CINCINNATI -- It all started with the R2-D2-shaped Pepsi cooler that Gary Darna’s mother wouldn’t let him pay hundreds of dollars for. But don’t blame her: He was only 10.
Darna, now 30, has collected Star Wars memorabilia ever since. In 2011, he found on eBay the R2-D2 cooler he'd wanted as a child. He drove eight hours from Cincinnati to Pennsylvania to pick it up, disassembled the 3-foot-tall cooler to fit it into in his Volkswagen Jetta and drove back.
Darna tells that story to illustrate how passionate collectors like him are about collecting. He’s hoping that passion will drive CompleteSet LLC, which operates a website where collectors meet other collectors.
How does it work?
Initially www.CompleteSet.com was merely a catalog of collectibles with only three franchises: Star Wars, clothing brand Johnny Cupcakes and vinyl toy company Kidrobot. Now, it provides a forum for collectors, where they can also alert CompleteSet to items missing from the catalog, which Darna said now has about 100,000 items from 300 different brands.
Who are the founders?
Darna, a Florida native who moved here in 2003, started his first business, doing contract website development to pay for his education at Northern Kentucky University, from which he graduated in 2010 with an entrepreneurship degree.
In 2011, he conceived of CompleteSet and spent about a year looking for a co-founder who could design the software for the site. He found one in April 2012 when he was accepted into NKU’s business incubator and met Jaime Rump, an undergraduate computer-science student working part-time at Kroger. “As an avid video-game player and Dr. Who fan, the concept I presented for CompleteSet immediately interested him,” Darna said.
How have they funded the company?
In August 2012, they won Cincinnati Innovates, a regional contest for startups, which netted them a $10,000 investment from local angel investors CincyTech. They used that to start the company and launch a beta site in May 2013.
In the summer of 2014, they participated in Velocity, a startup accelerator in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where they met their lead investor, Louisville angel investor Doug Cobb. In November 2014, they closed their seed round of investments with a total of $650,000, mostly from Kentucky angel investors.
Using those funds, they hired a full-time staff of seven (including themselves). Those include an archivist who keeps the catalog updated and a writer who maintains a blog for the website. They all share a one-room office on Central Parkway in the West End.
How do they make money?
They don’t, at least not right now. They expect that to change later this year when they make CompleteSet into a peer-to-peer marketplace, through which transactions between buyers can take place. They’ll use PayPal to exchange funds. CompleteSet will collect a fee from each seller every time the seller closes a transaction, Darna said. Before the site could make money, he said, it first had to build a community of users.
How big is the community?
To use the website, one must first create an account, and there are now about 50,000 account holders from 44 countries. In 2015, the number of account holders grew by 18 percent, Darna said — growth driven largely by word of mouth.
“We found that the best way to market is to build a product people love, and then they tell others about it,” he said. “It’s a very community-driven hobby.… Lots of collectors know more collectors.”
What has challenged them the most?
Finding information about collectibles that have been out of stores for decades, Darna said. Sources include published books, collectibles that staff members own and feedback from the online community.
Fundraising can also be a huge distraction, Darna said. It helps to have the right investors.
“A lot of them have built their own businesses.… That makes them excellent advisers,” he said.
- Offices: 1415 Central Parkway, West End
- Contact: Send messages through the company website, completeset.com/contact, or through Facebook.com/completeset. Follow CompleteSet on Instagram and Twitter.
- Apps: Download CompleteSet’s iOS app from Apple’s iTunes App Store. An Android app is expected to be released this summer.