Growing up, who didn’t own Barbies, G.I. Joes and Star Wars action figures? Now those toys are a hot commodity, especially for collectors like Gary Darna, who’s built an entire social networking-like site called CompleteSet around the idea of “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
Launched in beta in May, CompleteSet is a Pinterest-esque website (and soon-to-be mobile platform) where users post photos of their own toys or toys they want to collect, sell or buy in categories such as action figures, T-shirts, comic books and video game consoles. Mariemont resident Darna got into collecting Star Wars memorabilia at 10 years old and has since spun his ardent fandom into his life’s work.
“I have a lot of experience with collecting: going to toy shows, comic book conventions, all that,” Darna explains. “As fun as it is, it’s also really annoying because you spend all this time and money on all this stuff and it just ends up sitting in a closet somewhere. Or if you live in an apartment, you might not have room to display it, so then it goes into storage. So there are people who have thousands of dollars worth of stuff, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars worth, and no one ever gets to see it. I came up with the idea for CompleteSet just to make a new way for people to be able to showcase what they have. But it’s kind of evolved since then. Now it’s more instead of just cataloging what you have, [it’s about] figuring out what you want. So that’s what we’re trying to help collectors do.”
Deciding what’s missing from users’ collections is what makes it such a peerless website, but what also separates CompleteSet from Pinterest or eBay is exclusiveness — potential users sign up via email and wait for the site admin to approve them. This way, it weeds out what Darna refers to as “reselling” — people who purchase collectibles and then try to price-gouge buyers. CompleteSet doesn’t just exist for purchasing and selling toys, though — it’s meant to rouse childhood memories, too.
“We’re really trying to be like the Facebook of nostalgia,” Darna says, “because users just want to look at stuff that they used to have as a kid or that they never got for Christmas.
It’s a memory lane thing. And that nostalgic feeling that they get just browsing through everything is what we’re trying to curate for people.”
Darna got the idea for the site when he noticed people posting pictures of their toy collections to Facebook, but because they’d post their entire collection, it was difficult to surmise exactly what items they had. “So with this,” Darna says, “they individually catalog — basically make an inventory of everything that they own, which then allows you to see their profile and get a better understanding of what it is they have on a item level basis. Specifically, how rare are they? What condition are they in?” On CompleteSet, each photo is accompanied with a short description of the item: the release date, the manufacturer, etc.
Darna became interested in entrepreneurism in high school and worked at his first startup in college. “I guess it was something that started early and the collecting was something that was with me the whole time,” he says. “This is a natural progression of things because it combines both the entrepreneurial part of me and also the collecting part.” He grew up in West Palm Beach, Fla., and moved up here to attend Northern Kentucky University, where he obtained a degree in entrepreneurship. In 2012, he enrolled in NKU’s INKUBATOR program that allows current students and alumni to develop a tech idea. There, he met his technical co-founder, computer science student Jaime Rump, and the pair joined forces to build CompleteSet last year. Darna’s the designer and the hustler; Rump’s the developer. The program earned them $5,000 in seed money, with an additional $10,000 coming later from local innovation contest, Cincinnati Innovates.
“The program really challenged us to figure out, will these people actually use this? How many of them are there, and is it worth your time, effort and resources to invest in something like this?” Darna says. “We found that the answer was yes, they would use it.” Currently, the site has almost 2,000 users in 23 countries; collectors have recorded more than 53,000 items that they have and want from their collections — 2,000 of which are Star Wars items. (Kenner, the manufacturer of a lot of early Star Wars figures, was based in Cincinnati.)
Although CompleteSet is geared toward collectors, Darna says it appeals to every demographic.
“We have [everyone] from people who are teenagers all the way up to someone in their 60s who collects comic books. People think that collectibles is a geek thing. You would assume all of our collectors and all of our users are going to be potential cast members of The Big Bang Theory and there’s a Sheldon Cooper on our site, and while that is true most of the time, sometimes these people don’t fit that mold. They aren’t a geek at all. Sometimes it’s just somebody that is really passionate about one of the brands on there.”
He refers to brands like Michael Jordan sneakers, Hot Wheels and Starting Lineup action figures as “the staple household names of collectibles, where people know about them even if they’re not a collector.”
New brands and collectibles are added daily, but to sustain the site, Darna’s looking to raise more money, add a couple of more people to the staff and develop an iPhone app.“We want this to be something where someone can take it with them on their phone — go to a convention and literally have a treasure map for everything that’s in that place that they need for their collection,” Darna says. “That’s the vision that we have and we know that we can accomplish it. The technology’s available for us to do it — it’s a matter of growing the site and connecting with the resources and the people that we need in order to make that happen.”
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