Throwback: Spotlight on GlassPass 2020
Originally written on 2/19/2020 by Sam Abdallah
When most people hear the phrase “functional glass art” they scratch their head in confusion. When they hear the word “bong”, they think of $30 generic beakers sold at seedy headshops. Little do they know that there’s a whole culture based around extremely intricate and functional pieces of glass art, forged by well-known artists with hundreds of thousands of followers and sold for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars. Glass art has been elevated to the spotlight by celebrities such as Action Bronson and Dan Bilzerian and even the storied luxury department store Barney’s is adding a high-end headshop to its Beverly Hills location. Entrepreneurs like Riley McDonnell believe that we’re just now scratching the surface of a potentially multi-billion dollar industry.
Sam & Riley in Los Angeles circa 2020
Riley started GlassPass, which he describes as “an online community and sales platform for functional glass art”, over the summer after his freshman year at USC. “I didn’t start GlassPass for the money,” he says, ” I started it out of my passion for glass art. We want to foster a community where everyone can transact and discuss freely.” Recruiting a couple of friends, the GlassPass team developed a full web application for glass resale from scratch, akin to Grailed which provides the same tailored service but for high-end streetwear (a market with a similarly dedicated and niche community).
Riley simultaneously became well-known in the glass community through creative and scenic videos showcasing glass art, building a dedicated Instagram following and making GlassPass’s Instagram page into the go-to place for resale. At its peak, the website hosted several hundred listings and averaged 5-10 transactions weekly, with an average transaction price of $500. While the web app is currently disabled pending a community driven redesign and mobile app, GlassPass regularly receives 75+ daily story mentions from sellers looking to promote their posts through Instagram. Even without the full service, these followers donate hundreds of dollars a month, showing their gratitude.
“The secret sauce is being customer focused. Since we’re a platform, it wouldn’t exist without the artists and buyers that support us. They trust in our brand, check our page consistently and are constantly spreading the word and showing love. Having good relationships with the customer is key.”
Riley McDonnell watches Quave Glass play piano in Las Vegas 2020 at Glass Vegas. Riley had no idea he was talking to until the moment this picture was taken by a random guy with a polaroid camera.
In the spirit of community, Riley recently attended Glass Vegas, an industry trade show, in order to speak to potential users and high-profile glassblowers in person. Taking away many lessons and a renewed passion for the business, GlassPass is now focusing on next steps, beginning a friends and family fundraising round, considering crowdfunding from the community and looking to hire more developers and marketing professionals. While the company currently operates in the “tobacco ancillary” space, the sky's the limit for GlassPass as regulations change. New partnerships with marijuana companies are an inevitability as the potential end of federal prohibition approaches, and as the cannabis community expands, so too will the market for functional glass art. While it may still be early, look for GlassPass to be making substantial waves in the near future.