Campless Decamps to Detroit, Plans Expansion Into Other Collectibles

Perhaps the most unexpected revelation to come out of the demo day event held by Detroit Venture Partners a few weeks ago was that Campless, a Philadelphia-based website that calls itself “the Kelley Blue Book for sneakers,” had been enticed to relocate to the Motor City by DVP founder and Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert.

The fast-growing startup that caught Gilbert’s interest tracks sales and lists data on all types of athletic shoes—and it’s going after a big audience.

Sneakers are a hot fashion commodity, with an estimated secondary market value of $1.2 billion, according to Campless founder Josh Luber. The startup’s name refers to the massive lines that form outside of stores hours or even days before a new shoe is released. (“Know more, camp less,” is the company’s official motto.)

“The sneakerhead community is big and growing, but it’s not homogeneous,” Luber says.

As for how seriously sneakerheads take shoes, consider Kanye West’s comments in a Sept. 24 Vanity Fair article: “I think if Michelangelo was alive or Da Vinci was alive, there’s no way that they wouldn’t be working with shoes, as a part of what they work on. Definitely one of the things they’d work on would be shoes. I’ve gone three years without a phone. I don’t go a day without shoes.”

Of course, in addition to being one of the world’s most popular rappers, West is a sneaker designer. Pairs from his popular Yeezy Boost line start at $200, but sell for hundreds more on the secondary market—where deadstock (out-of-production pairs and unworn, never-opened vintage), used shoes, and collector’s items are sold, mostly on eBay. In fact, the Yeezy Boost 350 Low Turtledove is currently the top-ranked sneaker on the Campless site.

Luber arrives at his rankings by analyzing data, and, at heart, Campless is an analytics operation. There are eight key data points that Luber tracks for each pair of shoes: average deadstock price, total sold, price volatility, aftermarket price compared to retail price, deadstock price compared to used price, percentage of deadstock pairs available, percentage of eBay auctions that end in a sale, and a proprietary Campless score, which takes “every data point available” and mixes in Luber’s subjective feelings about a shoe’s long-term desirability. It’s no surprise that Luber counts investment bankers and retail footwear analysts among his users.

Campless doesn’t conduct any transactions on its site, but rather lists data for each shoe and offers links to corresponding eBay auctions. Luber attributes part of the sneaker market’s explosive popularity to social media sites like Instagram, where fans proudly display photos of rare or treasured finds. (Luber says the most prized pair of sneakers in his own immense collection is an original pair of Nike Air Huaraches from 1993, the shoe worn by the University of Michigan’s Fab Five basketball team.)

“I’ve been collecting data since 2012,” he says, adding that he worked for IBM when he started Campless. “It started as a price guide for the unregulated secondary market. As we started to get more insight into the market, we started selling data to investment firms who analyze the footwear industry.”

Luber says most of the company’s revenue comes from eBay affiliate links, though he moved to Detroit to build out the data portion of the business. He only quit his job with IBM to work on Campless full-time this year, after securing DVP’s undisclosed investment. The company also went from a team of 17 volunteers to eight full-time employees.

Gilbert heard about Campless through his sneakerhead son and noticed how robust the aftermarket was. He wondered if Luber’s algorithms could be applied to other collectibles. “Dan had a bigger idea, to apply the methodology we’ve created to other verticals—not unlike what he did with Rap Genius. It works for any collectible, particularly those with communities, like watches, handbags, women’s shoes, comic books, and coins.”

Luber says the prospect of moving to Detroit “wasn’t a hard sell at all” once he visited for the first time this past spring. “Frankly, it’s super exciting to be in Detroit right now and see all that’s happening here,” he adds.

Luber has been invited to give a global TED talk on Oct. 15 about the growth of the sneakerhead market—further proof that he’s perhaps on to something.

“A year from now, I want everyone with an interest in the sneaker market to be using our tools and data,” he says. “And I also want them to be able to share pictures of their sneaker collections on our site.”

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