From The People
by Isabella Johnson and Chase McNiel
As the COVID-19 pandemic set in, Native American communities were hit hard as powwows and flea markets were forced to close. Working quickly, Isabella Johnson and Chase McNiel launched From The People, a verified Indigenous marketplace and community.
Isabella and Chase had talked about starting a business together for a while, but they’d never quite hit on the right idea. As members of the Coquille (Kō’ Kwel) Indian Tribe and Navajo Nation respectively, they’d always passionately supported Indigenous movements. As classmates at Stanford University, they knew the impact successful startups could have on communities.
The idea for a marketplace came from Isabella, who had always disliked the experience of buying Indigenous products online, never knowing if the items were authentic. She saw an opportunity for a business that verified Indigenous goods and prevented cultural appropriation.
“The Native arts and crafts industry has historically been controlled by non-Native businesses. We wanted to upend the industry’s status quo by making a Native-owned marketplace and ensuring our sellers get a larger cut of the profits.”
As Isabella and Chase discussed the idea, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down powwows and flea markets in Indigenous communities across North America. They realized that their marketplace idea could really help small businesses recoup lost income. They decided to ramp up their efforts to launch From The People, a marketplace for buying and selling Indigenous goods.
Moving fast was key, so Isabella and Chase chose Sharetribe Go to launch the first version of their marketplace.
“We were able to build our marketplace extremely quickly. The Go building tools were easy to use and the guides took us through every aspect of building the marketplace very thoroughly,” Chase says.
“Because creating a platform was fast, we could spend more time building our brand and spreading the message. Many Indigenous artists are very used to going to physical events and markets, so persuading them to try our online marketplace was challenging. It takes a lot of experience to understand how to motivate both sellers and customers to use the site.”
The launch of From The People was a success. Isabella and Chase found out that users were thrilled to be a part of an Indigenous-owned-and-operated marketplace. But the founders soon realized they needed a more customizable solution to serve their growing audience.
“Understanding what makes your marketplace unique and how it fills a gap in people’s lives is key. There were some features we wanted that weren’t supported by the Go platform, like displaying sellers’ tribes on their listings or having like and follow buttons,” Chase says.
Isabella and Chase turned to Sharetribe Flex, where they could implement all of their unique features and customizations and serve their audience even better.
“Being able to switch our initial Sharetribe Go marketplace to a Flex marketplace that we designed ourselves was awesome. We were able to go to market super quickly and validate our idea. Later, we could transition to a more customized and fleshed out website very easily,” Isabella says.
“We’re very comfortable coding in the Flex platform now, and adding custom components and styling doesn’t take much time at all. And that means that we can iterate faster and provide a better product for our users.”
The new From The People platform is packed with tailored features, like an events page to host virtual art markets and powwows, and the Native Lands Map that displays the location of sellers on their platform. The community has grown to over 1,400 users, and the site features more than 500 listings from Indigenous artists.
In the future, Isabella and Chase hope to completely fill the Native Lands Map with vendors from across the world, and with passionate buy-in from Indigineous communities, they’re well on their way.
“Sharetribe has given us the confidence to dream big,” the founders say.
“We couldn’t have imagined that so many vendors and customers would be so excited to use something that we’ve built. We started From The People with no experience in marketplaces, and having the structure and guides provided by Sharetribe helped us to keep going. Now, we know that our platform can handle any number of users.”