Fashion Curation Meets E-Commerce: Interview with Shoptiques Founder Olga Vidisheva
From modeling to Goldman Sachs to entrepreneurship, Olga Vidisheva is changing the face of online shopping for the 21st century. Her website, www.shoptiques.com, connects independent boutiques around the world to online shoppers who wouldn’t typically be able to buy—or even find—their items.
Vidisheva, who moved to the United States from Russia at age 17, paid her way through Wellesley College by modeling for a variety of commercial clients in the Boston area, including luxury invite-only e-commerce site Rue La La. Her behind-the-scenes experience gave her exposure to both the fashion and e-commerce industries, which increased with a job at Goldman Sachs in technology, media, and telecom. After Wellesley, Vidisheva also attended Harvard Business School, where she created the business plan for Shoptiques. The idea was inspired by a business trip to Paris, where she bought a pair of shoes in a local boutique. But that’s where the shopping experience stopped—the store didn’t have a website—and when she returned to the US, Vidisheva’s idea for a community that could connect e-commerce shoppers with an independent, stylish, boutique experience, even if they didn’t live in a major city, was born.
Quality vs. Quantity
Shoptiques, which is based in Manhattan, began its private beta in October 2011, and, with funding from Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock Partners, Benchmark Capital, SV Angel, and others, launched publicly in March of this year. The site makes money from commission fees. Although they haven’t publicly disclosed their web traffic stats, Shoptiques.com has grown from 50 participating boutiques to 160 across the country, with 20 more planned to coincide with an October 2012 Paris launch, which will let their US shoppers purchase from Parisian boutiques.
“We’ve actually capped it at that. There is a lot more interest already, but we are going to put them on the waiting list to join, because we really want to make sure that all of them get exposure,” says Vidisheva. To find the boutiques in the first place, Vidisheva relies on herself and her team of nine to source the shops through extensive research and site visits. Because Shoptiques offers in-store pickups, the boutique’s customer service and design has to match the quality of their products. “Consumers really trust us to find the stores they wouldn’t find otherwise. We actually reject more than 80 percent of the stores that come to us,” she says. “They either don’t fit our profile in terms of quality or the uniqueness of merchandise, or in terms of how beautiful and unique the store is. We’re definitely very, very picky.” The site is also looking to expand by shipping to the UK, Australia, and Canada.
Helping Local Boutiques Join the World of E-Commerce
Vidisheva spoke to owners of more than 800 stores when she was working on her business plan, and she says, “The number one thing that came out of that was the fact that, in plenty of small businesses, cash is tight. You would much rather share on the percent commission when the sale is made, rather than pay up front.” Shoptiques pays all the costs for the boutiques to join the site, which includes photography and website integration. “For a boutique, it’s a no brainer to get on board and be involved with us,” she says. The boutiques pay the site an undisclosed commission, but Shoptiques handles the shipping, packaging, and transaction costs. “If they did these online sales on their own, it would cost them much, much more,” she says. “So they don’t have to pay up front, which works incredibly well for them, and they’re incredibly grateful, I think, for that.” The commission is a set price to start, but can be adjusted based on volume of sales.
The site earns money solely from commission. Aside from the commercial aspect of Shoptiques, Vidisheva also has an editorial team that creates content based around fashion trends and how-to style advice. “While we are building the brand, I want to encourage my editorial team to be very focused on true delivery [of content]. Boutiques don’t pay us to be featured. As soon as money gets involved, it’s a really dangerous world where people start featuring the ones that pay them. If you look back at the magazine business, that’s why it’s been so hard for them to start in the e-commerce business. A lot of their products are driven by advertisers,” she says.
Growth for 2013 and Beyond
Going from a solopreneur to leading a team of nine in just nine months has meant that Vidisheva has had to learn some quick lessons about hiring. “I think hiring is one of the most important, if not the single most important, tasks you have to do,” she says. “Some hiring decisions weren’t as smart as I thought they were at the time. I don’t know if it’s a failure, because I think that was the kind of mistake that I had to make along the way. But hiring is definitely something that can be deadly to the company if you have a bad person, or not the right fit. It can be detrimental to your culture if you don’t solve the issue right away.” After trying LinkedIn and the networks of her investors, Vidisheva found that using her own networks worked best to create the team she wanted.
Now that her employees are on board, international growth—both in terms of finding vendors and shipping products—is next on the list. Once Paris is up and running and Vidisheva has dealt with the legal issues and shipping challenges that come with international business, the site is planning on expanding even further. Vidisheva has faith that Shoptiques will resonate with shop owners and customers around the world. “When I started, I just had an idea. I graduated from business school with a ton of loans and I was sleeping on the couch of my friend’s house. It was either believe, or not,” she says. “I think if you don’t believe in the idea 100 percent, don’t start the business, because there are just a lot of growing pains along the way. If you really believe in the business, even the challenges will be fun.”