Earlier this year, two unsuspecting tech brothers attempted to start an online business selling knitting supplies, assuming it would be easy to “disrupt” a market full of hobbyists and grandmas. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Serial entrepreneurs Dave Bryant and Mike Jackness bought the Knitting.com domain name in February, hoping to capitalize on unbeatable SEO and become major players in the knitting supply business. Within days, however, knitters around the world took to their blog, accusing them of being opportunists, sexists and worse.
In an interview with Entrance store, Jackness compared the experience to high school bullying and the Salem witch trials. The pair eventually deleted their blog post and podcast announcing the business.
But in the eyes of the knitters, they were the ones under attack.
“It’s tough because they came in saying, ‘Hey, we’re carpet baggers, and we’re going to come in and destroy this and sell it at eight figures in a few years,'” said Nancy Murrell, a knitter who runs an online directory of independent dyers and yarn designers.
“We’re trying to build this eco-conscious community here, and they want to pave the land next to our little farmers’ market and put up a Walmart.”
Jackness and Bryant may not have in fact called themselves carpet baggers, but they clearly presented a very profit-driven business plan. According to the now-deleted blog and podcast, the couple planned to fill Knitting.com with knitting articles and videos, using it as an SEO-friendly funnel into their real-life business selling knitting products on Amazon. . And having a strong domain name was crucial to that plan, as Jackness explained in a podcast episode. Whether it’s communicating with vendors, influencers or potential employees, he said, “You’re going to be heard – at least they’ll open your email – because you’re from Knitting.com “.
Bryant and Jackness launched several businesses using this same model; the most recent example being ColorIt.com, which sells adult coloring books. (Before that, Jackness launched Treadmills.com, where he sold treadmills, and Icewraps.com, where he sold — you guessed it — ice wraps.) On top of that, the pair also run Ecomcrew.com , where they document their businesses. for the benefit of other aspiring entrepreneurs.
In a Feb. 16 EconCrew article, Jackness and Bryant bragged about snagging Knitting.com for $80,000 — the seller originally wanted $150,000 — and claimed they could quickly turn the inactive domain into a eight-figure company. The decision, at least according to the initial blog post, wasn’t particularly sentimental: they had previously considered getting into model railroading and fishing, but decided that those industries either had too small an audience or too many competetion. Knitting, on the other hand, was fair right: a large enough audience, endless content opportunities, and a “decent” number of products they could offer.
In the podcast episode, Bryant noted that a major draw to the knitwear market was the lack of competition. He claimed that the number of high-quality competitors was in the low tens and the rest of the market was occupied by “grandma who has a little blog that she’s been running for 20 years.”
“They’re pretty unsophisticated competitors,” he said.
What Bryant and Jackness apparently didn’t know is that knitting has one of the largest and most vocal online communities of any hobby. The knitting social media site Ravelry.com, where users swap patterns and swap technical tips, has more than 8 million users and has sparked social and political debates so intense they have been featured in the New Yorker and The New York Times. Knitting Instagram is a thriving world filled with so-called “knitfluencers,” who alternately befriend, show up, and cancel with startling regularity. There are knitting gossip subreddits, knitting YouTube accounts, knitting feuds on Twitter. There’s even a magazine that was launched recently in response to the growing “awareness” of knitting culture. And knitting blogs, far from being the domain of inattentive grandmothers, are so influential that a blog post in 2019 sparked a racial reckoning that spanned years.
The purchase of Knitting.com – and the pretentious and assured announcement of the buyers – provided a rare opportunity for the knitting world to come together to ask: who are these brothers and what are they doing in our corner of Internet ?
The first sign of backlash came from a post on the r/craftsnark subreddit, where nearly 14,000 knitters go chatting about their favorite (and least favorite) industry trends and influencers. In a Feb. 23 post, a week after Jackness and Bryant announced their venture, a user called “ShinyBlueThing” posted a link to the businessman’s blog under the headline: “Step 1, buy a domain Step 2… Step 3, Enjoy!
“These guys who don’t knit or knit at all spent $80,000 buying the knitting dot com domain and think it’ll be a $10 million a year business within a year,” wrote the user. “Because knitters are an ‘untapped market’. Uh. I will bitterly ignore this.
The post garnered nearly 600 comments and the sentiment spread from there. Knitters have flooded the comments section of the blog. On Twitter, knitters questioned their credentials, mocked their lack of knitting knowledge and took liberties with Jackness’s unique Last name. (One user even created a parody account under the handle @knittingdotcom.) But they also raised some serious questions: Who exactly was going to create knitting content for their website? How much were they going to be paid? And why did these tech bros, with $80,000 to blow on a vanity domain name, want to come in and “disrupt” a market made up of women, people of color, and people with disabilities? Simply put: who did they think they were?
“The market research they described doing…was so laughable,” Murrell said. She said Bryant and Jackness seemed to have focused on Amazons and big-box craft stores around the world, and completely missed the fact that most serious knitters buy from small, environmentally conscious companies with which they feel a connection.
In a particularly scathing comment below her blog post, a user by the name of Katie Cox took the arrogance of entering an established market and assuming that everyone already there was simply missing out on the piles of potential money that lay there. under their noses. She noted that while that’s to some extent the nature of startup culture — everyone wants to be the next Uber of something — it’s especially insidious when the market you’re trying to disrupt is made up mostly of people. women.
“In this situation, the field of textile arts is female-dominated, so I hope this post helps you understand exactly why the term ‘sexist’ will be thrown at you,” she wrote. “I think the recognition of existing skills, especially among those who are disadvantaged in one way or another, is something that you haven’t addressed enough.”
“Wishing you as much luck as the people who bought the Dune book and also thought they saw a business opportunity that everyone somehow missed,” she concluded.
In her interview with The Daily Beast, Jackness said her business has been totally misunderstood. He and Bryant didn’t want to shut down small, independent yarn dyers, he said, they wanted to cater to an entirely different market: beginning knitters who would buy their needles and yarn from market retailers anyway. mass like Amazon. He admitted that some of the language used in the podcast – in one episode he suggested they might ‘destroy’ the knitting industry – was aimed at other entrepreneurs and may seem insensitive to the knitting community. . He added that he actually wanted to help other knitting businesses, attracting more people to the craft.
But he also said he saw no reason for Knitting.com to change its business model in response to the criticism.
“I hope over time people will see that we are doing good in the community and they will have a different opinion about it,” he said.
Still, the pair appear to have at least adjusted their communication strategy in response to the backlash. The podcast announcing the purchase of knitting.com has been removed and the blog post replaced with a “knitting community response,” in which Bryant explains that he really Is have a personal connection to the subject: her 6-year-old daughter, who is learning to knit. The goal of creating a knitting website, he wrote, was “to inspire more people who wouldn’t normally get into it (like me!)”
The text on Knitting.com has also been updated and now states that the company is strongly committed to “equitable, paid compensation for patterns and content” and to “supporting the wonderful community of creative artisans who make already an incredible job”. Bryant even personally responded to one of the most critical Twitter threads, although the reception was less than brilliant.
Murell was not entirely convinced by the apology tour. She pointed to the podcast episode in which Jackness said he could “destroy” the industry and in which the pair said they could never see themselves becoming knitters. Turning around and embracing the knitting community after facing a backlash felt a bit contrived.
But, she added, she wasn’t worried about it at all.
“They might belittle what we’re trying to do, [but] I don’t think they can replace what we’re trying to do,” she said. “I don’t think they understand what we are doing.”