Before Yahoo bought Tumblr, industry observers often wondered why the company had never done commerce. Tumblr has an incredible audience of 300 million monthly unique visitors, but it struggled to monetize them. The company had only brought in $14 million in revenue in 2012, most of it from advertisers.
The techo-chamber loves to speculate on what kind of money Tumblr could have made if it had just turned on a magical commerce button. The site features big beautiful images. If only they were shoppable. Tumblr could make $100 million just like that!
Tumblr never did commerce, partly, because it’s really hard. There’s a reason Pinterest isn’t going that route, either.
That hasn’t stopped some startups from creating their own workaround hacks for enabling commerce on the platform. The sale to Yahoo hasn’t changed their plans, either. If anything, the sale to a digital ad giant reaffirms that Tumblr will monetize with ads, not sales. Last year a Portland-based ad agency called Coexist Digital built a back-end service enabling commerce on individualTumblr posts called Blkdot. (Tumblr’s canned response: the company is “amazed and delighted” by the “creative ways” third parties use its platform.)
Earlier this year, hackathon regular Jason Fertel built his own Tumblr commerce tool called OwnThis. It was inspired by a project he worked on at the Decoded Fashion hackathon during Fashion Week in February. (The founders of that project, called Coveted, parted ways with Fertel and continue to operate separately.) The idea is simple: Any Tumblr blogger can make their posts shoppable by adding an OwnThis hashtag to the post. After a simple one-time signup, it’s fairly seamless to add a for-sale button to anything you post on Tumblr.
Fertel previously founded daily deals site Dealburner (which sold to CityPockets). He and his co-founder Ian Culley been toying around with various other hacks like a silly snapchat for places called Flasher, which Apple rejected from the App store. (Fertel also recently won a pie-eating contest at WeWork summer camp.) After toying with OwnThis, he decided he liked it enough to turn it into a real business.
He’s spent the last few months signing up brands like Deborah Lippman and Nooka watches. He’s got seven on board currently and more in the pipeline. The tech integrates with the brands’ own back-ends and logistics, using Magento, Shopify or BigCartel. Once a user has purchased through OwnThis one time, all future purchases can be done directly in the Tumblr stream. That’s where the majority of Tumblr’s pageviews happen to begin with. “Our goal is to make in-stream buying and selling as simple as possible,” Fertel says.
Chirpify has made noise by facilitating in-stream purchases on Twitter. Fertel believes Tumblr is more ripe for this kind of behavior because of how image-heavy it is. Like on Pinterest, Tumblr users often reblog and “like” items they want to purchase. A product shot can be shared hundreds of times; thanks to its hashtag technology, the OwnThis button will automatically be shared with it.
As Fertel signs brands on board, he’s also going after influencers — fashion and beauty bloggers like Dapprly and BluePerk who have 50,000 or more followers Tumblr. Sure, bloggers are making money through affiliate link networks like the mysterious Rstyle.me. Likewise, the most well-known ones are brokering their own deals with brands, often even hiring agents. But they can make more money on commission by facilitating sales directly.
OwnThis is currently boostrapped.
Update: This post was updated to reflect that OwnThis is separate from Coveted, the Decoded Fashion Week hackathon finalist.