We’re excited that CardSphere is joining us for an interview! So, let’s get started:
ElspethFTW: Thanks so much for giving us an interview! I'm really excited to interview an MtG entrepreneur so that people can learn a bit about what it's really like to run an MtG business.
Q1: First off, what inspired you to create Cardsphere? What sets it apart from other MtG marketplace websites?
CS: We had been users of legacy trading platforms, but none of them provided us with the complete experience we wanted. There was always something getting in the way of the actual trading, and that’s supposed to be the point, right? Anyway, as disgruntled users of other sites, we met on Reddit, and decided we could solve these problems.
We had been users of legacy trading platforms, but none of them provided us with the complete experience we wanted. There was always something getting in the way of trades:
- Negotiation Required
Cardsphere users don’t have to haggle with other traders to get the cards they want. Instead, they create lists of cards they have, and they are shown who wants those cards. If the price being offered is acceptable, they send out the cards. When those cards are received the funds are transferred. Once they have enough of a balance to afford cards they want, other traders will send them.
- Unstable Economy
There’s at least one other platform with the same “push” system of asymmetric trading, but unlike Cardsphere they aren’t backed by real money. They created a points system and sell these points to their users at 100 for $1.00 USD, give away free points to users when they signed up, and also paid Youtubers and bloggers for positive content in the past. It’s against the rules to sell the points, and there’s no easy way to get your cash out if you aren’t receiving cards.
This company ignored warnings from their users that the economy would crash, and eventually it did. Even after a full year of adding point sinks to their system, most users agree that the points are now valued at around 350 for $1.00 USD. And when the economy tanked, the system devolved into negotiation based system, where most users have to stay in chat rooms organizing reciprocal trades in order to get anything.
On Cardsphere, you can cash out your balance at any time. We send you the money via Paypal. So far, we’ve cashed out over $40,000.00. We also never touch our users’ funds, so we’re capable of cashing out every single user at all times. The user confidence that comes from this means traders are happy keeping high balances, which keeps the trades flowing.
- Cluttered Interfaces that aren’t Mobile-Friendly
Every trader has a smart phone in their pocket, but most sites simply aren’t built to make the mobile experience a positive one. Whether it’s graphical richness taken to a ridiculous degree or interfaces that simply don’t work at all, other platforms are very difficult to use on phones. Cardsphere solves this problem by putting the mobile experience first. We have built a clean, information-rich interface that performs well on all systems.
- Expensive to Use
Many platforms are simply too expensive to use if you aren’t doing high volume trading. While you can deposit money into your Cardsphere account with a payment card, it’s not required. You can just start sending out cards to build up your balance. People who use Cardsphere to trade cards for cards take advantage of the lowest fees for any service, period. For each transaction, we take 1% of the card’s cost, paid by the trader sending the card out.
When people withdraw funds from their account, we charge 10% to cover the cost of the money entering the system via Stripe.
We came together on Reddit and decided the time was right to launch a platform that solved all these problems. It was pretty easy to establish our core principles.
First, we knew we wanted everything that happened on the site to be backed by the US dollar. That way, if you couldn't get the cards you wanted, you could simply withdraw your money and leave. Early on it became clear that people were concerned that there could be a “run on the bank”, so we established that we would never touch our users’ funds. We can cash out every user in full at all times. We’ve cashed out over $40,000.00 so far.
Second, we wanted it to be the least expensive place for people who wanted to just swap cards, but also have fees that are competitive if you decided you just want to buy and sell. Our market is unique and can accommodate people trading, buying and selling equally well.
Third, we wanted Cardsphere to be lean, fast loading and created with a mobile-first design philosophy. Everything we know about traders tells us people want data and convenient access to it rather than a flashy experience, so that’s what we provide.
Fourth and most importantly to us, we wanted to be very engaged with the users, and let their involvement really shape what Cardsphere became. After all, we ourselves were proof enough that if you aren’t building something for your users, they’ll move on.
So far it's been one heck of a ride.
ElspethFTW: I’ve read over the terms of your site, and they are very reasonable. This is a platform that I would certainly use myself and recommend to others. You guys have done a great job working out what Magic players are really looking for.
Q2: What do you think is something that most people don't realize about running a website on which people trade Magic cards?
CS: How much work is involved.
All of us have full time jobs and families. So, for the past year we’ve been working 80 hour weeks at a minimum. Thankfully, our families believe in us and have been very patient. They need to be, too, because when you do business on the web it. Just. Never. Stops.
Most nights, I am still talking with the Cardsphere community on my phone in bed as I fall asleep. The first thing I do every morning is review trade stats from the day before and check out the social media action.
ElspethFTW: Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize that a lot of the MTG community is doing this purely as a hobby or a second job in addition to working regular full-time jobs. This is a great point!
Q3: I really like that you try to make your site have a little something for everyone. So far, how would you say your user base is distributed between competitive players, casual players, power traders, and collectors?
CS: I think that we have a healthy mix so far. We see all kinds of cards moving, that’s for sure. And usually that’s how you can really tell who’s using the platform. We see Gaea’s Cradles moving alongside Standard removal spells and EDH only cards.
We’re always mindful to make sure we’re not getting influenced too heavily by any one group. This is sometimes hard to do when you have a close knit community of true believers on Discord, Reddit and Twitter. So we try and not let their voices drown out the needs of the casuals and collectors, who are an equally necessary part of a healthy trading ecosystem.
The difficult part being such a small team, is that we have to spend our limited resources judiciously, which means most of the time we can’t address the needs of the niche users in a timely fashion. For example, we haven’t been able to add every printing of every card in existence because the amount of work to add the cards just doesn’t match the payoff. But as the business grows, we’ll solve more of these issues in lockstep with the growing demand.
ElspethFTW: I think you guys have done a fantastic job with the limited time and staff that you have! I’m sure that as the site grows you’ll be able to hire more help. And you’re absolutely right about casual players and collectors. They are still an extremely important part of the game and always will be - I for one have become a casual/collector myself in recent years.
Q4: The secondary market is definitely very healthy for MtG right now. However, with so many products being released all the time, do you think there may become some product fatigue? Or is Wizards just printing to demand?
CS: There’s definitely more products being released than ever before, but I have a lot of faith that the natural market forces will control this over time. We’re hearing clearly from LGS owners (many of whom use Cardsphere for their businesses) that they aren’t comfortable assuming the risk of carrying so many products. I’m sure WoTC is getting the same message.
I’m definitely not buying every product that gets released. I’ve really enjoyed Ixalan, and bought two boxes to play limited at home, and went to some prereleases and drafts, but I don’t think I will purchase any more Masters series. The limited experience is not better than regular sets, or at least not better enough to justify the cost. I’ll just pick up playsets I need on Cardsphere instead.
One thing I would like to see less of is the “non-magic” products that just have Magic flavor pasted on. Like the Magic Puzzle Quest or the Arena of the Planeswalkers board game.
ElspethFTW: I’ll admit I wasn’t thrilled with Magic Puzzle Quest, especially when I found out you had to pay to get anywhere. I actually bought the Arena board game on discount once but never got to actually play it. I get that they are trying to build the brand, but I think they’re going to do better with products like Explorers of Ixalan that actually feature actual Magic decks.
I really feel like because of how many products Wizards is releasing, a lot of local game shops are only going to stock what they feel will sell. You don’t want that much product just sitting on shelves and this already happens, so Wizards really needs to listen and realize that they’re just bringing out too much at once.
I think the Masters sets are a great way to bring much needed reprints of key cards in Modern, Legacy, etc. But I feel like they do cost too much for many players to really get into and to me this is a way to sort of manipulate the market so that if certain card prices do crash, they will very quickly rebound since they are such limited numbers of new copies that actually hit the market. We have seen this happen with cards like Engineered Explosives. While the card did dip in price for a bit, the sudden new demand for players actually wanting it skyrocketed and now it’s an insane price. The Masters sets should make cards actually more accessible, not create a whole ton of new demand that the product can’t really keep up with.
However, I think your platform can help with the availability of cards. Your system allows people that may have had difficulty in obtaining them through more traditional methods to be able to get them. The fact you can trade sealed product really helps, too!
Q5: Where do you see Magic going in the next few years?
CS: Most importantly, to Dominaria. I’ve been playing for a long time and going back to the original plane sounds pretty damn exciting.
But seriously, I think that WotC is for the most part an agile company run by really smart people. They’re always willing to shake things up and see what works: changing rotation schedule, block format, and reprint policy being the most recent and significant examples. The important thing is knowing when something isn’t working out, and being prepared to back away from it.
I think this week Maro or Aaron Forsythe admitted that they really should have printed cards that messed with an opponent’s energy supply, and that would have made for a healthier standard. This is awesome. It’s not weakness to admit you’re wrong - it’s strength.
So far, Cardsphere has been able to follow their great example. When we’ve made mistakes, we’ve corrected them. Feedback is a gift, and when your customers are magic players, every day is Christmas.
ElspethFTW: Dominaria is awesome! And I agree admitting weaknesses and failures is a strength. Wizards is getting a lot better with accountability and being very aware of the community. You guys are doing great with responding to the community and filling a need that other sites promised but failed to deliver for one reason or another. I’m more than happy to give your service a shot!
Thanks so much for your time.
To sign up for CardSphere and see what it’s all about, check it out at www.cardsphere.com .
You can also find CardSphere on Twitter @realCardSphere and on Facebook, Reddit, and Discord.
** Disclaimer: I was compensated in absolutely no form for this interview. It was done purely for the good of the Magic the Gathering community and the goodness of my own heart ;)
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