There are a few stores online that are raising money to support Kiva (you can find a partial list here). The best and most impressive of them is KivaStore, run by Chris. We’re thrilled to have a chat with him about the store, Kiva etc.
For those who may not know you, could you please introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Chris, and I’m a lender!
Also, I run KivaStore, a site that sells products to promote Kiva. I take care of it top-to-bottom: inventory, fulfillment, web, and customer service.
How long has Kiva Store been active?
KivaStore has been around since 2006. I had found out about Kiva from a blurb in BusinessWeek. I was skeptical at first, but with an academic background in IT and economics, I couldn’t ignore it! So I became a lender and was thrilled to see repayments coming back to me. I also really liked that the lender designates how much money goes toward the loan and how much goes toward Kiva, unlike other nonprofit organizations. It was because of this aspect that I volunteered to sell wristbands. I had sold t-shirts online during college, so I felt that my online sales skill could use to benefit Kiva itself.
Is Kiva Store a side project for you? Do all the profits go to Kiva?
Yes, KivaStore is a side project for me. All the profit eventually makes its way back to Kiva. But a lot of profit is also reinvested in buying inventory and launching new products. Our primary goal is promotion, with profit being a secondary goal.
Is Kiva involved in approving the products? What support does Kiva give you?
I come up with most product ideas, and then run them by Kiva. There has never been an issue where an idea was shot down, but if a product contains more text than just the Kiva logo, it needs to be reviewed. The calendar for instance gets extensively reviewed before it goes to press. Within the past year, Kiva has pitched their own product ideas; those being the iPhone 5 case
and the Kiva greeting cards. Their staff is larger now than it was at our start, and they now have some time to promote promotions! This support includes spreading KivaStore links via the website, Facebook, and Twitter, along with the more substantial work of rendering the art for the iPhone case.
Which products are the most popular?
Seasonally, the calendar is a popular item. The piggy bank and wristband definitely take the crown for the whole year though. Particularly the piggy bank, since it’s representative of Kiva, and practical too!
Could you give us an idea of how many piggy banks have sold, and who buys them?
There are well over 2000 piggies roaming out in the wild now. They live all over the world: US, Canada, Australia, Norway, Germany, Japan…. twice we’ve sent out large herds of piggies (100+) to companies who use them as giveaways to their clients. Receiving an order for two piggies is great, but having socially-aware businesses help us do distribution really helps spread the message about Kiva.
Are there any plans to add personalized products to the store? For example, a postcard with my loans (say a map of all my loans, as a lender – or that of a team)?
Yes, with the Kiva developer API, it’s possible to easily extract lender information. I’m experimenting with borrower photos with a text overlay with the details. The concept is that you’d pick borrower photos from your portfolio and have them delivered to you from a photo site such as Snapfish. You can see here some prototypes on my fridge featuring borrowers from my own portfolio. (see photo on the left) It seems like the type of product that someone might pin in their office, and would make a great conversation starter. And hopefully those conversations will end with new lenders!
Apart from donations while lending, what other ways do you think Kiva can raise funds?
Apart from soliciting donations while lending, there are several ways that Kiva already makes money. These include large grants from foundations and corporations, interest on the float (lender balances waiting to be relent), honorariums from speaking engagements, and, presumably, that Best Buy commercial Jessica was in last year. There is a lot they could do to raise more money, such as doing some corporate education based on their knowledge of the developing world, or branching into feed-based P2P lending in the developed world. Overall though, I feel that Kiva’s current path is sound, as it does cover their expenses but doesn’t distract from the primary activity, which is lending.
Apart from shopping products, what help do you need from us lenders?
As a store, of course buying products has the most impact. But tweeting about your purchase afterward helps too! We find we have a lot of customers who — although they are longtime lenders — didn’t know that KivaStore existed. So promoting KivaStore is another way to help promote Kiva. We also sometimes field product ideas from lenders; the geocoin is an excellent example of
that. Most suggestions don’t pan out, but that one has done quite well, and is a really unique way to spread the word about Kiva.
Thank you Chris, for your time. We really appreciate it.