Loupe Founder & CEO Eric Doty on empowering sellers and building community
Eric Doty grew up on a dairy farm, in a remote area of New York in a town of just 1,000 people. Far from a major city, it was a challenging location to catch a sporting event, so he and his dad instead turned to sports card trading as a hobby to further engage with their passion. They loved the thrill of the hunt, and breaking open a fresh pack of cards to see what players would be inside.
In 2019, while he had been getting back into trading quite heavily, he was intrigued by the way sports card shops were suddenly moving product: On Instagram in front of a live audience of potential customers. After 12 years working on XBox at Microsoft, and then gaming and livestreaming at Mobcrush as Head of Product, Doty couldn’t help but notice all the ways the experience might be upgraded for the modern sports card enthusiast. “I remember sitting up at 3am texting a friend in France saying, ‘Oh my gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we did X, Y, and Z?’” he says. “My personality is very much driven by having problems to solve, and it was such a big problem to solve.”
Doty would ultimately quit his Head of Product job during the pandemic, and launch Loupe’s livestreaming sports card platform in October 2020. “I am stubborn to a fault,” he says. “I don’t think most people would liquidate all their assets during a global pandemic. And I don't think this company would have started if I wasn’t this stubborn, but I knew it was what I wanted to do. It was a bet I was willing to make, and I'm so happy that I did.”
As it turns out, the timing was actually just right for Loupe to enter the market, because sports card trading is hotter than ever in 2021. Several high profile sports cards have sold for millions this year, with returns on these investments outperforming the S&P 500. The interest in cards as both a hobby and an asset class has led to a huge surge of interest in the platform, as well—among both buyers and sellers. A quarter of sellers have cleared $1M on Loupe, and 90% of buyers go on to make more purchases from the platform.
Here, as Loupe rounds out its first full year in business, Doty shares more about the platform’s success, the resurgence of sports card trading, and what’s next for the company.
JB: Sports card trading has been really popular in the past year or so especially, and some cards are skyrocketing in price. Why do you think the collectables market has seen such a boom in interest recently?
I think any market that has a wide variety of ways people can engage with it can be very powerful. With sports cards, you have an alternative asset class, which is important, all the way down to collectors who just spend a few dollars here and there; they collect because it makes them happy. You also have everything in between. You have those who like the dopamine hit of the chase, or those who like opening the packs to collect just one or two players and chase down their autographs. There's a wide variety of applications, and that is just really powerful. It also sort of mimics what you see in the consumer stock investment space today with the rise of platforms like Robinhood. Some use the app for traditional trading, others for the gamified experience, and others for the social aspect. There’s a community around it, which we also see on Loupe. It’s really cool to see sports cards get that modern resurgence—using social channels, building community, becoming an asset class—and people are coming into the hobby now that might otherwise not have.
JB: As I’m sure you know, Forerunner’s big thesis this year is that the future of commerce will be driven by the seller, and Loupe supports so many of them. Can you tell me a little bit about how sellers are empowered through Loupe’s platform?
ED: We have a bunch of different sellers on Loupe, including sellers who are fairly new to the trade and just started doing online sales during the pandemic, all the way up to sellers who have had brick-and-mortar shops operating well before the pandemic ever began. We have brought value to both of them. For brick-and-mortar shops, what’s great is that we have some that can do 80-90% of their sales each month through our app now, because we just simplify things for them that would have been challenging to do selling through eBay or their own website. We offer them tools to streamline the actual selling experience, marketing help, and we engage an audience through our Loupe community. We also do a 1:1 consultation with the sellers, giving them tips and tricks from our backgrounds in product, selling, and building businesses, as well as actual data to tell them how they're doing compared with their peers. We show them things that we're seeing in the market that they might not yet be taking advantage of.
JB: Though you’ve led teams before, you’re a first-time founder and CEO with Loupe. What has been the biggest challenge in building this company?
ED: The most challenging thing for me has been hiring. That is a combination of the market, and then the world just being really different than it was the year before we started. I’ve also always been a product person; day in and day out, I was all about building the product, and then someone else would handle hiring. I had never really taken to heart that once you raise money as a founder, you pivot to hiring. You do other things, of course, but hiring is probably the most important, and you really have to hire all the time. It’s a great problem to have, but when your business or product outgrows your team, it’s a mad scramble to fill roles. One of the best things we did was bring on a full-time recruiter, which made hiring so much easier. It was great to see people who were previously under water with work get the support they needed. If I could give myself one piece of advice for when I started, it would be to get serious about hiring sooner.
JB: Can you tell me what has surprised you about the journey thus far? What are you most proud of?
ED: As someone who has run teams before, but has never been “the person”or the CEO before, it has been rewarding to watch people flourish in the team on opportunities they otherwise wouldn't have gotten while working on a clear career path at another company for many years. We're a startup, so we don't have seven layers of management and red tape. If you believe in something, you put your name on it, and you pursue it. It's been amazing to see people I've known for years or people I just met take this company and run with it, and be proud to work for a company like this. Beyond the team, I am also really proud of helping small businesses grow in a way that they otherwise might not have without the app. We don’t really take credit for that; we see ourselves as assisting their efforts, and try to make it all about them, and I’m really proud that that is the tone and the culture we’ve built. We are only as successful as our B2B partners, and that runs through everything we do.
JB: I’d love to hear about your immediate goals for Loupe. What does success look like in the next few months or year? What will you be focused on?
ED: We’d like to double the number of sellers that reach $1M in sales on the platform in the next few months and double the size of the team. Right now, we’re at 16 people, and Loupe will be over 20 in the next several months. We have pages and pages of roadmap features we’re ready to prioritize to both give collectors what they want, as well as surprise and delight them with things I don’t think they’ve ever thought about before. Our big guiding light is that we want to be “a card show in your pocket,” and I think people are going to really see that come to fruition over the next six to 12 months as we look at helping people buy the cards they are looking for, find valuable ways to engage with the community in regards to their collection, and bring that experience on Loupe back out to the physical space. We just opened Loupe HQ in Miami, where the back is an office for our employees and the front of the space is an actual card shop—but unlike one you’ve ever seen. We have murals painted by local artists, TVs playing sports all the time, and couches and lounge areas to hang out and open cards. We are always trying to educate consumers about the hobby and help them with their collections, and this will be a great vehicle for that.
For more information, visit loupetheapp.com, download the Loupe app in the Apple App Store, and read the case study on our Series A investment in Loupe.