Category Archives: Startups

Startup stories – Girl Meets Dress

In this week’s feature, I interviewed Anna Bance of fashion rental Startup Girl Meets Dress.

Anna Bance  - Girl Meets Dress

Anna Bance – Girl Meets Dress

Q) Can you tell us the story of how you came up with the idea of Girl Meets Dress?

A) The Girl Meets Dress story began in 2009 when I was working as UK PR Manager for French Luxury brand Hermes – and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists…I thought to myself “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?”

When my co-founder Xavier and I looked into the market we saw that no one was doing it. We were the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress is now pioneering the way for rental as a new and exciting ecommerce category of its own.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

A) Online luxury fashion rental. Women can hire the hottest designer dresses and accessories for up to 95% off retail price. We have over 4,000 dresses from over 150 international designer brands.

Q) What does your team currently look like?

A) The wonderful thing about an ecommerce company is the exciting variety of team member with extremenly different skills / backgrounds, all working together each day to make our customers happy. Our customer service team is currently the largest section. We also have Marketing, PR, Graphics, Buying, IT, Social media, Content etc. We are growing fast!

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) We have 100% bootstrapped the company, self funding until the summer of 2013 when we raised our first round of investment funding from Global Founders Capital.

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) We very simply put a basic website live and confirmed demand for our product. Once you know the market potential exists and customers are excited, you can build on that and expand further. The early days are all about testing. My co-founder and I were the only ones involved in setting up Girl Meets Dress. Finding a co-founder with different skill sets to you is a brilliant way to launch without needing to hire a full team on day 1. If you can split the main areas of the business between you, then you can launch with minimal cost and test the product at market.

Girlmeetsdress.com

Girlmeetsdress.com

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) We are lucky as we do not have many competitiors in the online rental market. We have the largest selection of dresses and accessories from 200 designers from over 50 countires, resulting in us becoming the UK’s leading luxury rental service. Our relationships with our designers are crucial and the aim is to bring together the best dresses from all over the world – from both UK new talent to worldwide established brands. The mix and varied selection of these designers on one site is what will hopefully mean that every woman visiting will find the perfect dress no matter what her event!

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) We are growing at over 100% and our customer demographic is very varied and exciting, ranging from a 14 year old girl off to her school prom, to young professional women who have 5 weddings this summer +various social occasions and need a different fabulous dress to each… to Mothers of the Bride looking for that perfect look on the big day.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) When we started, ensuring we have a full team in place while bootstrapping was no easy feat. We were lucky to find so many hardworking and ambitious staff to stick with us and the vision.

Becoming knowledgeable in so many different areas is challenging but it definitely helps to have 2 co-founders with complimentary and different skill sets. Fulfilment and logistics is an area which has to evolve and improve all the time as the company grows and orders increase. New processes and staff roles have to adapt to demand for the product to maintain efficiency.

Q) What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?

A) Although not 100% necessary, I recommend choosing an area that you know something about. There are exciting ways to pioneer every market, whichever field you love. Of course, you can learn about any new topic – but will you be able to compete with people with years of knowledge and expertise.

Don’t over think it. There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk your salary decrease, take a chance on an idea which might not work – but what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea!

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) We have a dedicated team working on our SEO through our blog whilst our CRM Manager deals with our 170,000 newsletter marketing. We’ve found that both of these, combined with our PR team running regular social media competitions and campaigns, have worked well for us in terms of conversion. When you’re a new company the most important and impactful skills to have for converserion is the ability to promote and market the product and brand to get that all important traffic through the doors – PR has been a huge element for us both online and offline.

Thea Green - Nails Inc

Thea Green – Nails Inc

Q) Who inspired you to start the business?

A) There are so many amazing entrepreneurs who are pioneering brilliant and useful business that are making our lives easier and more enjoyable. I love attending business events and networking so I get to know them all. Thea Green has been incredible in her ability to turn Nails Inc into a global brand – the company keeps on getting better and better.

 

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) Without giving anything away, Girl Meets Dress is proving the potential to be huge!
 We have ambitious and exciting plans for the year ahead. We want to continue to grow the collection of stock, the team, and to innovate within the wider Fashion space. 
We will continue our leadership of this emerging space and be in a position to wow our customers in every way possible and to forge a brand and quality of service which women will wonder how they managed without, giving women access to the biggest closet in the world!

Startup Stories – Netberg

Michelle Cuccovillo

One of the biggest barriers to doing business online for SMEs can be setting up an ecommerce platform, which can be confusing and expensive. In addition, marketing the products and sorting out the logistics of supply and delivery can be a headache.

Startup Netberg is aiming to simplify the process, by enabling users to create simple web pages where they can sell products, as well as taking care of billing and distribution.

I caught up with founder Michele Cuccovillo to discuss the business in more detail.

Q) Can you tell us how Netberg got started, where did the idea come from?

A) Like many innovative ideas, ours came from a co-founder’s personal experience of a market need. Our co-founder, Jubin Nouri, had always helped his parents, who own a pharmacy, with their business website. He wondered why there was no way for a small business to have a website that was free and easy to use, where it was also possible to sell products. He talked to his best friend, Lorenzo Rando and myself about the idea and we both agreed with Jubin that this was something that did not exist yet.

We realised that many small and medium businesses are not online, because either they do not know how to be online, or they do not see the importance of being online. Small and medium businesses have to work very hard to compete with big corporations, especially online, as they do not have the capacity to spend a lot on a website’s design or SEO. Netberg is an online community that allows these small and medium businesses to stand together, whereas the power is in the numbers.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

A) On Netberg, businesses can create their free business web page in only five minutes, so that the world’s customers can see what they do, what they sell, where they are, when they are open and buy their products or services online. Last but not the least; Netberg also manages payments and door-to-door pick-ups and deliveries. This way, we take all the hassle away from selling online. In return, Netberg earns 7% commission on sales generated on the platform.

Netberg team

The Netberg team

Q) What does your team look like?

A) Our team currently consist of eleven people. We have three directors and co-founders, five young and eager interns and one sales leader base in London, and one director of sales and one director of partnerships based in Italy.

Our team members are all creators and world changers and firmly believe nothing is impossible. We work as a flat organisation, and we value our team satisfaction as much as our customers and shareholders. At Netberg, we encourage a fun and collaborative work culture within our office space and we live and breathe a can-do attitude.

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) So far, Netberg was founded entirely with our directors’ own savings. That was actually a great experience, because it helped us all realise that it is possible to achieve great results creatively without spending any or little money.

Netberg is currently part of the Accelerator Academy, a high growth training and mentoring programme in London. We hope that we learn enough during the process to attract investors who share our vision and understand the potential of Netberg.

Accelerator Academy

Accelerator Academy

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) After Jubin had the initial Netberg idea in February 2013, he shared it with Lorenzo and myself. Not long after that, we started working on the business plan. At the same time, Jubin started working on the thousands lines of code that make up our website, together with our web designer. In February 2014, the first few interns joined the team, selected from top universities across Europe. The beta-version launched shortly after the interns started, and they did a lot of work testing the product with our clients. On 14th May, we launched our final product, with a brand new homepage, during our launch event at Google Campus London.

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) Many other companies offer online presence for businesses. However, we are different; we created a new concept that stands between three categories of competitors.

The first group consists of website generators. These companies provide businesses with a stand-alone website for a monthly fee. These websites generally do not attract many visitors without investments in marketing or SEO. They also offer too much customisation, which is nice but often complicated and very time consuming.

The second group of competitors are the online business directories. These directories cannot be used to sell online, they often have outdated information on them, and the business owner has little control over his business page.

The last group are the e-commerce platforms. These platforms only focus on the products, not on the business identity. They also do not promote off-line presence, and they have a complex pricing system.

Netberg is different compared to these competitors in various ways: a business owner can create a page for his website in under 5 minutes, without needing IT-skills. On Netberg, the business pages are part of a searchable network. They have a built-in e-store where they can present and sell their products hassle-free. The pricing is also clear, as we work with a revenue-sharing scheme. The business owner can create his webpage for free, and when he sells online, Netberg earns 7% commission.

A Netberg e-store

A Netberg e-store

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) We believe that all businesses should have a website, even just a simple one. Our websites are suitable for any SME, while our e-commerce is specifically tailored to businesses that sell physical non-perishable products that are easy to ship.

That means we approach all kinds of businesses: from shoe shops to butchers. We focus on these local SMEs because they generally do not have the time, money or skills to set up a website for their own business. We also make these businesses part of a community, so they can stand together with other SMEs, and survive despite the power of the big corporations.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A)When we started working with the team and launched the beta version, we had two main problems on our path. The first one was budget. We did not have a big amount of money to spend for marketing campaigns and advertising. That is one of the reasons why we joined the Accelerator Academy: to learn and prepare ourselves for investments.

The second one was time, as we have many ideas for activities that would make the company grow but unfortunately only limited number of hours within a day.

Q) Are there any services or tools that you can recommend for startups who need help with getting stuff done?

A) For a small company, the Google apps are great. We use Gmail, which is integrated with Google Drive, Calendar, Google Hangouts, etc. We use Buffer to schedule our Tweets and other social media activities. It is an easy-to-use tool, which lets you schedule your social media activities and see them all in one clear overview. Mailchimp is great for small scale email marketing. We used it to design and send the invitations to our launch event. For designing our marketing material, we mostly use the programs by Adobe, such as Photoshop and Illustrator.

Mailchimp - great for email marketing

Mailchimp – great for email marketing

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) We have been trying many different approaches to reach business owners. We started preparing the sales strategy in early February, and immediately identified two main channels: direct (email marketing, telemarketing sales and face-to-face visits) and indirect (business associations, public bodies, etc.). Recently we signed a contract with the biggest business association in Italy, Confcommercio (over 700,000 businesses associated), which should help us scale very quickly from autumn onwards.

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) Netberg has many plans for the future. After achieving the first target in UK and Italy of bringing many businesses online, Netberg plan to land to the US. The US is one of the biggest e-commerce markets and it would be a great opportunity worth exploring. Besides the US, plan is also to expand within the EU tackling major countries like Germany, Spain and France. Our vision is exactly what our tagline says: to bring all businesses online.

Startup Stories – Powr of You

Shruti M Krishnan

Shruti M Krishnan

In this month’s feature, I caught up Shruti M Krishnan to discuss her plans to disrupt the £3bn market research industry with Startup Powr of You.

Here is Shruti’s story.

Q) Can you tell us how Powr of You got started, where did the idea come from?

A) My brother and co-founder, Keshav Malani, actually thought of it right outside the Baker Street station :) We had been exchanging emails about value of social data, value of our connected lives, and the constantly changing consumer trends. He sent an email as soon as he was out of the station and I still remember the subject line said Idea: get paid for your data.

The rest is the amazing journey over the past year…squeezed in between a crazy amount of work and learning as we’ve brought our platform live.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

A) Simply put, our platform allows users to be an active part of the online data economy, while remaining anonymous, and earning rewards along the way. Simultaneously, brands are able to get a deeper understanding of their consumers through natural data.

How do we do this… we aggregate, anonymise, and generate insights from user data, with user permission, and create market research reports. We then sell these reports to brands looking to understand their consumers better. The money generated here is shared back with our users. Furthermore, when users login to their account – they are able to see personalised insights about what their data says about them, fun things to better understand their friends and social networks along with their habits.

Q) What does your team look like?

A) Currently, the core the team is just the two founders: a brother/sister duo. We have 3 developers working with us full-time and a data scientist as well.

Brother and Sister team Shruti M Krishnan & Keshav Malani

Brother and Sister team Shruti M Krishnan & Keshav Malani

Q) Do you outsource any work, if so what, how and why?

A) We outsource our development (backend, frontend, and mobile) to India due to the costs of hiring in-house in London. Finding the right talent is quite a challenge in the UK, especially London when trying to balance out costs.

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) We are self-funded at the moment. We are exploring investment opportunities that align with our business goals though.

 

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) Moving from idea to product has required and continues requiring an incredible amount of project management. From managing the outsourced development to managing the bazillion events and meetings, all the while being able to get some work done – all this has required meticulous tracking of tasks, constant check-ins between the co-founders, and love for what we are doing.
It’s a good thing both of us come from a fast-paced consulting environment.

 

Powr of You is now open for Beta signups

Powr of You is now open for Beta signups

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) There is only one direct competitor to our business model in this space who is also in its nascent stages of development with its private beta phase. But Market Research as a whole is a very established industry with major players such as – Nielsen, GFK, Kantar, etc.

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) Given our two-sided business model, we technically have two customers:

Consumers – individuals looking to understand their quantified self through visualized insights, e.g: Travel Map, Social Trip Planner, War of Words, etc.

Brands – a company looking to leverage social media, understand their customers more deeply, or giving back to their consumers

A recent Brand Amplifier event

A recent Brand Amplifier event

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A)The major hurdle we have faced is explaining the entire model to consumers given its complexity. It’s an ongoing exercise but we have to continually simply the message to be easily digestible. We work to share our tenets of transparency, privacy, and empowerment through all our messaging and branding. It’s an iterative process and we’ve gotten some good coaching along the way through the London Business School Incubator as we’re a part of the program. We’d also been lucky to be selected for other programs that have helped us hone in on the art of branding through a program called BrandAmplifier run by a talented team at JP Creative in Lambeth. They did various workshops with us to coach us on various media tools we can use to get our messages across and engage our audiences. This is a great program and came just in time as we’re starting to develop and execute our marketing plan.

Q) Are there any services or tools that you can recommend for startups who need help with getting stuff done?

A)  We’ve been lucky to be a part of the London Business School Incubator program which has provided invaluable resources and guidance along the way over the past year.

Task management – Wunderlist, Zoho Projects

Web Development – Axosoft Bug Tracker – can be used for all development for early stage companies and very affordable!

Email and Calendar – Gmail (Google App Suite) for small businesses is incredible for this and easy integration with phones, chat, google drive, etc.

File sharing – Dropbox: Great for sharing files with developers given it’s accessible anywhere.

Finding freelancers – Elance: Incredible way to source small projects and compare easily.

Software - Microsoft BizSpark Program: Free software, support, and visibility for startups.

Microsoft BizSpark

Microsoft BizSpark

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) We haven’t started tapping into any defined recruitment channels just yet. We are working to hone our product and messaging before starting a multi-channel outreach. We believe this will provide a better bang for the buck.

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) There are quite a few paths for us to take for the long term but we are working towards the goal of being able to provide our users a package of benefits, both financial and a service offering for them to understand their data and make the most of their social networks.

Startup Stories – Natalia Komis – iamsociable/iamadventures

Founder of iamsociable Natalia Komis-2

If you ask an entrepreneur why they decided to start their own business, one of then most common answers is:

“I wanted to do my own thing and create something that I can call my own.”

Natalia Komis, founder of Startups iamsociable and iamadventures is no different.

I caught up with her to talk about the two businesses, how she got them off the ground, and what has helped her along the way.

Q) Can you explain your business model in very simple terms?

A) iamsociable helps individual creatives, or creative entrepreneurs with in business, with marketing, social media, new business and guidance support. We also work with larger companies on offering these in a creative way.

With iamadventures we take artists and creative entrepreneurs on creative adventures all over the world to ignite their creative and help them develop their personal potential. We simply create the trips and open them up for people to apply to come along and be part of it, we have facilitators that are adventure mentors – who have specific skill sets that they can offer to the group.

Q) Can you tell us how the business got started, where did the idea come from?

A) Not knowing what route to take after Art School, I ended up in Marketing whilst still trying to hold on to the art world through collaborations and being part of art collectives. Once I realised I couldn’t juggle both I gave up with the corporate world & started freelancing as an arts producer. Still unhappy & knowing I wanted to start my own thing, I took the leap & launched iamsociable and later iamadventures.

I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do something that I can call my own, I guess I just never knew what. I’d go from one idea to the next without pausing for air and clarity. Being a creative person I seem to come up with ideas easily, but find it difficult to follow them through.

I’d wanted to start my own business and had a general idea for it for a while. But nothing felt right, the timing, the idea itself and I guess I just didn’t feel confident enough to go ahead with it. It came to a point when my relationship was over, I had to move house, I had no secure job and I suddenly had to reassess my situation. And I realised, that I had been running around for everyone else but secretly feeling resentful for it. I wanted to run around for myself! Make me happy and do something that I wanted to do!

After I left my corporate job I’d been travelling to art fairs and running events all over Europe and was the producer and PR manager for the British Section of the Kathmandu Arts Festival in Nepal, where I also ran master classes in arts marketing for the British Council. With this came a whole new outlook on life, an approach to do things that I actually cared about and wanted to do for myself. So, when the opportunity to reassess my situation did come along I was ready to take a risk and try something of my own. I’d been thinking about walking the Camino de Santiago for many years as a personal challenge, a place to let go and be free and allow space and time for new inspiration, so I planned for this whilst also setting up iamsociable.

iamadventures.co.uk

iamadventures.com

iamsociable kicked off slowly but surely and grew with its clients. The main objective? To help creatives in business; help them find and create their dreams through creative marketing and guidance support. Whilst making the preparations for my trip to Spain to walk the Camino I realised that I should be combining my thirst for adventure, inspiration and social change with my guidance support and personal development and offer this combination of services to others. This is where the iamadventures was born. With no back up plan and no extra money I did just that and launched two start-ups in less than 9 months. Now, it has developed into taking artists, entrepreneurs and social innovators on creative adventures all over the world. Offering the chance to be inspired, explore, learn and be guided to reach their personal potential.”

Q) What does your team look like?

A) I am the director of both companies and both companies use a trusted and talented team of freelancers as and when needed, to cut down costs for both the customer and company, but also to make sure we can bring the best of the bunch for each specific project.

Q) How have you funded the business?

A) Through own work and persistence – slowly growing it without taking money from loans or grants.

Q) How did you get from idea to product, was there much project management involved?

A) Sure there was project management involved – but my attitude is get up and do and without that nothing will ever happen. Both businesses are of the type that if you don’t get out there doing then nothing will ever happen. It’s more about spreading the word at the beginning as much as it is about having the skills and offers in place.

Q) How much competition is there in your space? How do you stand out?

A) There’s plenty of competition, but the difference is that we’re a bunch of young creative talent, working for and with other creatives. We do it for the love of it, rather than the money aspect. Everything is intertwined and equally important.

iamsociable

Q) What does your typical customer look like?

A) For iamsociable they may be a creative who wants to really start focusing on their practice and make a living from this (an artist, writer, musician, photographer etc) or they may be a creative start-up/company that needs that extra hand, that don’t want to hire someone full time but need and want someone to take over certain tasks – the marketing, social media or even new business.

For iamadventures, it’s slightly different – it’s again a creative person, or someone who wants to explore their creative practice and get out in the world – away from their normal not so exciting every day lives and do something different to re-energise them.

Q) What have been your major hurdles when starting up, how have you overcome them?

A) Money of course is always a major hurdle when starting up, however I think for me, it’s been trying to do everything at once and on my own and as soon as I realised that and accepted that I couldn’t life got much easier.

Q) Are there any services or tools that you can recommend for startups who need help with getting stuff done?

A) I’ve been part of the School for Creative Startups – that’s great for fresh creatives needing more direction and Doug Richard’s book is helpful too. As is UKTI and their Sirius program (that’s for those who live abroad or who are starting up a company with non UK citizens).

escapethecity.org

escapethecity.org

Q) What customer recruitment channels are you using, and which are the most effective in terms of conversion?

A) I use Escape the City and Ideas Tap, as well as Twitter a lot. These are all great for the types of people I’m looking to recruit. However, Cahootify is a great place to find freelancers and new projects that are happening also.

Q) What are your long-term plans for the business?

A) Long term there will be plenty more people involved on a larger scale all over the world. iamadventures will have specific mentors for different trips and iamsociable will have a good team of freelancers who can take over specific projects longer term.