Boardroom caught up with Whatnot co-founder Logan Head at The MINT Collective to talk about the evolution and future of the platform.
Livestream auction platform Whatnot has continued its exponential growth and is currently valued at $1.5 billion after a $150 million Series C funding round back in September 2021. The platform, which was founded in 2019, allows buyers to bid on livestream video auctions selling everything from trading cards to sneakers, Funko Pops, and other collectibles.
Boardroom caught up with Logan Head, co-founder of Whatnot, at the MINT Collective to discuss how his company came into existence and what’s next for the app.
Brett Pickert: Can you introduce yourself to those who aren’t familiar with what you do for Whatnot?
Logan Head: My responsibility within the organization is overseeing all of the tech side. I’m running the engineering department and also the product team, which includes data scientists to product managers, and so forth.
BP: Take me through the thought process of creating Whatnot from a technical standpoint?
LH: Whatnot has evolved quite a bit since we first built it. Some of the technical choices we made were to move fast and allow us to be able to iterate and add things very quickly. Think about adding a live shopping experience to Facebook, for example. It would take a team maybe five years. We were able to do it in two months. It was not necessarily the right technical decision and we ended up having to re-write it but what it did allow us to do was to prove that it was something our users wanted.
BP: What was the inspiration for doing a livestream auction platform?
LH: Grant, who is the other co-founder, we’re close friends and we always wanted to build something together. We both knew a lot about marketplaces. Specifically, we’ve worked at different marketplaces in the past.
What we saw within these marketplaces was a couple things missing. Most marketplaces are focused on the transaction. So, you go there just to buy something but a lot of these marketplaces have an underlying community. They weren’t servicing that community and allowing that community to interact. Number two, we really wanted to make sure that we provided a safe and trusted platform. When you go to eBay, Mercari, and Craigslist, there’s some uncertainty with what you’re buying. By applying those two concepts, we ended up creating Whatnot, which actually didn’t start as live shopping, we actually pivoted to it.
We started with Funko Pops before moving into trading cards, sneakers and other categories. Grant’s really into trading cards and I’m into designer toys. We saw that community and it was fragmented. Saw people were interacting in Facebook groups, Discord channels, and other marketplaces. We wanted to unify that. Our hypothesis was if we could build out that Funko Pop community, we can build other communities as well. We first built a marketplace where you can buy and sell Funko Pops. Then, added in the social features such as following users and adding profile pictures. We noticed our users were going to Instagram and “hacking” the live feature to auction off items. It was mainly a bad experience, going back and forth through chat to collect payment and shipping information.
BP: An under-appreciated feature of Whatnot is the “live chat” and how the streamer can see a message as soon as it’s sent. While on other apps such as Facebook and Instagram, there’s that delay. Was it difficult to achieve that feature?
LH: There’s a lot of investment that has been made in the open-source area with real-time video. If you look at a lot of different platforms, they’re dedicated to that. It was actually a few different iterations. Principally as a technology company we’re not going to be building all technology in-house. The reason being we want to focus on the product and ensure the users are getting what they want. We’re not necessarily a video streaming technology company but there are companies that are that. So we did a little more research and found out what other apps were using, and it’s a platform called Agora, which is a third-party provider, and so we integrated with them. Agora powers a bunch of live streaming shopping apps in China, and Clubhouse is built on it as well. The first set of video streaming was built in-house. Principally, I could have built it to scale but I wanted to focus on other things to allow us to grow otherwise.
BP: What are updates that are on the roadmap that users can get excited about?
LH: We just had our all-hands in Austin and it’s incredible. We have over 200 employees. I was going over the roadmap with everyone. Here’s what I’m really excited to share about, P2P (person-to-person) chat, which should be released in the next few weeks. It’s been the most common request and the reason we prioritized it was to build the community side of Whatnot. Not just to settle disputes between buyer and seller. People want to connect and say “I really like your stream.” Another feature I’m excited for is clipping; people will be able to clip certain parts of the stream. Let’s say you pull a card and it’s a huge card. You’ll be able to clip that part of the stream and share it directly to Instagram.
BP: Right now, Whatnot sellers are usually big breakers in the sports trading card hobby or they’re influential figures in other verticals such as sneakers and Funko Pops. Is there a plan to lower the barrier of entry to allow more livestream sellers?
LH: What we really care about the platform is trust and safety. We have a very large waiting list for those who want to become livestream sellers. The reason why we haven’t opened it up is because we need to build the right safety mechanisms. So, how do we build a system in place in case a live seller is misbehaving or selling a product that isn’t authentic? It’s a huge concern for us. There’s a few things we will be adding to the product soon. Think about how you become a driver for uber. You go through a background check, you submit your ID. It’s going to be something similar. We want to make sure it’s you and you can’t create more than one account. It’s really up to you as a seller to treat the community well. We have to write the safety mechanisms in the software to fully support that. To fully open the waitlist will take some time but it’s something we absolutely want to do.
BP: What is the current user base and how much has it grown over the last year?
LH: We’re actually one of the fastest growing marketplaces in the history of the US. We are growing faster than eBay when they first started, uber, you name it. In terms of this year, we’ve grown, I don’t know how many multiples, but it’s quite a bit. There will be a list that comes out next month by Andreesen Horowitz. What it does, it lists the top 100 marketplaces. I think last year, we were 80. Our new position will be published in that list.
BP: What countries is Whatnot available in right now?
LH: We just beta launched Canada from a seller’s side earlier last week. We’re really excited to see that. When you log in from Canada, there’s a button to click to see Canadian sellers. On the buyer’s side, it’s available to pretty much anyone. Problem is if you’re outside of the US, you will be responsible for different duties, customs, and higher shipping. We’ll be investing quite a bit into Canada this year, which I am excited about. It’s been amazing to see all the sellers going live in the past week. It reminds me of the early days of Whatnot.