Shoptiques.com is an online marketplace for the best local boutiques from Paris to New York. Shoptiques is a network-effect double-sided marketplace. Currently, there are over 1,000 stores using the platform to reach worldwide consumers.
Q: Tell us about your background prior to starting Shoptiques.
I moved to the United States at the age of 17 speaking no English. I modeled to pay for Wellesley College. After graduating, I worked at Goldman Sachs in their Technology, Media and Telecom Investment Banking group in New York. Through all of my travels while I was at Goldman, I started seeing a huge gap in the market for small local businesses who did not have their inventory online.
I attended Harvard Business School and, upon graduation, started Shoptiques.com.
Q: Tell us what led you to start a marketplace for one-of-a-kind clothing.
I was born in Kyrgyzstan, USSR, and moved to the USA when I was 17 years old to join my musician mother in Santa Fe, NM. There are many symbols of hope: the Statue of Liberty, a yellow ribbon, the green light in the Great Gatsby, a picture in a frame. These objects rise above their intrinsic value to become spiritual beacons of endurance against life's challenges.
For me, hope has always been embedded in the self-expression and artistry of clothing. As a young girl, I was drawn to images of citizens in the United States and their wide variety of garments, which provided a stark contrast to the poor assortment and quality of clothing available in the local TsUM store.
As I grew older, I decided to focus on changing the way the fashion was consumed in the United States. While the fashion industry is sometimes viewed as vapid and shallow, I believe that clothing provides the foundation for people– especially women– to express their individuality. Like the American flag, the clothes on our bodies are more than simply functional cloth and stitches. As Mary Kay Ashe, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics said, "While clothes may not make the woman, they certainly have a strong effect on her self-confidence– which, I believe, does make the woman."
Q: What is it like being a solo founder?
Being a solo founder is tough. You only have yourself to rely on. You have to cheer yourself up in the moments of doubt and you have to play your own devil's advocate when making decisions. I think it is important for everyone, but especially single founders to surround themselves with a very strong network of people and build a very strong team.
Q: What was your YC experience like?
To me, YC is family. Being part of YC was the best decision I made for Shoptiques and myself. Through weekly dinners, you get to learn from amazing entrepreneurs not only about their successes, but also failures. You get to hear true stories and learn by example. Through access to the most incredible mentors who really care, you get the most unbiased advice not only during the time of your program, but anytime after. There have been numerous times when I would rely on YC partners for advice and guidance way after the 3 months at YC were over. The YC network is the best; all founders really care about each other. Lastly, YC is about access. I would have never met people I've met and had access to without YC.
Q: What is the atmosphere like at YC during those 3 months with Demo Day approaching?
The atmosphere is "get shit done." During the 3 months at YC, you are intensely working on your business– it's all about the results. Everyone is there to help and support you, but at the end of the day, you need to make things happen: test your idea, write code, talk to users, pivot/edit/adjust and do it all over again. This is your time to take your business from idea to reality.
Q: Was being female either an advantage or disadvantage in working on your startup?
It was an advantage for me since we started with women-centric stores, so I understood the market and the customer. As we scale and add other verticals, it is less relevant. At YC, I didn't feel any different than my male counterparts.
Q: Why do you think there are fewer startups with female founders than male ones?
I think a big reason is lack of many examples of other women founders who are successful in mainstream media and our society. Looking back, I always thought to myself, if the Gilt founders were able to do it, I can definitely do it, too.
Also, in tech, it is about self-selection: not as many females were going into tech historically as they were not "female" industries, so that means less women are starting businesses in tech now. However, I think we will see more and more change there as more women are going into computer science and learning to code.
Lastly, starting a business is tremendously consuming. It has impact on your relationships. This is the same reason why there are less women executives. Women want to have a family/kids and often, they shy away from very consuming jobs to avoid losing that time when they can find a husband or have kids. Biologically, we are programmed differently.
Q: What was the toughest thing you went through as a founder?
Being a non-technical single founder is the toughest thing I went through and still go through every day. This is one area where I cannot be as involved and you really need to hire people whose judgement you trust 100 percent. A lot of times I just want to go change a little thing, but instead of being able to do it myself, I have to rely on someone else to do that. However, being surrounded by brilliant technical people, allowed me to learn so much about something I knew nothing about before.
Q: What do you wish someone had told you when you were 15?
Learn to speak English. I never thought it was even a possibility that I would have a chance to move to America so I never even bothered to learn until I got here at 17!