Chicago is all about musicians, artists and entrepreneurs and it’s my privilege to write about them. Let me introduce you then, to Jack Eisenberg and Chad Lomax, creators of Chicago-born and bred startup Goshi.
Goshi is a local, mobile marketplace with a unique approach to buying and selling. Instead of using product categories to organize items, Goshi is organized via organic, local communities centered around “hubs”, or places where Goshi users meet to complete transactions.
Goshi focuses on browsing and discovery among communities of people with shared mutual interests, instead of the high-intent, search-driven, web based e-commerce marketplaces.
Can you tell me how it all began?
“Goshi http://www.goshi.meis actually the result of our first app, MapDing, http://www.appstorehq.com/mapding-android-526934/app which was launched in early September of 2010. It wasn’t all that sophisticated – kind of like a mobile version of Craigslist.
We managed to have decent traction in Chicago, and were accepted to Excelerate Labs in May. After extensive feedback about our vision and a lot of qualitative research with our users about local commerce, we changed up our vision to Goshi”.
How did you get the idea for Goshi?
“It came to us after we spent several weeks talking with people locally, in coffee shops, art galleries, independent stores.
We were particularly drawn to the needs of independent artists, as there seemed to be no platform for them to sell their work to a larger local audience.
We also noticed specific locations as hot spots for local commerce. We call them ‘hubs’, but they are essentially places like coffee shops where buyers and sellers of local independent goods collide.”
Can you explain the name?
“Goshi is actually just a word we started using to describe something that is cool. It literally means ‘hip’ in Japanese, but can also mean ‘old marketplace’ in several languages.”
Explain the Goshi concept. What is it all about?
“Our fundamental belief is that there are two types of commerce, ‘browsing’ and ‘beaming.’
Beaming is high-intent, and means that I know what I want, like an iPhone or a specific book, and I don’t care where I get it.
Browsing is much more about discovery, kind of like the feeling of walking into a used record store or an art gallery. I am visually discovering interesting objects around me that I may or may not want to buy.
Goshi is a re-invention of the ‘browsing’ experience on a mobile platform. We allow you to see through the walls and windows of storefronts, galleries, and studios to discover interesting and unique items around you.”
Why would someone want to use Goshi?
“To browse, discover, and buy these unique items and the places they reside. And because we are location-based, we can tell you where that piece of art is, or that vintage chair, so that you can see the colors up close or sit in it before you decide to buy it.
Another cool feature of Goshi is that we have partnered with around 30 local coffee shops around the city, turning them into physical marketplaces for independent vendors and artists who would otherwise not have a storefront.
And instead of just sending a direct message to the seller, we have comments on all posts to allow for social interaction.”
What would you say distinguishes Goshi from any possible competition?
Zaarlyhttp://www.zaarly.com is all about what I want nearby. Goshi is all about finding something interesting and unique, like a painting by a local artist that I may not have known about beforehand.
Etsyihttp://www.etsy.com is about the web and is for the most part indifferent to location and seeing the product in person. We are bringing location back into the equation and facilitating an encounter with the product before buying it.”
What is it like being an entrepreneur in Chicago?
“Chicago has become an exciting place to launch a tech startup. There is certainly a lot of momentum in the city for innovation, and we are proud to be a part of a new wave of people rethinking the way people connect with each other and their communities.”
For an entrepreneur, is there anything that distinguishes Chicago from other cities?
“Chicago has an outstanding set of neighborhoods and communities within those neighborhoods that we can use to help grow our product. Chicago also has an incredibly helpful set of people in the tech world who have experience with product, fundraising, marketing, and development. Reaching out to people has been relatively easy, and even some of the most hard to reach individuals have been willing to sit down and give us a hand.”
What were your plans growing up, and how have your talents contributed to the creation of Goshi?
“Before teaching myself to program mobile applications, I was actually an ESL teacher at a non-profit in Rogers Park. I worked primarily with low literacy refugees and immigrants, and one of my responsibilities was teaching computer literacy.
Part of the inspiration for learning to program mobile and touch-screen applications was to improve the learning process for low-computer literacy individuals, to streamline the process of finding jobs and apartments. I had to put that vision on hold for a bit, but it is certainly something I wish to pursue down the road.”
Who is an entrepreneur (or someone) you admire?
“I admire all of the mentors of Excelerate Labs.”
Explain why please.
“Each has taken time and care to work with the ten companies here, to provide continued guidance and insight into building sustainable, scalable businesses, and they have all been highly successful in the past.
Without a doubt, people like Troy Henikoff or Sam Yagan could be spending their time working on other projects, but instead are guiding us through concepts, business models, fundraising, and most importantly, keeping us passionate about the very ideas that brought us here.”
If you were to create Goshi in another city, do you think the results would have been the same?
“Right now, it is hard to say. There has been a lot of interest nationwide for a service like Goshi, and I think the movement towards local, unique, even handmade goods is and will continue to be on the rise.”
Three words that describe Goshi?
“Post, share, discover”
Three words that describe you as an entrepreneur?
“Scrappy, persistent, optimistic”
What qualities are important in an entrepreneur?
“Persistence, passion, and a high tolerance for risk. Entrepreneurship, especially at an early stage, is all about navigating the ups and downs. Unless you are comfortable with uncertainty for an indefinite period of time, it is difficult to make this lifestyle work.”
What was something you wouldn’t do again?
“This is hard to say, because I am where I am because of every setback and readjustment. There was a time when I received a term sheet in the mail from an ‘investor’ on the West Coast, and I had actually taken it as a serious offer, when, in fact, the deal was probably not realistic.”
Any future plans?
“We have two major plans in the pipeline. First, a nationwide roll out of our platform, and second, building in a recommendation engine or consumer taste profile so that the items and places you first see when entering the app are the ones you’ll most enjoy.”
What advice would you give someone just starting out?
“Before you even think about building something, get out of the building and talk to people about what their actual needs are. I am serious. This is almost a cliche at this point in time, but barely anyone seems to do this until they have spent several hours and days working on a project or product.”
Finish this sentence please: Everyone should check out Goshi because…
“You can discover something you love but never knew you wanted.”