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Text Appeal

Will Robison and Jacob Krupnick believe that transforming basic transactions into “retail experiments” will change the rapport we have with what we buy. Subports launched in late 2009 as a techie, Brooklyn-based, text-to-buy business model—–a one-time online registration links your credit card information to your cell phone number, and purchases are made by sending an SMS—–but the implications of the service subvert the conventional add-to-shopping-cart experience. 

Subports is taking it to the streets with ViaPortal, their latest on-the-go venture: an SUV mounted with transparent display cases designed by Takeshi Miyakawa and Vram Malek. Jacob Krupnick (far left) and Will Robison (second from right) are joined by the director of client relations, Katie Rose (right), and cofounder Karl Conrad.

Goods are available online at the Subports PortalMRKT, but Robison and Krupnick’s respective roots in performance art and photography have instigated a series of unconventional pop-up shops, which maximize the convenience of on-the-fly buying: At one, a clairvoyant helped customers select gifts; at another, goods were stashed inside hollow books to meet the restrictions imposed on street vendors in New York City. Coupled with their commitment to independent institutions—–the current crop of over 130 partners includes music venues, boutiques, bake-sale organizers, even yoga studios—–texting for treasures takes on a sense of adventure that you just can’t get from a trip to the mall.

Why text-to-buy?
Jacob Krupnick: It’s not designed for bulk buying at Walmart. You can only get one item per text message (except for event tickets). By making buying a more considered act and by working with independent businesses, we are encouraging more informed, susta
How has the service evolved since you launched a year ago?
JK: We’ve gone from speaking to a handful of friends who are making things that we like to contacting more established creators to screening vendors who are approaching us pretty regularly. It’s exciting to have people become familiar with Subports and say, “Wow, I want to be a part of this. I can imagine ways of using this that could be totally fantastic.”

ViaPortal’s Plexiglas shelves are purpose-built to show a changing collection: Miyakawa made this plastic model station wagon, and the Indigo Clutch by Article 22 was dyed and handwoven in Laos.

So you’ve been learning from the people you work with?
JK: All the time. Every new function that we’ve added has been in respon­se to suggestions someone has put on a wish list or thought might be helpful. The best thing we can do is learn from the people who are using what we’ve designed.
Stock—–like Aaron Linn’s hand-carved Log Desk Organizer—–can rotate as often as the meter runs out.
What’s been the hardest part about getting Subports started?

Will Robison: Growing pains.

JK: For any small business—–and espe­cially one with our ambitions—–it’s a challenge to develop at a rate that’s viable while preserving the values that are important to us.

Do you find yourself texting-to-buy often?
WR and JK: All the time.

WR: I think I’m the biggest customer for [Subports vendor] Other Music. I collect vinyl, and now it’s easier to buy than logging into iTunes, which is strange to wrap your head around. Other Music does a weekly email blast with a Subports code; I text it in, and the next day I have the LP.

JK: I buy a lot of gifts for people, especially around the holidays.

What’s the best part of your job?
WR: Thinking about ways of destroying retail and then rebuilding it. Taking mundane things—–like customer service—–and making them unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. I tell people that I’m a retail experimenter.
What’s next for Subports?
JK: The technology has a freedom to it that’s inspiring a lot of curiosity. WR: Everything we’ve been working on so far is just an example of what can be done. Once you have a code, you’ve got this renegade way to sell. All pathways are open.

Ready to give it a go? Register with Subports here (it is super quick and incredibly easy!!), then click through our slideshow to check out Will and Jacob's top picks from Subports vendors. Each product is available via text—the subcode is written in quotes—for easy shopping once you're signed up. For loads more awesome products and cool temporary retail experiments, check out the Portal Mrkt online. Have fun!

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