on and hyping up never felt “ready” to be released to the public. At every step there seemed another forked path of potential optimizations.
As another cold New Jersey winter brewed, doubt set in, the light from my laptop screaming at me in a dark room. What if “my baby” was rejected by people? What if no one wanted to pay $20 per month for access to purchase plastic figurines at retail price? And my greatest fear: Would all my hard work go to waste?
Then disaster struck — a competing service launched, co-opting my idea. The wind out of my sails, I talked to a friend I met in my sneaker-flipping days and a Program Manager at Microsoft. He set me straight. “This is the kind of thing that’s always a work-in-progress,” he said. “You shouldn’t be sitting here losing money when you have a great product, and you’re just being too hard on yourself.”
So on September 15th, 2018, I activate the Shopify account for Funko Dojo and post the announcement on Twitter. Funko Dojo was officially live. I turn off my computer and step away.
Michael Giardino ’23 is currently pursuing a Computer Science degree at the University of Rochester. Michael comes from New Jersey where he founded his current venture, Funko Dojo. He aspires to use his entrepreneurial mindset and leadership skills to spearhead the solutions to the problems faced by his generation.