FemTech: Olga Vidisheva, Shoptiques.com
TechCrunch, Forbes, Inc., FastCompany about her:
Forbes 2015: 30 under 30
How Shoptiques’ 30-Year-Old CEO Is Using Tech To Take Indie Boutiques Global (And Make Millions)
Even among a group as impressive as Forbes’ inaugural 30 Under 30 list members for retail, Olga Vidisheva stands out. The founder of fast-growing e-commerce platform Shoptiques barely spoke a word of English when she moved from her native Kyrgyzstan to Los Alamos, New Mexico at age 17.
She worked as a waitress at a local sushi restaurant, improving her language skills through conversations with customers. Having watched her country’s slow, painful transition to a market economy in the previous decade from her family’s one-bedroom, government-provided apartment, she was determined to prosper in her new life in the U.S.
Fast forward a decade, and Vidisheva had graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in economics and mathematics, cut her teeth at top Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs and graduated with an MBA from Harvard University. Today, she runs Shoptiques, which gives small fashion boutiques around the world an online sales platform to sell their wares. In exchange, the company takes a cut of sales and a joining fee for retailers that includes costs for photography, credit card processing, packaging and shipping.
So far, so good: last year, revenues were about $3 million, up 700% from 2013. When Shoptiques made Forbes’ 2015 list of America’s Most Promising Companies, Vidisheva said she aims to do $20 million in sales in 2015. The startup has raised $3 million to date from top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Benchmark, SV Angel, William Morris Endeavor Agency and Y Combinator.
Vidisheva spoke to Forbes about how the company is using technology — including cloud computing — to help transform indie stores into global brands.
Q: Shoptiques aims to revolutionize retail by bringing world fashion to a single site. Can you tell us a bit about the impetus behind founding the business in 2011?
A: It all started with a business trip I took while working at Goldman Sachs. I was in Paris for work and had some downtime between meetings, so I decided to explore the boutiques around where I was staying. I ended up finding the most amazing pair of shoes inside a nearby boutique. As soon as I got home stateside, I went searching for that boutique online to buy more products from them — only to realize that they didn’t have a website. Needless to say, I was frustrated.
A few years later while at Harvard Business School, I spent my entire second year of school speaking to over 800 boutiques to find out why none of them — similar to the store in Paris — were investing in their online presence. The answer was very similar from store to store: These small business owners were very overwhelmed by the digital world. I realized that I wanted to help these independent retailers, so after graduating from business school, I launched a private beta of Shoptiques to help gauge customer interest. The response was overwhelmingly positive and I realized that both boutiques and consumers wanted this platform. Today, we have over 2,000 stores to shop from in five countries and we offer boutiques a variety of tools such as email marketing, web hosting, and professional photography.
Q: How has the technology behind Shoptiques evolved over the last 4 years? Is there anything you can do now that you couldn’t in 2011?
A: In the last four years, Shoptiques has gone from working with 25 boutiques to now over 2,000, and we’ve gone from having customers in a handful of cities to now reaching women in five different countries around the world. Obviously, technology has allowed us to scale. But beyond that, it’s the data that we collect using technology that helps us run our business today and plan for our future. Given that we pride ourselves on having something for everyone (we have products for a variety of aesthetics and price points), creating a relevant on-site experience is critical. We didn’t have big data four years and currently that’s what allows us to tackle big hurdles like better personalization on the site.
Cloud computing affords us the ability to leverage all of the best-in-class tools that other companies are building. This means we can always be using the best services out there for things like search and payment processing — which are necessary for our business, but not core to creating value on the platform. Essentially, using cloud computing means that we don’t have to be experts on everything and we can instead focus our resources and attention on things that are unique to Shoptiques.
Q: What do you think traditional retailers should be doing to better use the technology available to them to make shopping easier for customers?
A: There isn’t a need to reinvent the wheel, so whether you’re a traditional retailer or an up-and-comer, my advice is to leverage third-party services as much as you can. For small businesses, this means finding the right tools from bigger companies who have overcome challenges and solved problems. For larger companies, this means experimenting with emerging technologies that come from small groups or even individuals.
Q: What are you excited about in terms of the future of technology in retail and e-commerce?
A: As everyone continues to strive for an omnichannel experience, we need to eliminate the ‘e’ in e-commerce and think about how we can use technology to serve all of our customers across every single touch point. It shouldn’t matter if your customer wants to walk in the door and try something on or if your customer wants to purchase via a tweet from the other side of the world. Everyone should be excited about this: Technology is what will allow small business owners to operate on a global scale.
30 Women Who Have Revolutionized A Male-Dominated Industry
Originally from Russia, Vidisheva entered college in the United States at 17 years old. Modeling to pay for her tuition, she would graduate from Wellesley College in 2007 and work for Goldman Sachs and Co. A shopping lover herself, Vidisheva would go on business trips and visit small, local boutiques. She noticed though, that the little boutiques she would visit had almost no online presence. While at Harvard Business School, she drafted up a business plan to enable small boutiques the ability to get involved with e-commerce and officially launched Shoptiques in the year 2012.
Editor's note: Shoptiques is one of Inc.'s 2015 30 Under 30. This year's readers' choice winner is ThinkLite. A few…www.inc.com
Inc.’s 2015 30 Under 30
Shoptiques: An Online Home for Small Boutiques
Independent boutiques get a sophisticated online platform, while fashionistas find treasures that aren’t available elsewhere.
HEADQUARTERS: New York City
FOUNDER: Olga Vidisheva (29)
YEAR FOUNDED: 2012
FULL YEAR REVENUE: $3 million
RAISED: $2 million
Editor’s note: Shoptiques is one of Inc.’s 2015 30 Under 30. This year’s readers’ choice winner is ThinkLite.
A few years ago, Olga Vidisheva returned from her Paris vacation with a new pair of chic shoes, and Googled the small boutique where she bought them. Much to her disappointment, nothing came up. She was a second-yearHarvard Business School student at the time and decided to do a bit of research. In 2010, didn’t just about every business have an online presence?
Well, no. She interviewed several hundred small-boutique owners in the U.S. and discovered a shocking lack of internet savvy. And that bit of market intelligence led to the idea for Shoptiques, an online marketplace where more than 1,500 boutiques now sell merchandise that shoppers can’t find elsewhere online. The company has grown from just $300,000 in revenue in 2013 to approximately $3 million last year, and is on track for $20 million this year, says Vidisheva.
Vidisheva, who was born in Kyrgyzstan and came to the U.S. as a teenager, was the first nontechnical, sole founder to be accepted into Y Combinator in 2012. And while her company has grown significantly since then, she remains selective about the shops she features on Shoptiques. “It has to be a cute store, physically,” she says, “the quality has to be fantastic for the price, and the merchandise has to be unique. We reject over 80 percent of stores that apply.”
Stores must carry a full line of sizes, pledge to ship orders within 24 hours, and sign exclusive agreements stating that they won’t sell elsewhere online with the exception of their own websites. Vidisheva says that 90 percent of the company’s boutique partners now use the Shoptiques platform exclusively for their e-commerce needs, often redirecting shoppers from their own sites to Shoptiques, which takes a cut of the final tab. Vidisheva won’t reveal details, but says the percentage varies according to sales volume, who photographs the clothing, and if the boutique links its shopping cart directly to Shoptiques.
So what’s the appeal for shop owners? Yes, they get exposure to a much larger customer base, but the real value of Shoptiques lies in its technology, which Vidisheva says was the toughest element of her business model to get right. “It took a long time for us to figure it out,” she says. Shoptiques must integrate its own technology with inventory streams from every store. The company also photographs 80 percent of the merchandise on the site. “We have models, stylists, and photographers who have been working with us for three years,” says Vidisheva. “We shoot over 800 new SKUs a week.”
Scaling that technology, says Vidisheva, enabled her to grow Shoptiques by more than 700 percent last year. She now offers boutiques more than just a place to sell merchandise online, however. Shoptiques provides web hosting, inventory management, and email marketing. Robin Boesch, owner of Y&I clothing boutique in San Francisco and Dallas, has been on the Shoptiques platform since the company’s early days. Originally, she used Shoptiques in addition to her own website, but now uses Shoptiques exclusively.
“We’re seeing at least 10 times the orders we had on our own website,” says Boesch. “And profitability is even greater than that, since we have none of the costs of running our own site. We were paying our own photographers and models. Now we send all our product to Shoptiques and they do a shoot every three to four weeks.”
Vidisheva, who has raised approximately $2 million in outside capital, says she’s now ready to expand Shoptiques to a more international market. Maybe she’ll even sign on that tiny boutique in Paris. She’s not in any hurry, though. “First,” she says, “we wanted to own the U.S.”
World Fashion On A Single Site: Shoptiques In 2015
Shoptiques.com CEO and founder, Olga Vidisheva, is looking to bring the world’s fashion boutiques under one virtual roof.
That online retail platform Shoptiques.com managed to grab a spot on FORBES Magazine’s 2015 list of America’s Most Promising Companies with only $3 million in revenue shows the company’s got some things going for it. Namely growth, investors and a really cool idea.
Founded in 2011 by former Goldman Sachs analyst Olga Vidisheva, New York-based Shoptiques.com recruits small fashion boutiques from around the world, offering them an online sales platform to sell their wares, in exchange for a cut of sales and a joining fee for retailers that includes costs for photography, credit card processing, packaging and shipping. Now with a roster of over 1,500 boutiques, the company generated $3 million in 2014 — that’s a 700% increase over 2013. The year ahead looks to be another growth period for the Shoptiques.com team, says CEO Vidisheva. “We want to do about $20 million next year.”
Multiplying revenue comes down to getting more of the world’s small fashion boutiques to agree to have Shoptiques.com act as their online store. With each new partner comes additional customer intel in the form of an average 1,000 email addresses that Shoptiques can use to alert new customers to its entire platform. “As you add stores you grow exponentially,” says Vidisheva.
Geographically, Shoptiques has focused primarily on fashion boutiques in the United States, with a presence in fashion capitols Paris and London. In 2015 the company will look to boost its reach in those locations as well as break into new markets. Vidisheva says she’s working to identify two new city markets to tackle but won’t disclose exactly which fashion-hotbeds she’s leaning towards (hint: they are in Europe and Asia).
The company signs up more shops by scouting out prospects and scheduling phone interviews between store owners and Shoptiques staff. Vidisheva says her people have a 50% close rate, which isn’t too shabby. At latest count the company employs 26 full timers and by year-end 2015 that number will likely double, she says.
Also on the to-do list for the next 12 months is the Shoptiques.com mobile app, which is good news because about 40% of the company’s traffic is mobile. When will it emerge? Vidisheva and company are keeping the exact date under wraps but likely in time for beach season.
This is the point in Shoptiques’ life cycle when frantic growth is most pressing — signing up partners and scoring media attention. Investors have already taken notice. Vidisheva has already raised $3 million from top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Benchmark, SV Angel, William Morris Endeavor Agency and Y Combinator.
Forbes: America’s Most Promising Companies 2015
Revenue As of January 2015: $3 Million
CEO: Olga Viidisheva
Headquarters: New York
Local fashion boutiques from around the world at your fingertips, the company allows small shops to use its platform as an online sales hub. Founder Olga Vidisheva is a Harvard Business School graduate who developed her idea in Y Combinator. To date the company has raised $3 million from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, Benchmark, SV Angel, William Morris Endeavor Agency, Y Combinator.
FastCompany: Most Creative People 2014
How Shoptiques Is Helping Independent Boutiques Tackle E-Commerce
The best boutiques are often small, tucked-away gems with unique products and zero web presence. Olga Vidisheva of Shoptiques introduces them to the world — and brings a world of new shoppers to them.
Before the financial meltdown, Olga Vidisheva worked in finance (“I wanted to make a difference, as surprising as that might sound”) and found the job draining. When she was traveling overseas for work, though, she would take a breather, walk around an unfamiliar city, and do one of her favorite things — stop in a boutique. When she’d return to the states and friends would fawn over her purchases, Vidisheva was startled to learn that most of the boutiques she’d shopped at had no web presences to speak of. “Am I missing something?” she thought. The gears began to turn — and continued to do so through her time at Harvard Business School.
Recently, Vidisheva’s startup, Shoptiques (tagline: “Shop the world’s best boutiques”), entered a new and more serious phase, unrolling sales software that will enable the company to scale. Shoptiques — which enables users to buy clothes at boutiques from all over the world — provides inventory management tools for retailers, and offers web-based tools to drive sales (an ability to search for an item across all of a neighborhood’s boutiques, say). Videsheva endeavors to have 1,000 boutiques in its system this year. There’s certainly demand: “We reject over 80% of stores that apply to be featured,” she says.
Before Vidisheva launched Shoptiques in 2012, she spent hours interviewing hundreds of boutique owners. What she found was that many simply had no interest in forming a web presence, even if they knew it would be good for their brand or bottom line. “These people just had no clue how to do this,” says Vidisheva. “They’re brilliant in merchandising and supply chains, but they had no interest in e-commerce. We provide services that they just don’t know how to do, or don’t want to do.”
As an example, she asks me to Google “Pinkyotto,” a hip brand with a strong New York presence. Pinkyotto’s own website comes up, and I click through, but as soon as I try to shop through the site, I’m redirected to Shoptiques’ own Pinkyotto-dedicated page. Pinkyotto has essentially outsourced all their e-commerce to Shoptiques’ infrastructure, and Shoptiques takes a cut of the revenue.
If that seems like something anyone could do, think again (and consider that Y Combinator, for one, believed in Vidisheva, providing seed funding and making her their first non-technical, non-partnered cadet in the famed accelerator, she says). Vidisheva points to the example of OpenTable as another startup that would seem replaceable, yet has been extremely savvy about insinuating itself into restaurants’ businesses in a non-replaceable way — by integrating with their in-house table management systems, for instance. “The brilliance of OpenTable is that it went deep into the infrastructure of restaurants,” she says. “That’s why no one’s been able to replace them.”
Vidisheva wants to achieve something similar with her software, which is why Shoptiques has become something more than a mere payments infrastructure. By using point-of-sale software called LightSpeed, Vidisheva is able to link her own business to that of her clients’ in deeper and deeper ways. For instance, whereas formerly boutiques would have to manually enter updates to their inventory for those changes to register on Shoptiques, the LightSpeed integration does this automatically — making a store’s Shoptiques page a neat mirror of what goes on in the brick-and-mortar location. “We’re fully integrating into the lifecycle” of partner boutiques, says Vidisheva. “So if any competitor comes in, boutiques will say, ‘What are you talking about? We’re already fully integrated with Shoptiques.’”
Shoptiques has wound up being something like the IT guru for each and every boutique, in a sense. Take, for instance, the case of what Vidisheva calls #shopstagram. Many boutiques have gotten into the habit of posting Instagram photos of their wares for publicity. But there was no infrastructure available to allow followers to know how many of this item were available, or to point them in the right direction to buy online. Using a bit of back-end wizardry, Vidisheva trained her boutiques to include a bit of metadata with each Instagram posting, which Shoptiques algorithms would then process directly into its own systems. Now a boutique can post an Instagram photo, simultaneously stimulating demand for a product, letting Shoptiques know just how much of the product is available, and driving users to the relevant Shoptiques page to make a purchase.
The new LightSpeed integration goes a step beyond this clever Instagram hack, making Shoptiques constantly up to date on all inventory. It also allows novel shopping behavior: the shopper who eyes a dress in full stock on Friday, then sees its numbers dwindle online over Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, can confidently snap up the last dress online on Tuesday. And as Shoptiques acquires more and more data on behavior like this, it will be in a position to provide analytics back to the boutique owners. She aims to be far more than the pipes processing payment for fancy dresses: “I want to get to the point where if you’re a new owner starting a store, you say, ‘Shoptiques — that’s all I really need.’”
In a recessionary era — and one in which one particular e-commerce site issqueezing retailers everywhere — Vidisheva claims that her site can be the difference between life and death for some stores. She points to the example of one Arizona boutique, Clothes Minded, that recently saw a dreadful lull in foot traffic over a particularly sweltering summer. The owner wrote Vidisheva to say that but for online sales that season, the business was likely to have gone under. “They understand that we eliminate the cyclicality and seasonality of the business,” says Vidisheva.
After all, she says, even if your New York boutique has leftover bikinis come winter, “you can send to Hawaii year-round.”
Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Back Marketplace For Local Fashion Boutiques, Shoptiques
As an avid shopper, I tend to buy clothes, jewelry, and accessories from both big-name stores as well as smaller boutiques. But as a whole, some of my most coveted items in my closet are from local boutiques who carry designers and fashions that you would never be able to find at stores like Bloomingdale’s. But while I can peruse the boutiques of Chicago, I can’t access the smaller boutiques in New York, LA, San Francisco and other cities without visiting those areas. Until now. Enter Y Combinator startup Shoptiques, which aggregates inventory from local fashion boutiques and puts it online. The company is launching today, and announcing an undisclosed amount of funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Benchmark Capital, SV Angel, Y Combinator and other angels.
At a high level, Shoptiques vets and works with local boutiques in cities across the U.S. to integrate their inventory onto the site, and then sell these items to visitors. Here’s how it works: Shoptiques will partner with a boutique and have one of its photographers (the startup works with a network of freelance photographers) to take high quality photos of the items and then upload them to Shoptiques, along with descriptions and prices.
Users can now browse collections from boutiques across the country that they would never otherwise have seen or known about. In order to qualify to be listed on the site, the boutique has to offer women’s clothes, jewelry, handbags or more that cannot be found at Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus or another larger store. As founder Olga Vidisheva tell us, the main qualification is to carry items that no one else has. She adds that around 50 percent of boutiques that apply to be on Shoptiques are rejected for this reason.
The site launches with inventory from over 25 boutiques, from Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Chicago. In terms of how Shoptiques finds these local boutiques, Vidisheva says the site has partnered with magazines like Elle and others to find interesting stores and has also received many leads via word of mouth recommendations. Currently, boutiques are organized by location, and neighborhood on the site, and the price point on items ranges from $50 to $300. You can also shop by category (bags, shoes, tops etc.).
If a customer chooses to purchase an item on the site, Shoptiques will immediately send the boutique an email with the order, and a printable FedEx label with the customer’s address. The startup handles all of the payment processing, and takes an undisclosed fee from each transaction.
The startup has been experimenting with curation as well. Shoptiques is actually putting together looks, based on current fashion trends, from items sold at various stores across the country to help customers pair clothing and accessories. Additionally, the startup has written features on boutique owners, favorite items and more.
As Vidisheva explains, many of these local boutiques don’t have an online presence and find the whole process challenging. Shoptiques takes the hassle out of creating an independent store online, setting up inventory and payments infrastructure and also helps market these stores as well. It’s similar to what Etsy has done for artisans and craftspeople.
Eventually, Shoptiques wants to expand internationally, and add many more boutiques so that it becomes a full-fledged marketplace. The concept is certainly appealing, especially to someone like myself, who likes to find and wear unique items that perhaps aren’t found at my local Saks Fifth Avenue.