This week, an inside look at the development of Pharrell Williams’ innovative auction site. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
The old rules of e-commerce no longer apply.
As fashion and beauty emerge from the rubble of the pandemic and feel out the overhauled retail landscape, placing new urgency around evolving, safeguarding and strengthening brand identity is trending. As described by the many players involved in getting the auction site off the ground, Pharrell Williams’ Joopiter provides a framework for the way forward. Set up for growth, seamless change, flexibility and even inclusivity, it’s free-as-can-be of traditional parameters, by design.
The company launched with a bang in October. But each of its stakeholders contributing to this story expressed, in some form, that it’s just getting started.
Concepted by multi-hyphenate Williams, Joopiter debuted with an auction of his own belongings with cultural prominence. That included diamond pendant necklaces he sported throughout the mid-aughts and a “Women’s Rights” jacket worn to an awards show. CEO Kellen Roland called the premiere auction, which drove $5.25 million in sales, a success. It surpassed expectations of $3.2 million and achieved 97% sell-through. Yet, the experience will be revamped for future lots, suited to the focus products and audience, among other factors. For example, because the value of Joopiter’s auction items is primarily based on their provenance, a fresh round of expert copywriters will be appointed to story-tell.
Calling to mind the modern brands that have replaced permanent creative directors with collectives, Joopiter has just 10 full-time employees. Roland name-checked the company’s vp of product, Andrew Leitch, for driving the CX vision, as well as consultant Ana Andjelic for establishing the editorial foundation. The brand’s development relied heavily on outside specialists and innovators in fields from technology to design. That included Virgil Abloh-founded creative agency Alaska Alaska and e-commerce agency One Rockwell. The latter signed on software-as-a-service companies including Chord, a 4-year-old Shopify competitor, and auction-focused Basta.
Roland was first recruited from Herschel Supply Company to head up operations at Williams’ I Am Other. The creative agency powers his many businesses including Black Ambition and Humanrace. He said Joopiter’s first auction, dubbed “Son of Pharaoh,” proved the demand for a digital-first modern auction house. It also started a new phenomenon of extending the life of a cultural artifact: Drake wore his winnings from the auction in a music video, while Kid Cudi has made his Joopiter investment a wardrobe staple of his own.
In addition to the high-value auction items, Joopiter is building the brand with merch, allowing more people to join the community.
The Alaska Alaska team was first hired solely to create Joopiter’s logo. However, they were eventually pulled in to create the brand’s entire “framework,” as the studio described it. Rather than brand guidelines, they defined juxtaposing brand elements that can be used interchangeably, according to cues of different auctions and brand collaborators. Alaska Alaska team members interviewed for this story requested to be cited together as a studio, versus individually.
Most notably, Alaska Alaska defined two logos for the company — one that is “extremely classical” and “speaks to a more traditional audience,” plus a more modern version in a sans serif font. They went on to define classic and modern options for every creative expression of the brand, from vocabulary to color palette. At the same time, they avoided hard-and-fast rules. For example, while purple is a color the brand uses, “it’s by no means the brand color,” they said.
Fostering inclusivity is at the heart of the strategy. The intention is that, whether someone is on the site to place a high bid or simply learn about an item, they’ll feel at home in the experience. On the same note, no item on the site is positioned as more valuable than another. Alaska Alaska’s fluid approach to a brand style guide also mirrors Williams’ basis for Joopiter: letting things go.
“We are at a junction within culture, product and consumerism where taking yourself too seriously [spells] the end of the road,” said the Alaska Alaska team, whose work spans projects in music, art, product and graphic design.
Similarly, setting up a website with non-fixed capabilities was key to Joopiter’s seamless launch and longer-term vision. One Rockwell was enlisted to manage the development of the site, which had a hard deadline and required the constant implementation of new ideas.
Paul Healion, president and co-founder of One Rockwell, described the project as “a moving target.”
“This is a [client] that wakes up on a Monday morning with a new idea, and you’re running with it,” he said. “Nobody is saying, ‘But this isn’t what we decided last month.’”
Two weeks ahead of the launch, One Rockwell was charged with facilitating an ID check for bidders, after the decision to enter the market with an open system was scrapped. And a few months out, the idea of Joopiter merch surfaced, requiring the addition of traditional shopping functionality to the site, which had exclusively focused on live auctions with real-time updates.
Healion summed up One Rockwell’s role in the project as creating space for it to evolve, pushing the limits of innovation, and communicating and reducing potential risks. He said Roland was on board with One Rockwell’s recommendation to bet on new-to-market platforms including Chord and Basta. Meanwhile, One Rockwell had to level-set around ultra-forward ideas that, as of now, are impossible to pull off online.
Supporting One Rockwell’s contribution was commerce platform Chord, started by Glossier alums Henry Davis and Bryan Mahoney.
Chord’s pitch is that owned technology and first-party data have new importance for brands, now that they can’t lean on Facebook ad sales to bolster their business. According to Mahoney, Chord “competes on data,” serving it up to brand clients in a way that’s responsible, easily digestible and also immediately actionable.
In addition, he said Chord “gives brands the tools they know they’re going to need in two years, on day one.” Conversely, “finding an app for that” as the constant answer to leveling up online both hurts the customer experience and impedes brands’ speed to evolve, he said. Chord serves as 80% of Joopiter’s tech stack, he said. Basta rounds out the mix.
Elevated e-commerce technology has been democratized, said Healion; an “innovative, quick-to-market headless site” costs the same today as a standard site a few years ago. At the same time, available e-commerce tools are becoming more powerful, without added complexity. As such, smaller brands can now facilitate unique user journeys, among other advanced customer experiences, and better compete with industry giants.
Moving forward, Shelly Socol, CEO of One Rockwell, said she expects more brands will make like Joopiter by developing custom sites to serve long-term objectives.
But, it could take a large team effort. “We’ve never had such a collaborative experience,” she said of the Joopiter project, pointing to the “24/7 communication” with stakeholders ahead of launch.
Along with evolution, Joopiter’s approach is suited to creativity — which is fitting, considering Williams’ involvement.
Roland said that, soon, the company will be making new hires. Plus, more auctions are around the corner, though he declined to elaborate. And Alaska Alaska hinted that video may soon find a home on the site.
“It’s not final; the project is way bigger than where it currently is,” the studio said.
And that’s exciting.
“We’re back to the glory days of brand building,” Mahoney said, pointing to current industry challenges and opportunities. “You can create a great brand and create a great product, and you can try things.”
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