OpenSky search for merchants. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

OpenSky is calling out to cool, small businesses. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

“You should get more of this,” my daughter, almost 18, said, chewing on some of SlantShack grass-fed beef Jerky. “It’s really good.”

Never mind her phrasing (would have been nice? “Beloved father, I would be eternally grateful to you and wash your car if you bought me another sample pack of this most excellent jerky”). But OK. She’s a jerky hound, I love her, so when I found this small jerky biz on the OpenSky site I gave it a shot.

I’d never have known about the Jersey-based business had it not been for OpenSky, an Internet marketplace that I’ve been a part of since before they even had a website (first post, 11/9/09). I just thought their concept was cool. People who know what they are talking about in a certain field (me: food and food tools) recommending what we think is excellent.

I hung in there with them through mucho growing pains and figurings-out, and they’ve morphed into something great: a virtual marketplace for small to midsized businesses that helps those businesses grow and promote their products. It’s not crafty like Etsy, not flash-sale-based like Gilt. I had no idea at the time that I’d start making my own kitchen tools, and become one of those very small businesses that OpenSky helps to promote via social media. Which I love. People can ask me questions, or they can comment on products, good and bad, like my Badass Perforated aka Egg Spoon, which I love (no link on purpose because at least one person is going to call me out for going too commercial; sorry, I make stuff, that’s what I do, I make books, and apps, and tools, and dinner most every night, the latter I pay for, the formers are how I pay for the latter).

John Caplan, the entrepreneur who conceived OpenSky, asked me to call out to the U.S. small business community to ask each business to consider opening a storefront on OpenSky. I can say for a fact that, though I sell my tools on my own site right here, separately from OpenSky (a lot of people requested this; many early email-overload glitch issues have since been addressed; I chose shopify.com, good but costs us nearly $2K a year), I have done 10 times the sales via OpenSky than via my site and OpenSky is free. We’re just a few of us here at ruhlman.com, but OpenSky has a fleet of customer service folks and now, at last, a really clean interface.

Here’s a video the news agency Reuters did on OpenSky recently; it explains OpenSky very well.

Are you a small business making cool products and can ship anywhere in the U.S.? OpenSky has 2.5 million potential individuals who might be interested in your stuff. Again here’s the link to the Merchants page. It’s free to join. I emailed SlantShack co-founder David Koretz if his experience had been good and he emailed this:

“OpenSky has been a great platform for our business—not only in regards to volume and revenue (it is a steady, reliable source in that regard), but most importantly it provides a larger venue for us to see how the consumer responds to our product and better understand how we need to market our jerky and communicate our brand goals in the long run.”

OpenSky already has some 2000 merchants (like Dalton-Ruhlman products and SlantShack) in all kinds of lifestyle categories, but I’m a food guy, 25% of OpenSky merchants are food related businesses, and here are some of my finds:

I’ve loved Olympic Provisions salumi since I visited the Portland restaurant and salumeria and am glad they partnered with OpenSky.

I’d never heard of Aqua Best but I’m eating lobster when I turn 50 this summer and that’s who I’m going to click on to order.

I don’t know what it is about soapstone, but there’s something going on there; can’t keep my hands off it. And this company, SPARQ, realized it.

And The Jam Stand, based in the culinary desert called Brooklyn, NY, would be relegated to that arid tundra were it not for OpenSky, which can promote their jam in every state of the country.

I’m a writer, first, and I love to cook, but in the broadest sense, I’m a maker, an entrepreneur, and want to support my fellow lunatics and society deviants who break their backs to make cool shit. Because in the end, it’s really fun. I like to have fun. Fun is good.

If you didn’t like this post, tell me. If you want a rant instead or some other cool links, see below:

© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.