“College is the Perfect Time to Start a Business” 5 Startup Tips With Steven Simon Founder of Sparkly
“College is the perfect time to start a business. Once you start working full time, you realize how much free time you actually had in college. Use that time to work on an idea, and if it fails, the consequences are minimal.”
I had the pleasure to interview Steven Simon founder of Sparkly (MySparkly.com). Steven is changing the way people shop for engagement rings. The’ve made it all about Shop By Selfie. So now, people can see what rings look like in real life on hands just like theirs. So far the response has been amazing, and people all over the world find the perfect ring on Sparkly. Aside from a buying a house or car, buying an engagement ring is one of life’s biggest purchases — so we said, “let’s make this huge moment awesome”.
What is your “backstory”?
I’ve always had a passion for finding and using the latest and greatest in technology. As a kid, I always made sure my family had the latest gadgets, mostly because I wanted to get my hands on them to learn every last thing they could do myself. During the .com boom in the 90s, I was so fascinated by all the new services coming out, and knew I had to be a part of it. I was the first person in my circle to discover eBay, and from that point on I became an entrepreneur. I started by buying and selling rare art at the age of 13.
One of the first things I purchased with my profits was the Palm Pilot VII, which was one of the earliest devices to truly utilize mobile apps. At that point, I understood the significance of email/data on the go and I was essentially “texting” in class a decade before that became the norm.
Right after college, I worked at a big ad media agency in data analytics, but knew that mobile advertising was the next big thing and joined a couple startups in the mobile space. The most recent mobile ad tech startup I was a part of was acquired by Apple.
Things were good, but I loved the startup environment so much and had tons of ideas on how I could potentially disrupt various industries. With my brother and another co-founder, I started an incubator for new companies called Co.Si Ventures, which finally allowed us to build and test multiple concepts in the pipeline. I would say that for anyone who is considering making the leap to something more entrepreneurial — just do it. Believe in your idea and listen to your audience. Figure out a game-plan. Get your product out there. Test, learn, and repeat until you get it right.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
Co.Si Ventures just launched our first concept and we are having tons of fun bringing it to market. It’s called Sparkly (mysparkly.com) and it’s basically a new way to help people find the perfect engagement ring. Right now we think the way couples research and shop for engagement rings is lagging behind other industries that have been disrupted.
Sparkly is similar to Pinterest, only it has been specifically built for engagement rings by only featuring real-life engagement ring selfies from actual people all over the world. Unlike Pinterest or Instagram, Sparkly is totally sortable — and has tons of details for every ring (carat, ring size, setting styles, etc.). The magic comes from being able to filter from thousands of ring selfies and narrow it down to the “Perfect One”. Since Sparkly is comprised of just ring selfies, people can discover what rings look like in real-life, on hands that look just like theirs. For example, you can get a better idea of what a 1.2 vs 1.7 carat diamond looks like on your hand, or see how much larger a ring with a halo around the stone looks on a size 6.5 ring size. We’re seeing people spending tons of time browsing on the site and really dive into making the big decision with Sparkly as their hub. Brides.com said they’re “obsessed” with Sparkly shortly after we launched, which was super exciting to read.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I’m lucky that the person I’m mentioning is also a Co.Si Ventures co-founder. My brother Jason is 9 years older than me, so I’ve always looked up to him while watching his various accomplishments throughout my life. Jason found success early during the .com boom and went on to create his own creative ad agency with my other business partner, Nick. We each bring different perspectives to the table, and it got to the point where everyone was asking the 3 of us when we were going to finally make our ideas a reality. When we were all at a point where it made sense to finally start working together to build something great, we started Co.Si Ventures and started implementing our ideas to see which one would best stick. I’m so thankful I’ve always had my brother to help make my crazy ideas a reality.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m kind of known as a life hacker and I love sharing these hacks with friends and family. Whether it’s helping people find the best deals, or tricks to make their life easier, I love it when people tell me “that totally worked and it’s changed my life.”
This is exactly how mysparkly.com came to fruition. When I was engagement ring shopping for my wife, I developed a method to help me categorize all the rings I was interested in. This led me to finding her perfect engagement ring. As more and more friends started getting engaged, I realized that they were afraid that they would choose a ring that wasn’t perfect. I started sharing my spreadsheets with them and after they found it so helpful, they encouraged me to build Sparkly for all the other future brides and grooms who don’t know where to start when engagement ring shopping. Now, people from all different backgrounds can get the information they need to choose the perfect ring almost instantly. Whether you are in-market, or simply enjoy the eye candy, you can go to mysparkly.com to look at diamond rings big or small, see ring on hands with lighter or darker skin tones, or use Sparkly to shop together or keep the engagement a complete surprise.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each, if possible.)
- If learning a foreign language doesn’t excite you, learn to program. When I was a teenager, I thought learning to program was mostly taught in college. I wish I knew the potential to be self-taught on a skill that is so applicable for one of my passions.
- College is the perfect time to start a business. Once you start working full time, you realize how much free time you actually had in college. Use that time to work on an idea, and if it fails, the consequences are minimal.
-Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with people you trust. I was always warned about people stealing ideas which led me to be hesitant to share them with others. Feedback from friends and family is the first place you should go. It’s better to get the research process started than to not share your ideas at all.
- Always think about ways you can make a process better….especially during big life events (college, getting married, having kids). These milestones are unique opportunities where you have different perspectives which can allow you to create something you typically wouldn’t think of.
- Even if you can’t fully create an idea yourself, learn tricks that will allow you to build a low fidelity MVP to test every idea you believe in. Through the years, I’ve met a handful of people who have taught me tricks as easy as validating ideas by simply drawing them out on sheets of paper to test with your audience. I wish I knew how effective this was for product ideas I never took action on over the years.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this.
I would love to meet the founders of Houzz. After coming up with the concept behind Sparkly and getting feedback from people close to me, a friend mentioned how another company was also focusing on real-life photos to disrupt another industry. Like Sparkly, Houzz was originally created by a married couple out of a personal need, and I really admire the amazing platform that they’ve built.