Boutiny is a mobile application for fashion online. Users can select from hand picked fashion pieces from a variety of brands, add these to their shopping basket and pay with the click of a mouse without having to register and pay individually on each website. Not only is this more convenient and less time consuming for the customer, but also allows for information sharing of fashion styles and trends through social media. Boutiny users also have access to outfits featured in magazines and worn by global style icons, all on one platform.
The team behind the idea:
Jacqueline Lam is the CEO and one of three co-founders. She has a background in business and marketing with 3 years work experience prior to joining the LSE and launching her business. She launched her first profit-making venture at age seven. The CTO is Jonas Simkus, who has previously been involved with two start-ups. Jonas is a self-taught programmer with 13 years of coding experience. He is responsible for the front and back end development of the Boutiny mobile app and website. The Chief designer, Ye Lin, is in charge of the user design and development as well as front-end development. She designed and coded her first flash animation at primary school. She manages this role simultaneously with being a Masters student at UCL.
How did you meet your business partners?
Jacqueline met Ye at a bar in Silicon roundabout, the budding entrepreneurial ‘Silicon Valley’ of England. Both searching for potential business partners, they soon found they had complimentary skill sets and got along great. The third business partner, Jonas, was introduced to the dynamic duo during the Angelhack Hackathon, an event that allows aspirational entrepreneurs to test both their ideas and their team to give an indication of whether they can actually develop a business together. Jacqueline emphasises here the importance of enjoying the company of your business partners, as you will spend every day beyond regular working hours working very closely with them.
How did you think of this idea?
As a tech-savvy online shopper, Jacqueline became increasingly frustrated with placing orders across multiple platforms. As most women, she shops at six or more fashion stores and usually opens over twenty tabs when shopping online. While she likes shopping and the research part of shopping, it is a hassle to remember what has been placed in which shopping basket. Moreover, it is a pain to retype delivery details, payment details and billing address on every single e-commerce website. She told herself there must be other people feeling the same pain of this inconvenience.
On a Friday afternoon, she grabbed her coat, handbag, and iPad and hit the busy streets of London. After days of research and talking to over 160 women in shopping malls, on high streets, in cafes, at tube stations and in beauty salons, Jacqueline and her cofounders decided that this was a unique and significant problem they must solve.
On the basis of this gap in the market, Jacqualine and her co-founders have developed a mobile and web application, Boutiny, which will enable women to shop at their favourite fashion stores in one place, with one basket and with one payment. In Jacqueline’s own words “It’s like a personalised Amazon for fashion with one single payment”.
How did you fund your business?
Many start-ups struggle to attract investment. Jacqueline advices entrepreneurs to be clear in defining their value proposition: “Its all about telling a story that people believe can create value.” For Boutiny, there was more to the picture than simply raising capital; it was a pursuit of taking advantage of the pool of knowledge and experience among investors in London, in a way that would benefit the development of Boutiny the most. “We are giving away equity and in return we have to get exactly what we want.” To achieve this, the team behind Boutiny met with many top accelerators and received offers of funding, but chose to be funded by the accelerator with the people they believe could add the greatest value.
What are the most challenging aspects of running a start-up?
“I am naturally quite an impatient person” says Jacqueline, and explains that she wants things to progress quickly, but emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the team develops and grows together, as this is the only sustainable way of progressing. It is also quite challenging to balance the obligatory duties that come with running a business, such as going for meetings and trying to raise money, with doing the thing you are good at. “In your own startup, you have to be the marketing, sales, operations, finance and legal person. Doing everything at once is a challenge, yet the most rewarding one. ”
Why is Boutiny different?
“Boutiny is different to competition as we function as Amazon with personalized fashion stores and soon with one payment checkout.
Unlike Pinterest with its 70m users ($763m in funding since 2009) and Polyvore with its 20m users ($22m in funding since 2007), customers arrive on our site with the purpose to shop and inspiration becomes a part of the shopping experience. Unlike, Stylight (Series B since 2008) and Nuji ($2m in funding since 2011) our core focus is personalisation. We regard ‘creating looks and following people and brands’ as the norm i.e. common features and not a unique selling point.
Shopping is social. Boutiny ensures shopping stays fun and social and will take out the hassle to place orders across many sites.”
Where do you see your business in 18 months?
Jacqueline explains that the target for the business 18 months from the next round of funding is to prove that Boutiny can 1) drive traffic cheaply to the site using unconventional approaches to market, 2) convert traffic into sales, 3) prove retention, and 4) implement the one payment checkout.
She has plans for the business to expand across borders in the future to become global: “Our vision is to create a superior shopping experience in retail”.
Recognising that all great things start small, Jacqueline explains the importance of focusing on one location initially: “Getting it right in one city first is absolutely crucial.” When asked which location is next, the answer is as clear as can be: New York!
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
“Get the right team. They are often more important than ideas. I dream about ideas every day, but people invest in teams.” She explains that if you have a great team, you can always find new ideas and execute them well. In fact, Jacqueline and her cofounders pivoted from their first startup, Talentap, an Airbnb for art performing talents, after realizing they could not solve the problem profitably.
“It took me 6 months to find the right team”, she says, and urges entrepreneurs to meet people every day and establish exactly what they want to find in their business partners. The morale: Spend time on team!
Before we end the interview, Jacqueline adds:
“Being young and ambitious, it is easy to be taken away with the culture of going to a great university and following a certain expected path of career. I think sometimes people are underestimating themselves. So I want to say; dare to fail, dare to live.”
But what if you start your business and it fails? You will be years behind on the career ladder. This is indeed a concern for many students with entrepreneurial aspirations, but Jacqueline, referring to her own experience, exclaims:
“If you are serious about being an entrepreneur, you will learn so much more working on your own start-up than working for a large corporation. In your own business you have to wear different hats on a daily basis. For instance, it is crucial for me to know how to communicate my product vision with my technical cofounders. I had to learn a new language and see the world from a different lens. You have to be everything when you’re building your business. And you know what? I wake up and I feel excited, everyday.”
So to all the young, aspiring entrepreneurs out there: JUMP! You can build your wings on the way down.