“Friends Helping Friends” Reinvents Shopping on Flaire
Xoogler Founder Stories: Julia Carter of Flaire
After having three children while working a full-time job in the tech industry, Julia Carter found herself frustrated. Not with her job, not with her family, but with her role as a consumer, constantly struggling to find the right products — and doing all of it alone. “Endless hours researching needed ‘stuff’ such as products, content, and so on left me exhausted, with less and less time for the people and things I loved. My friends experienced the same friction. These were brilliant, resourceful individuals — with much to offer the world — and yet they were consistently drained by today’s consumer experience.”
Julia was eager to find a solution. She began writing, ideating, and running “friend-informed” shopping experiments with her community. In these experiments, participants started to buy like crazy, spurred by newfound confidence gained from friends’ personalized advice and recommendations. Equally as interesting were the social dynamics Julia observed. New relationships were forming, and old friendships were being strengthened through the exchange of knowledge and discovery of shared brand affinities. Collaborating in their consumer lives connected people in a new and powerful way.
Thus, after receiving a flood of enthusiastic feedback, and with these learnings in hand, Julia left her job at an innovation fund to start Flaire.
Solving Life Together
At its core, Flaire is a social commerce app that empowers people to share things they buy and love with friends (and their friends), helping everyone to shop smarter, faster, confidently try new things, and see the influence and impact of their own recommendations. Since your friends know you better than the internet, Flaire eliminates the process of surfing endless sites and questionable reviews in order to make an informed purchase. We all have go-to friends for certain areas of expertise. Whether it is clothes, restaurants, health or cars; our friends are a treasure trove of knowledge, and know our particular context. Through Flaire, users can: ask for recommendations on products/content, save and share great finds, see what friends are buying, and more. This experience makes shopping more personalized and relational, empowering people to both give and receive context-based recommendations that drive action — and fuel a flywheel that is both fun and rewarding.
“Our users live full lives. Our goal is to provide the right recommendation at the right moment, so that they can quickly and confidently cross things off their to-do lists, while also connecting with their friends.”
Launch and Learn
After launching Flaire, Julia quickly learned several key lessons.
- Test quickly: “I was right to get the product to market in the quickest, lowest cost means possible. I outsourced the initial development work, spent minimal time and money on our first MVP, and only marketed the app to our friends and family.”
- Visibility over privacy: “I was wrong about one of our fundamental assumptions. I had assumed that our users valued privacy and wanted smaller, more intimate conversations than they had on large social platforms. Thus, I initially limited the group sizes to 12 people, what I called “dinner table size,” and kept the conversation visible only to group members. Within days of launching, I knew I was wrong and redirected the product roadmap to change the privacy settings, created a central public feed, and added user profiles to bolster trust between remote connections. The visibility into recommendations from second and third degree social connections were fascinating, both for us and for our users.”
- Listen to your intuition: “I love a good struggle, but I knew something needed to change. In Q1 2020, our user base grew at a consistent monthly rate of 20%, but this was largely due to time-intensive in-person gatherings. We needed a better way to scale.” With only four months of capital remaining, Julia cut an already-sparse budget and threw her efforts into finding a way forward. She found it in college students.
Building the Core Community with College Students
“College students were the perfect starting point for scale — high tech adopters in intimate communities, and they really ‘got’ Flaire.” To tap into these communities, Julia and her team built strong intern teams of curious and connected students, meeting with them over Zoom and in-person gatherings to explain the product and solicit their feedback. They gave the students a true behind-the-scenes view of a tech start-up and offered them a voice in product and marketing decisions, gaining authentic buy-in before asking them to promote the app to their friends.
This strategy paid off. In less than a month, the initial intern team at the University of Virginia onboarded nearly a thousand new users, and subsequent launches have garnered more users in condensed four-day launches.
Today, there are more than 7,000 users on Flaire, several thousand of whom joined in the last 60 days. These users benefit, not only from passive discovery, but also from dialogue and peer collaboration that help to validate their purchases. Since their second university launch in February, the students have performed tens of thousands of engagements each week and have made quick purchases on the 8000+ links posted by their peers. In a recent survey of new student users (less than two weeks on the app), 60% had already purchased one to five items they discovered on Flaire.
At present, Flaire is open to students at select universities and is preparing for two virtual university launches this summer, followed by four in-person launches in the fall.
To be clear, however, college is only a starting point. “In my experience, age only brings more questions.” Julia notes. “Young adults navigate everything from new cities to professional life, financial management, engagement, marriage, home ownership, parenthood, and more. It never ends, and many of these new seasons are lonely!” To prepare for the post-college community, Flaire has active cohorts of both young professionals and young parents in the Atlanta area, who are engaging and purchasing at similar rates.
The pandemic presented both opportunities and challenges for Flaire. The company benefited from the 44% growth in U.S. e-commerce, as the world transitioned online. Consumers became savvier online shoppers, more motivated to find the right products. Flaire is well-positioned for this market shift.
The lockdown constraints also challenged Flaire to rely primarily on digital marketing strategies. They were able to identify and fine-tune efficient, inexpensive growth levers that will serve them well in future launches.
The biggest challenge was the inability to host Flaire-branded events at various universities and conduct investor meetings in-person.
“I love people, and I’m the kind of person that knocks on doors and builds relationships to get things done. I had to find new ways to do this, relying on Zoom meetings and digital launch campaigns. Particularly on the investor front, it is inherently more challenging to convince investors to take a bet on a first-time founder, who is building a social commerce platform out of Atlanta, when they can’t meet me face-to-face. Fortunately, I’ve found an incredible group of advocates and supporters across the world, who have bet on Flaire and me, despite the circumstances. I can’t wait to watch how in-person events will supercharge Flaire’s growth this fall!”
Sharing things we buy and love
Regardless of who and where we are, the things we buy matter. They reflect our values, express our personalities, create meaningful environments and enable us to do the things we love. To find the right products, we naturally turn to the people we trust in the physical world, but we don’t have a dedicated social platform for doing so.
“We literally have a platform for everything else. We give massive amounts of energy and attention to sharing the things we do for fun (Instagram), for work (Linkedin), for fitness (Strava), for music (Spotify), for thoughts (Twitter), etc., and we collaborate across all of these spaces. Yet there is no platform built specifically for our lives as consumers.”
Flaire was designed to meet this need — friends helping friends by sharing things they buy and love. If Flaire continues with its current trajectory, we will continue to see rapid growth in the weeks and months ahead.
How You Can Participate
Want to invest?
Flaire is about to close its second round of capital ($750k) and has limited space remaining. The funds from this round will primarily support key engineering hires to strengthen the platform and growth efforts to reach the 17M U.S. college students today. If you are interested in learning more, you can email Julia directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More About Julia
After graduating from the University of Virginia, Julia moved to Kampala, Uganda to work for a human rights organization, with plans to go to law school. Instead, she was captivated by a different problem — there weren’t enough jobs for Ugandans, and the ripple effect was catastrophic. To solve it, she wanted to “learn business” from the best of the best and secured a job at Google. This kick-started a 12-year journey in the tech industry, split between her time at Google and her time at Kenzie Lane, an Atlanta-based innovation group with a track record of success and a fund of $250M to build companies (two of which exited during her six year tenure). Julia worked directly with the CEO, managing the early-stage ideation team and facilitating late-stage business development. Julia left Kenzie Lane in 2019 to start Flaire.
1. Zak, Heidi. “Adults Make More Than 35,000 Decisions Per Day. Here Are 4 Ways to Prevent Mental Burnout.” Inc.com, Inc., 21 Jan. 2020, www.inc.com/heidi-zak/adults-make-more-than-35000-decisions-per-day-here-are-4-ways-to-prevent-mental-burnout.html.
2. Fareeha Ali | Jan 29, 2021, et al. “US Ecommerce Grows 44.0% in 2020.” Digital Commerce 360, 1 Feb. 2021, www.digitalcommerce360.com/article/us-ecommerce-sales/.
3. “Survey: US Consumer Sentiment during the Coronavirus Crisis.” McKinsey & Company, McKinsey & Company, 12 Dec. 2020, www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/marketing-and-sales/our-insights/survey-us-consumer-sentiment-during-the-coronavirus-crisis.
Xoogler.co Founder Story Series
Xoogler.co hosted the Xoogler.co Demo Day USA on December 10, 2020, which featured 16 startups who pitched to over 100 investors. The startups were handpicked for the event, and they all have at least one ex-Google employee on the founding team. Flaire was one of 16 startups that presented. Watch Julia’s presentation here.
Following the demo day, we sat down with several of the founders to learn their stories. The Xoogler.co Founder Stories Series looks to highlight the journey of each founder, share their learning experiences along the way, and showcase the exciting ideas each founder left Google to pursue. Be sure to follow us for upcoming Founder Stories! Read our most recent story below: