Unshackled Founder Stories featuring Purva Gupta
One word perfectly sums up Lily founder, Purva Gupta: fearless.
Born in India amongst many great business minds, Purva was practically bred for business. But an early stammer left her hesitant to express herself. That is, until she understood a way to conquer her fear of speaking: dress well, feel well.
Her new-found confidence secured her a spot in the top commerce school in India and a prestigious internship with Saatchi & Saatchi, a leading advertising agency. But she wasn’t yet satisfied, and looked for ways she could make a difference in the world.
In order to chase her dream, she was faced with the difficult decision to move over 7,000 miles from India to Connecticut. But she didn’t stop there. An additional 3,000 miles across the country to California put Purva in a long-distance relationship with her husband.
Despite naysayers and a lack of retail experience, she ventured into the world of entrepreneurship. Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, she’s on a mission to create a retail solution giving confidence and style to women everywhere. Read how she does it in the interview below.
1. Where did you first develop a passion for an application focused on enabling women with confidence?
As I was graduating from high school, I was low on confidence and suffered from a stammering problem. I had moved from a small school, in a small town in India to one of the best day-boarding schools in India and developed an inferiority complex because of the drastic change in environment. Everyone around me spoke fluent English and I couldn’t speak very well. Even though I always was top of my class in academics, I could barely introduce myself to a group of people.
I worked very hard to overcome this barrier at a young age and won my confidence back. One of the ways I overcame my fear of speech was by feeling dressing confidently with gloss, heels and pretty clothes. It empowered me to be fearless and gave me the confidence to think “If I can do this, I can do anything.” After all, the mind can be your biggest strength and the biggest weakness as well.
Over the years I have become passionate about enabling women with confidence. From both my personal experience and plenty of research, I know that what you wear and how you look are intricately related to how you feel.
2. Talk about your home country and it’s impact on your entrepreneurial drive.
I was born in a conservative Marwari family in the place of the world’s most beautiful forts and palaces, Rajasthan, India. I belong to a community called Banias, which is India’s most influential and successful occupational community. 4 of the top 10 e-commerce businesses in India are founded by Banias. My friends have joked all along that I have business in my blood.
Growing up in India meant learning to survive tough competition. Everyone competes for limited seats at the top — be it school, college or a job. It forced me to work harder to get my foot in the door. For example, I made it to India’s premier college of commerce, Shri Ram College of Commerce, with a 1% acceptance rate.
3. What is your professional background and how has it helped you at Lily?
Since the earliest days of my professional life, the ‘impact of my work’ was a very important metric for me to evaluate opportunity. Being one of-a-billion people is where we start in India, but I’ve always wanted to create a legacy with my work.
I am an economist by education. I’ve worked with Eko, a mobile payments and branchless banking startup in its early days and the UNICEF Innovations team in New York. During my masters program at Indian School of Business, I got an opportunity to work with the Khosla Impact Fund led by Vinod Khosla, and explore the world of startups from an investor’s lens.
The common theme across my professional life has been working on products where mobile technology creates a huge tangible impact on users. That’s exactly what we’re doing at Lily and this time the industry is apparel retail.
4. What does Lily’s mission matter to you?
Lily’s mission matters to me because this product has the power to make women more happy and feel beautiful.
5. Who’s been with you on your journey and how are they important to you? Friends, family, mentors, etc.
I belong to an entrepreneurial family. My father runs a family business and his entrepreneurial journey was my ultimate inspiration. I learned 3 things observing him:
- It’s all about sales — Life is all about selling. Everybody is storytelling and selling their ideas, dreams, products and services to the people around them.
- Passion — It’s ok to be called crazy if your mind, body and soul are committed to your work.
- Persistence — Raise the stakes so the only option left is to succeed.
After getting married, my support system only got better. Another set of super supporting parents and an awesome spouse is the most important factor that adds to my confidence today. After I moved to Silicon Valley, I entered a long-distance marriage which was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done. But my love and respect for my husband has only grown — he understands that Lily is my oxygen.
6. How has Unshackled provided you with an opportunity to succeed?
Everything about startups is uncertain. On top of this , is the uncertainty of whether you get to be in the country or not. I had already jumped off the cliff and was on my own trying to find a solution to my immigration issues, before I met Unshackled.
Apart from the network and expertise the team brings, I am attracted to this dedicated team’s passion to find solutions to hard problems. Once I met Unshackled, I was sure this team would not give up easily on this hard problem and do whatever it takes to find a solution. They have created a whole new product that helps people like myself with the immigration challenges I have. You can read more about it here.
1. Why does the world need this company?
Looking and feeling great is the fundamental reason why women buy clothes. But today with so many stores and products, discovery is becoming more complex and exhausting. There might be 50 odd products that flatter a specific woman both online and in stores. Lily focuses on the woman first in order to get those perfect 50 products in front of her.
Retailers believe that shoppers will buy 50% more if they get a personalized shopping experience. But according to a recent Motorola Solutions ‘retail vision survey’, 85% of retailers are unable to customize a store visit. Lily becomes the middle-man for the retailer and user and creates that personalized shopping experience both are looking for.
2. What is the core insight at the foundation of your product? (Your value proposition)
Lily is built on the behavioral insight that women shop for clothes and accessories that help them accentuate the parts of their bodies that they love and hide the parts that they don’t.
In fact, 95% of women think that no shopping experience today accounts for this simple insight. Although there are a plethora of personalization apps, none have been built to understand a user’s perceptions, preferences and emotions. That’s what we’re doing at Lily.
3. Why do you think Lily will be successful in the long term?
I am an admirer of products that identify a strong human desire and use technology to significantly reduce the steps to complete the desired action. That is the reason, we dedicated a lot of time in customer development to find that everyday itch women have when looking for clothes. Looking and feeling their best is a very fundamental need women have and Lily has tremendous opportunity to delight its users.
4. How is Lily innovative in it’s use of technology for understanding a woman’s emotional needs ?
The most important aspect of Lily is that we have built the product with the user in the center of it all. Lily uses innovative technology and human psychology to understand the user, their perceptions, their preferences, likes and dislikes and, finally, their aspirations of how they want to look.
We deliver this with chat as the fundamental user experience. It’s something users are comfortable with. Using Lily is as simple as texting with a friend.
5. Give us a glimpse at how the algorithm works.
Our proprietary algorithm matches women with products in stores according to their emotional needs. Lily asks the user simple questions and creates her unique profile. On the other hand, we embellish product inventory from every brand or retailer with the similar tags that create a user’s unique profile. Hence the matching of products to people happens in real-time.
6. Tell us about the most important benchmark for Lily to reach.
When shopping can’t happen without Lily. The product has stickiness and gets smarter with every use, so a shopper’s experience will only become better and more addictive every time they use Lily.
7. What type of people do you look for to join your team?
The Lily team is a group of fashion lovers, psychologists and technologists that are passionate about empowering women with the clothes they wear. We are a young team with big dreams, starry eyes and the guts to do whatever it takes to make Lily happen. We believe happy people create happy products so flexibility and customization are not only features of our product, but also of the company culture.
Stay tuned throughout our Founder Stories series to learn more about the portfolio companies making a difference in their industry with Unshackled.