Entrepreneurs will tell you that small business fails are much more common than small business successes. It really doesn’t matter that the business idea or product are great, because it takes enormous amounts of persistence, cash, and luck, to stand out in a world of new business ventures. Vendedy is one company which has seen both sides of the entrepreneurial struggle, emerging from 95 funding applications… and 95 rejections… into the world of start-up success. Vendedy eventually raised close to $300,000 in one year, becoming the very first social network to connect street markets with the world’s consumers.
Christine Souffrant is the founder of Vendedy, and she thought differently about how people shop. In fact, she believed that she could form a social enterprise which would connect street vendors with customers who are looking for authentic, locally handcrafted items. Vendedy is that online marketplace. Vendedy connects street sellers with interested buyers. Artisans dependent upon street markets for income now have access to consumers from around the globe. Vendedy is developing a stable customer base for vendors who need their purchases…150 countries large, in fact…to serve as the hub for a projected ten-trillion-dollar offline economy.
Souffrant is no stranger to street vending. Her mother sold Haitian artwork in New York City. Souffrant counts three generations of female street vendors in her Haitian ancestry. When her mother came to ply her wares in Manhattan, she brought along the best of Haiti’s artwork and sold out the first day. She was so successful over the years, that she eventually opened her own boutique by 1998. But in 2010, the earthquake which ravaged Haiti also disrupted the access to Haiti’s artisans and their wares. Souffrant’s mother abruptly closed her business. Souffrant toured Haiti’s capital, and found that vendors were selling for their own survival from the top of piles of rubble. This was the catalyst for her endeavor. She knew that street vendors in many countries were attempting to make a living based on the tourist trade. Her own country was an example of what happens to vendors when circumstances prevent them from selling. She set off on a mission to close the gap between sellers and buyers.
Souffrant started Vendedy from a student blog. The company was created to benefit street venders all over the world. Vendor support begins when street corner sellers upload photos of their work onto Vendedy’s mobile gallery network. There, global customers can see products and purchase them online. Vendedy coordinates varied technologies to pay vendors. Purchased products are shipped from vendors to customers using parcel post.
Vendedy began by asking travelers to post photos of their experiences with vendors as they traveled the world’s streets. Within the first two days, 334 photos were posted on Vendedy’s website, kicking off the 2015 campaign. By 2016, the company had created a permanent platform collecting street experiences, encouraging travelers to post information such as:
- Traveler’s Name
- Traveler’s Country
- Travel Story
- Personal Bio
- Photo of the moment
- A selection from sample tags promoting Vendedy or the street experience
Vendedy encourages posts by offering to select the best posts as the week’s best street experience, and to feature the post in a press release. Posting on the Vendedy website is as simple as filling out the online form, uploading a photo and posting a comment. Approval follows within 24 hours of posting.
Vendedy also launched a tour day in November 2016, offering travelers the chance to see various world regions from the viewpoint of their best street markets. Information, resources, tips on food and wares, resources for deals and ways to get to know the best vendors was included. Each hour of the day, from 9am to 2pm, was devoted to a different area of the globe:
- Latin America
- Middle East
With aggressive and focused marketing, Vendedy spent its first two years of existence reaching out to travelers and vendors with online sessions for hanging out and sharing stories, demonstrating its app, giving away products curated from street markets, and listening to ideas and feedback from its customer base. From its incorporation in 2014 until its emergence as the hub for street market interactions on a global scale, the company continued to survey both vendors and consumers, gleaning valuable information about what they needed and wanted.
Before incorporating Vendedy, Souffrant traveled around the world, meeting with venders and creating information about the way street markets function in more than 30 countries. Before that journey, she had been selected as one of a thousand students who were invited to the Clinton Global Initiative University Summit. The summit provided the foundation she needed to start out on a series of pilot programs:
- An initial project conducted during the World Cup in Brazil
- A test project conducted in Haiti utilizing volunteers
- A Port au Prince beta launch featuring its top ten vendors
- Establishing a bidding network which realized increases in vendor incomes over a two-week span totaling more than 14X annual income
- Realizing the increase in partnerships with press networks
- Three market pilots in Brazil and Haiti; typically volatile venues
- An IBM partnership
By 2015, it became clear that the bidding marketplace established as a pilot program was not sustainable. So Vendedy revised its format to a platform where tourists could source information on an open market basis. This revised business model was used for more pilot launches, which followed by global recognition. The company began to focus on market tests with street vendors, assessing consumer demand and issuing a series of releases of various apps. The goal was to centralize access to the various markets.
Vendedy continues to make unique goods available to travelers through its digital platform. Accessing the best local products while traveling, using one mobile network, the company hopes to connect one billion tourists with two billion venders by digitizing the $10 trillion street economy.
Vendedy is currently serving as the very first hub for anything related to the street market. This includes food, local fairs, established and recurring street festivals, antique markets, tutorials for haggling prices, tips for new vendors, and opportunities to network with others of like mind. The site currently features ongoing announcements about what the company is doing, street art news and profiles for cities around the world, street market profiles for cities across the United States, numerous travel hacks and tips for making money while traveling, and many opportunities for travels to share their own street experiences with a like-minded community of those who appreciate the street scenes everywhere.
There are three specific ways to leverage the Vendedy network:
- Subscribe to the weekly newsletter for articles and resources about top street experiences locally and abroad
- Add a personal story to the network by registering and contributing
- Use the street market database when traveling to search out the best offerings of 500 street markets
If Christine Souffrant succeeds in her mission, Vendedy will become a lasting solution for global poverty, providing a dependable source for vendor employment and prosperity.