Did I establish a 'sneaker card' market? I think I just did...

The thing about starting a new business out of just random ideas is that you think ’hey, if I can just create this crazy thing, people are going to love it and it’ll sell itself.’ But, if you’re here, I probably don’t have to tell you that that’s not really how it works…with social media, every single one of us is vying for attention. They call it the ‘attention economy’. And we are all campaigning and doing our best to make sure that you, yes YOU, spend the most time getting to know us and trying to make sure that we can capture your attention if only for a few seconds. The more seconds you spend engaging with me on my account, the more opportunity I’ll be presented with in the future to capture someone else’s attention. It’s a crazy set of circumstances and really only rewards those who (a) produce really quality stuff or (b) produce a lot of it. I opt for the former, although sometimes I’m just too tired. I spend a great deal of time thinking through posts, thinking through ideas, thinking through my approach. And I think that’s because I was a high school teacher - I knew that if I didn’t have anything interesting to stay, I’d be battling a handheld computer that has all of the knowledge in the world 3 clicks away. It’d be no contest if I half-assed it.

So…back to when you build something, you’re just hoping everyone sees it and everyone takes notice and everyone jumps with joy that you’ve done it. I’ve created a lot of stuff. Products. Systems. Websites. Physical goods. I’ve developed a lot of ideas and have figured out a way to…mmm…not lose. I’m not exactly winning, but I am definitely not losing. My stuff might not be making me a millionaire, but the vast majority of people who engage with it walk away happier that they did. And there is definitely a measure of success in that. 

So when it came time to create my sneaker cards, the initial idea behind selling myself on the idea was something like this: ‘All I have to do is find 1000 people who want to spend $50 on a novelty product that I put my heart and soul into.’ And then, thank god, I drastically cut that number down to around 300. Can I find 300 people out of 8,000 ‘followers’ that want to put a few bucks in my pocket? It’s a tough ask. So I gave the Kobe cards a shot and it took me exactly 1 year to sell out. Did I get exposure? Sure. Did I get a lot of cool people who opened the cards and I liked them? Yes. Hell, even @nicekicks - with 4 Million followers - posted the cards (even though they didn’t give me credit)…I’d say that was a success.

And for those who bought the cards…I’m not totally sure why they purchased but I heard all kinds of things… Maybe they bought them because they liked Kobe or they liked Kobes shoes or they wanted to learn more or they liked me or they liked the idea. It obviously brought out different motivations for different people. But my value proposition wasn’t abundantly clear…and I thought that that would be ok because, in the history of the world, value propositions for novelty products aren’t exactly clear. Like, what’s the value prop for silly putty? What’s the value prop for the pet rock? What’s the value prop for the collector cards in general?When I think of the value prop for the sneaker cards I created, it instinctively made me think of Topps in the early days - baseball cards weren’t valued for more than their ability to make a lot of noise as spoke flaps, and it really took 30-40 years to pass before people started to understand their value…the famous case being the case of one of the rarest baseball cards in existence, the 1952 Mickey Mantle:

“The 1952 Topps cards were selling like we were giving away gold. I went to J.E. Shorin (one of Topps’ founding brothers) and said, ‘What do you think about a second series?’ He asked if I could get it out quickly.” They did get the next, much smaller series out fast (especially since the backs included statistics) - but the cards stopped selling.

“The 1952 high series went all over the country, everybody was happy to buy it, but when it didn’t sell that was when we found out what returns meant. It was clogging this warehouse in Brooklyn,” Berger recalled. This was at a time when baseball cards weren’t treated like collectibles, they were purely consumer product. So, at the end of the year they got rid of the cards to make room for the next year’s.

Seven or eight years later, Berger tried his hand at sales, hoping to pawn them off wholesale at carnivals at the bargain-basement price of 10 for a penny. But he still had 300 to 500 cases, including cards featuring Mantle, Willie Mays, and Jackie Robinson, that were simply unsellable.

“I couldn’t give them away. So we said let’s get rid of them. I found a friend of mine who had a garbage scow and we loaded the three trucks-worth on the barge.” A tugboat pulled them off the New Jersey shore and they dumped the cards into the Atlantic Ocean, never to be seen again. (Source)

I mean…if that was me, I think I would have given up. I was feeling pretty down on myself that it wasn’t like a day one ‘sold out’ or whatever…but, then again, I have like zero marketing and really don’t even push my stuff all that much. It took me 365 days to sell out the first batch of cards…and it took Topps 8 years before they gave up and dumped their shit in the water…

What’s a value proposition? In startup language, the value proposition can be summarized in a thousand different ways, but I’ve come to tell myself that it’s the ever-elusive answer to the question ‘why would somebody spend money on this?’ For the Kobe’s - the value prop in my head was ‘nothing like this has ever been created yet.’ And that worked for a little bit. For the Dunk set, my value prop was more like ‘I need to share these stories because if I don’t, no one else will’. And for the Air Max set, my value prop was like ‘hey’s it’s almost Air Max day! Everyone wants something to buy on Air Max Day!’ (Even though I missed the date by 4 months). 

Did I ever think the cards would be worth money? Yea. I mean, that was the hope. People would buy and sell the rarer cards and trade and send them in to PSA to grade and…blah blah blah. A few people (like friends) told me $50 for 100 cards was way too much to ask. And, maybe, comparatively, it was. But creating cards from scratch and finding a company to do it in a way that was affordable is no easy task. Remember - I did runs of like 300 boxes…that’s 30,000 cards…essentially that’d be only TWO full sets of the latest Panini release (15k cards per set - checklist here). So me charging $50/ box barely scratches the surface of what these actually cost…that being said, I was very deliberate with how the sets were created. Rarities and odds and all that. I thought about it a lot and used my impeccable spreadsheet skills to make sense of it all.

As you might remember, with the Dunk set, I created 1 of 1’s. 5 of them to be exact. I took the eBay shoe and sliced it into 4 ‘shard’ cards and added an additional one for the ‘winning’ shoe. For that one - I never even saw it in person and had them put it in the packs. I told the manufacturer - ‘just create it and pack it in a random pack and hopefully the person who pulls it reads the back and hits me up because I want that card.’ I mean, I had them actually print that on the back of the card. So a few months go by…and sure enough, the guy who pulled the card hit me up. And we went back and forth over the course of a couple of weeks…at first, I thought we were going to settle on $500, but my money was a bit short and we came to a slightly lower number. I sent the cash and he sent the card. And I have the only copy in the world. It’s not perfect, it’s actually quite crooked, but it’s the ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD. And I created it. Set it out into the world. And it came back to me. I’m super happy I own it.

I had heard of a couple of people reselling boxes of my cards for double retail, which I thought sounded great. I never really wanted the value prop to be about resale, but I guess resale is STILL a value prop that almost EVERYONE understands, so…OK. But how do I capitalize off of that?

I was mentally struggling with the Air Max Pax sales the other day and I was just pissed off. I couldn’t understand why it was so difficult for me to sell literal BOXES of cards - 100 custom cards per box for $50/box when there are dudes out here printing 1 card at a time and selling them for $20 each. All kinds of dudes on IG selling like literal pics of shoes on a card for $20 per. Like…what? I mean, sure, some of these single cards are dope and they look good, but I’m selling 100 thematic cards, all hand illustrated, at 50 cents each and I’m providing an experience. Like a full-blown pack rip experience that includes chance and rarity and excitement and fun and…why in the fuck is nobody buying MY cards? I mean, other than the obvious (how in the hell can I sell ‘Air Max Day’ cards in July?), it was really frustrating. I put out three 100+ card sets and still aren’t selling as many as these dudes doing 1 card at a time. So I voiced this frustration to a good friend and he said ‘you might have to try their strategy.’

What? Sell cards one at a time?

‘Yeah, why don’t you rip some packs yourself and see if you can sell just individual cards to develop some kind of value system for them.’ Interesting. It took me a few days to process the idea and then I thought…shit…why don’t I look at the numbers, analyze, and try to sell each for what I think they should be worth? I created a spreadsheet and marinated on the idea for a few weeks. And then I took some pics and listed them on eBay at the prices I thought they should be worth. No hits the first day. No hits the first week. No hits the first month. I hadn’t promoted them at all so…I guess…what was I expecting?

And then…a few weeks ago…someone hit me up out of the blue. I get these messages a lot, but rarely does anyone ever come through. They just talk. But…this guy seemed genuinely interested. We talked for a while and…we came to an agreeable valuation. He purchased 32 of the 37 DunkyDunk inserts (no eBay cards) for a grand total of $630…someone else sees the value in these in the same exact way that I do - and they put their money out there to prove it. $630 is $630. It’s not the end all be all, but it was validation for the value prop I set out to give. These cards are worth something! And at a MUCH faster clip than Topps! Each card, based on rarity, is worth something different than the others…and now money has been exchanged and value has been established. 

The values, of cards that have been sold so far, are as follows:

  1. Base set cards (9:1) - $1 each

  2. NYC Shop cards (1:2) - $4 each

  3. Supreme series cards (1:6) - $16 each

  4. Friends & Family cards (1:12) - $25 each

  5. DNA (Hemp) cards (1:19) - $35/each

  6. City series cards (1:124) - $75/each

  7. eBay shard cards (1:744) - $250/each

If you bought a bunch of these cards and are wondering if they are worth anything - valuation has officially been established.

I know I’ve mentioned it a few times, but I’ve just started selling on @whatnot and I think I’m in a unique position there. I’m not just selling shoes, I’m creating games around the cards that I’ve built. People have been buying packs - single packs of 10 cards each - in hopes of winning an actual shoe based on what they pull. I mean, people are spending more on the packs than on the shoes. It’s wild. I sold some OG 2005 AF1’s the other day for $22. And then I sold a pack of Dunky Dunk cards not even 5 minutes later for $68. I mean, I know they’re mostly buying the cards because they want the shoes, and pulling a random card out of a random pack is a lot more fun than hitting ‘buy it now’ on a pair of shoes, but I’ve been selling single packs alone for well above retail…does that mean there’s a future for a resale valuation? Who knows…all I know is that these cards, for me, have paid off immensely…

I suppose it’s time to bring up @soleyama as it appears they’re going absolutely ham on their marketing materials. And SEVERAL people have messaged me some of their posts. I’ve seen some great photos and some great video commercials centered around their product. I knew about Soleyama before I started creating cards - I saw that they were a German company - and I actually tried to buy some from them, but they canceled my order due to COVID shipping restrictions… I ordered a few packs just so I could see what the cards were like…

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to see the physical cards, but I still catch their posts and advertisements from time to time. And like I said - they’re good - I think they’re way better than anything I could do. But when it comes to what we’re doing - I think the similarities between what we are doing end at the words ‘sneakers’ and ‘cards’. Obviously, we’re both doing ‘sneaker cards’, but it appears their cards are based on/off a game, whereas mine are based around themes. My knowledge on sneakers is so wide and deep that the only way I can make sense of things is by categorizing them into different buckets. And those buckets might only make sense to me, but I hope I’m doing the task justice by at least trying to explain it.

There are other companies doing similar things out there - @rair.cards (who does one of ones that look amazing), @gastradingcards (slightly different topic matter but along the same idea as Rair ), @_ohnoes and @ericpagsanjan, and @NFTSTC and… there is probably no shortage of people making their own cards…I’m probably missing a bunch more.

Panini themselves did some sneaker cards…they’re pretty cool but IMO they’re more about the players than the shoes and they’re valued accordingly…take a look at some of these:

Some great looking cards, but, again, more about the player than the shoe…

All that being said - I think it’s dope that a bunch of us are trying to create new avenues…this is how hobbies are formed, this is how businesses are started, this is how ideas are improved upon, this is how lives are enriched. Remember, I don’t have a monopoly on any of this stuff. I love that there are people out there flexing their creativity and I’m proud to be one of those in the space. I’ve sent free cards to a few of those mentioned above and have spoken with a few others about how they could start getting their own thing(s) going. I’m not into hating on what anyone else is doing, I’m just trying to figure out the best way to do what I need to do. And if there is ever an opportunity for us to collaborate, I’d welcome it with open arms.

Anyway, I really just wanted to let y’all know that the market has finally been established…next stop…Rally Road!