founder

hobbyDB Founder Christian Braun on Serving the Collector Community

Introduction

Collecting items or fan merchandise (fan merch) can be an engrossing hobby. But scouring the internet to explore collectibles can prove tedious and time-consuming.

hobbyDB functions as a database, marketplace, and guide for the collectible items and fan merch community. Users can keep up with price changes on specific items, manage their collections with the app, explore collectibles based on a variety of categories, and more. We reached out to founder and CEO Christian Braun to hear more about the inspiration behind the company and how the team got together.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Zee Zhong

In your own words, how would you describe your company?

Christian Braun

We believe that the internet consists of millions of sites, but there are only a handful that people use all the time: Wikipedia for information about subject matters like politicians and historical events, IMDb for movies, and hobbyDB to find out about all those 100 billion different collectibles out there (eventually).

Members and the public can quickly and easily find everything made by Mattel, Märklin, Matchbox, or Maisto; every model of a Ford Thunderbird, Harley Davidson motorcycle, or Airbus jet; or a manual for a vintage car, everything that has a Coca-Cola logo, has a World War II theme, or is related to a favorite TV show or fictional character or movie star.

Collectors and fans can research, document what they own, create wish lists, show off their collections, buy, sell, and trade.

Zee Zhong

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

Christian Braun

I have been collecting for more than 40 years and always felt that there was a need for a single site that had all the information. Collectibles and other fan merch is the biggest market not owned (in fact, it is three times the size of Etsy’s addressable market).

Zee Zhong

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

Christian Braun

I have worked with our CTO since I was a venture capitalist at GE Capital and Chris was the technical leader of a UK business we invested in 21 years ago. He is amazing at building scalable solutions on a shoestring budget. 

To start hobbyDB, I moved to the US, as Americans represent almost two thirds of the collectible markets (nobody collects more by a wide margin). When I arrived in Boulder, Colorado, I was introduced to Alex, now our head of marketing, through a Techstars connection, and we immediately hit it off. She had worked for Gartner and a genealogy company beforehand, and the latter proved particularly helpful, as our users are equally strongly connected with their hobby as those genealogists.

The rest of the team has found us. They are all collectors and first-class professionals in their respective fields.

Zee Zhong

How is hobbyDB transforming the collecting industry?

Christian Braun

Sneakers, trading cards, and the advent of non-fungible tokens are among a handful of genres that have carved or re-carved their own respective niches recently within the collectibles industry.

But these “only” account for roughly $13 billion of the collectibles market, and this small segment is already proving to be a competitive bloodbath. That means all the attention right now is focused on less than 4% of the whole addressable market in collectibles.

At hobbyDB, we cast our net throughout the entire collecting universe. Our goal is to cover everything from the most popular to the most obscure items ever collected and provide the tools that you need to manage your ever-growing collection.

Zee Zhong

How do you plan on expanding your database?

Christian Braun

Our advisory council, which is composed of two Guinness World Record holders, 11 museum curators and owners, writers of more than 264 books on collectibles, editors of magazines, presidents of clubs, and owners of database websites, blogs, or forums helps us to get the documentation right. Our 2,000 volunteers then add and maintain the data itself.

This ability to document every kind of collectible is what sets us apart with a competitive advantage over all other collectible companies.

Zee Zhong

How do potential collectors get to utilize your database?

Christian Braun

They can research what exists, find out values, add items to their collections or wishlists, create an online museum to showcase their collections, manage their items, help document by joining the volunteer force, buy, sell, and soon trade.

Zee Zhong

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

Christian Braun

To help with research, collectors can use Wikipedia or Google. However, the devil is in the details, and where Wikipedia has one page on a brand, we can have thousands of collectibles. Take, for example, our 100,000 Hard Rock Cafe pins. We dive into the details, as the smallest characteristic can really matter to a collector (and often influences value). Our collectors used to use Excel to keep track of their collections, but now, with hobbyDB collection management, when they are ready to sell, it’s super easy to list their items with one click. To help with buying and selling collectibles, collectors can use sites like eBay. However, this service is expensive and is not designed with the collector in mind (and once you have added your 10,000 Hot Wheel models into a system, why would you want to redo that?).

As collectors ourselves, we understand what fellow collectors want and need to see in an all-in-one collectible resource. We’ve built hobbyDB in a way that caters to all collector types — specialist collectors (say, people who only collect Funko), more type-oriented collectors (someone who collects action figures, comics, and shot glasses), and theme collectors (such as James Bond or objects about Boston). So no matter what you collect, hobbyDB should be your homebase.

Zee Zhong

How do you intend to use the money you raise this round to scale the business?

Christian Braun

With the money we are raising, we plan to add image recognition into our new hobbyDB app (that currently offers barcode scanning and already has 66,000 downloads). We will also add more data to the site (we have been given the rights to add data by more than 250 individuals and companies and create up to 10 million more database pages) and work on improving user experience design and site speed.

Zee Zhong

What do you want potential investors to know about you and/or your company?

Christian Braun

Fan merch and collectibles are a completely underserved $500 billion market comprising 75 million collectors and everybody who likes licensed products. This market is ripe for disruption, and with more than 80 years of combined experience, we know how to build the resource for collectors that will become the next eBay or Etsy of the future. I ran the world’s largest set of forums for collectors and founded the biggest eBay business in Europe. 

Our first collectible segment is already profitable for us, representing an annual contribution of $249,600 and growing. That is $11.35 per Funko database entry. If we can replicate this with the rest of our segments and earn half of that or even only $1 per database item, we will become the most valuable business in the fan merch segment.

Zee Zhong

As you think about the business 5-10 years down the road, what do you see exit opportunities looking like? Have you set any future goals for the company?

Christian Braun

First of all is an IPO, either of the traditional sort or by continuing crowdfunding and eventually having 100,000 shareholders (we have 1,100 so far). There are other companies that would be interested in buying what we build — Amazon (which bought IMDb); Etsy, which bought two marketplaces last year; eBay; Pinterest; and many others.

We look forward to seeing where Christian and his team take the company. hobbyDB is currently raising on Wefunder.

67
About: Zee Zhong

View Zee Zhong's founders