Lots of companies make products people collect, but very few of those companies innovate the idea of collecting itself. That’s what a company called Figpin is trying to do. From the outside, it looks pretty simple; it’s a pin company that makes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, anime, all matter of geeky pins. If you are just a pin collector, you can do that, but for a fan who wants a bit more than the usual experience, Figpin adds a whole new level of collectibility.
Figpin (stylized by the company as “FiGPiN”) was founded in 2017 by three people: Dan Williams, Erik Haldi, and Amado Batour. Each one brought something unique to the table: Batour knew technology, Williams knew promotions, and Haldi was a designer. Together with co-owner and CEO Travis Oliver, the group decided they were going to make high-quality pins but, somehow, do them differently. “From the very beginning, we said ‘It’s not gonna be a pin that you just kind of throw on a corkboard.’ It’s gotta more of an experiential thing,” Batour told io9. Not only are the pins larger than most, as well as expertly designed and crafted, each one comes in very collector-friendly packaging. A pin can either be displayed as-is or, if you open it, it includes a stand and often an interchangeable backboard too. That was a start, but there needed to be more.
“I said, ‘I think we need to uniquely identify every pin made with a serial number and laser engrave it on the pin so that down the road we could do something with that,’” Batour told his partners. He didn’t know what that meant, and they didn’t necessarily understand why, but they went with it anyway.
When you pair a Figpin with the company’s app using the unique serial number, the pin is “unlocked,” giving it a whole new life. The serial number reveals several details unique to each pin, such as the order in which the pin was physically created and how many of its kind were made. Points are then assigned based on those statistics. Next, depending on how many people have unlocked that specific pin, additional points are awarded, and depending on how early you unlock it (were you first person or the 500th?) you can earn more points—the more people who unlock a specific pin also increases its point value.
All of these values, and a few others, give each pin its own unique total that can change over the life of the app, making your pin different than your friends’. It’s a unique and fascinating blend of physical and digital collecting and it’s just getting started. “We spent a lot of time talking about what collectors want, how they behave, what’s interesting to them, what’s not interesting to them, and we built this basic framework,” Batour said.
Together the team created the values that would give a Figpin its “story.” “Now that you’ve acquired this pin, you start earning kind of XP for it,” he said. “Let’s start writing the story of this pin’s history.”
The result is, even though two people may have the same pin, they’re not the same pin. One could be worth more—in terms of points or aftermarket value—than the other based on when the person unlocked it and how fortunate they were to get one from earlier in production than later. Imagine someone makes a super high-end Star Wars lightsaber in perfect condition, one that looks better than they do in the movies. Even then, the old, beat-up one that was actually used in the movies is worth more because of its history. That was the idea behind Figpin’s scores.
All of this is housed in the Figpin app; it keeps track of your pins, allows you to buy more, “boost” other fan’s pins by clicking on them and adding more points to the value, and much more. Frankly, it’s a little complicated and takes some getting used to, but the same can be said for the Topps digital card apps. Once you make sense of at least the basics, you’ll be amazed at how much you can do. And there’s more still to come.
“Anytime a company pushes an app on you, 99% of the time it’s crap. It’s just some white label thing with a really shallow experience and they don’t update it,” Batour said. “We didn’t want that. We wanted the app to be something that captured the collector’s imagination. And we knew that collectors like to take their collections with them, they like to talk about their collections, to share their collections. And everyone has a smartphone. So it’s kind of the perfect platform to do that.”
To that end, Figpin is already thinking up ways to make every pin’s history even more unique. Soon there will be bonuses for bringing your pins to specific locations such as comic book conventions, ways for celebrities to “tag” your pin with a digital signature, and even, somehow, pin battles. All of which are in the works and on track to arrive sometime next year.
One of the coolest innovations, however, is a way for collectors to safely sell or swap pins inside the app so as to avoid the fears of third-party sellers like eBay. It involves video verification software that requires multiple neutral users to verify a pin’s attributes before it’s able to safely change hands. (io9 didn’t try this out because the feature is currently in beta testing, but you can see an image below.)
Considering where it stands today, it feels as if Figpin is just the tip of the iceberg. In its very first year, large companies already saw the potential in the idea. Disney was among the first companies sign on with Figpin and since then it has acquired licensing deals with other Disney branches, like Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, as well as Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, Epic Rights, Viacom Nickelodeon, Hasbro, Funimation, Toho, Netflix, PubG, SEGA, Sony, Activision, Ubisoft, Valve, Microsoft, MLB, NBA, and more. The one big license it doesn’t have, but wants, is Nintendo, and the company is working on making that happen. That means Figpin, which has already created over 700 pins, has a broad appeal to tons of different pockets of fandom.
“I always enjoy collecting my favorite fandoms,” Figpin fan Son Cao of Fremont, California told io9 over email. “What is so special is not just the Figpin app but loving the ability to showcase my favorite characters from my favorite series. The action poses, the overall character design, the different variants, ie glitter, silver-plated, or gold-plated backs. The simple beauty of just looking at them. The freedom to collect what characters you love and all their different variants and poses.”
Unlike Cao, pins have never been my thing. I already collect so much other stuff (posters, toys, digital cards) that I always try to avoid getting into something new. But when I first began learning about Figpin, the digital side is what intrigued me. Having spent so much time, money, and effort on Topps’ Star Wars Card Trader, the idea of carrying a collection in my pocket, and it having digital value, seemed right up my alley. Figpin then sent me a few samples so I could research and play. Sure, you could wear them, but they were big, beautiful, and really meant more for display than anything else. For someone who likes to keep figures in their boxes—not for their value, but because I like the look—Figpin was perfect. Even when you open them, they still look great. Though, considering they’re larger overall than usual enamel pins (two-three inches), fans who like to wear their flair might be turned off. Personally, everything just worked for me—the excitement of unlocking each pin, seeing the score, and thinking about it all.
Since the company launched three years ago, the idea seems to be working for other collectible companies too. Batour told us they’ve met with other brands that are interested in adopting their own version of Figpin’s software, which they call Shelf. (He wouldn’t tell us which companies specifically.) With the video verification aspect, companies with older products could allow fans to verify and catalog their pieces without individual numbers.
“Peer-reviewed video verification is a really powerful way of doing it because it allows trusted sources to say, ‘Yes, this is a 1979 Camaro [Hot Wheels] or whatever,’” Batour explained, adding though he used Hot Wheels as an example, that isn’t necessarily a company Figpin is working with.
But, it could be. And if it isn’t, maybe it should be. Pin collecting is not a new thing—not by a long shot—but the advantage of Figpin’s model is that it can be extended to any kind of collecting or any brand. It’s especially useful for collections you can’t carry with you. Plus you can share, quantify, and rank your collection all right on your phone. Giving a fan’s physical collection its own digital, portable catalog and backstory uniquely blends the past, and future, of collecting.
“There’s a lot of cool stuff coming up,” Batour said. “And it’s just a matter of us kind of building it out at the right pace, not over saturating the market, not overproducing and just growing it nicely to allow fans to just enjoy the product, to capture new fans and to just, you know, to just scale up in it in a healthy way.”
Correction 11/5/20 5:30 p.m.: The original article neglected to mention the company’s co-owner and CEO Travis Oliver. He’s been added.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.