As part of The Startup Magazine Female Founder Series, we caught up with Cassie Sneglar, a rising star in the world of digital entrepreneurship as well as designer, influencer (with a combined following of 800k) and mental health campaigner from South Africa, based between there, London and LA.
Here is what Cassie had to tell us about her entrepreneurial journey…
Describe The X Cartel mission in 10 words or less?
An e-commerce and editorial platform providing high-quality digital downtime.
With a little more detail, tell us about the problem that The X Cartel solves? What is it about your platform that is so disrupting to the e-commerce market?
I wanted to turn traditional e-commerce on its head and create an online experience that was aimed at having a bit of fun with the user.
Our primary focus is on engaging with and stimulating our user whilst providing a little uplifting escapism. With this at the centre of everything we deliver, The X Cartel has also been able to cut-through the issue of content fatigue. This is no small task in a marketplace where customers are force-fed, on average, around 10K brand messages a day and need to be exposed to a brand message between 10-18 times before they make a conversion.
By seamlessly integrating shoppable product as a convenience rather than the primary objective we have tapped into our community’s desire for online experiences which are aimed at building brand loyalty and trust. We are not selling them any particular item, we are building a relationship with our users.
What in your life inspires your creativity in fashion and design?
It may sound counterintuitive, but I need a lot going on around me to really focus. I am at my most focused and creative in a buzzy café.
I really thrive on the friction and pressure that comes when I am faced with a problem that needs solving. Working with limitations and constraints tap into a type of creative thinking which I find incredibly inspiring and satisfying.
Going back to your early career decisions, tell us what factors influenced your decision to be an entrepreneur?
When I finished my degree in Architecture I remember thinking I needed a faster turnaround from concept to completion, and I wanted to do something where the creative work made up the majority of my day. My naivety and the work I was doing as a freelance textile designer for fashion labels in Australia led me to think that fashion would give me that.
It wasn’t until I was a few years in that I realised I was doing the exact type of work I had set out to avoid, and that opportunities which I had grabbed and run with had taken me down a path which wasn’t necessarily one I would have chosen.
Having that realisation forced me to re-examine where I’d ended up and what I had created. This perspective, combined with the self-awareness to accept that I would never truly be happy working my tush off for someone else’s idea, made my next venture into digital publishing an obvious decision.
What kind of impact is your company making on the world/your clients? What are your results?
The feedback we have had, which mirrors my own sentiment, is that people feel a great sense of enjoyment from our site as an alternative to other forms of digital downtime.
When I started to research how to create the most stimulating and uplifting platform possible, I realised more and more how many negative side effects we were all experiencing from behavioural manipulations like ‘like’ buttons, or infinite scrolling. So much so that last year I became the Youth Ambassador for SADAG (Africa’s largest mental illness organisation) to help to raise awareness around the growing number of young people who are dealing with issues like anxiety and depression.
As a result, every element of The X Cartel is geared towards offering an alternative high quality ‘dose of downtime’. We are trying new ways of improving this experience all the time but our statistics of low drop-off and high monthly UBS as well as the incredibly high time spent on site shows us that we have really tapped into something that people are excited about. And more importantly, that is providing an alternative which is still fun but having less negative side effects on the mental health of its users.
What characteristics are you looking for in your team?
High emotional intelligence and enthusiasm are essential. I love working with highly conscientious people. I am so lucky to have found some truly special team members to work with. We all share a vision and passion for The X Cartel which creates a really focused and dynamic team.
Has gone through the process of trying to raise capital impacted your vision and strategy for your business? If so, how?
Trying to get funding for ‘yet another’ tech idea in a saturated market was definitely a challenge. We really had to prove the concept before anyone would take us seriously which was difficult on limited funds and with no similar examples to draw on.
Early on we had interest from two investors who wanted me to take the platform down a more generic route. This was a non-negotiable for me if I wanted to achieve my vision, but the practicality of needing funding made turning them down incredibly hard.
Luckily, we found a way to raise the funds whilst staying true to the original concept. For me, this was essential if I was going to be able to sustain my passion for the project. My previous experience starting my fashion label gave me that perspective and resilience.
We know that mental health support and advocacy is a passion of yours. What are the struggles you see and some of your solutions you are advocating for?
I am extremely concerned about the “social media experiment” we are all participating in. It is a dilemma I struggle with daily as an active user and lover of platforms like Instagram. That being said I do think there are ways in which we can engage with them that are a little healthier and can help us avoid some of the negative side effects.
Provisional data from the Office for National Statistics shows the suicide rate in children and young people aged 15-19 has almost doubled in the last 8 years. This is a massive warning sign that what may seem like harmless fun could be having a serious impact on our levels of anxiety, self-esteem and ability to socialise in ways which are beneficial to our overall health and well being.
My top tips for more mindful social media use are:
- Unfollow any accounts which leave you feeling anxious or which you can’t help but compare your situation too.
- Fill your account with people who inspire you because of a skill or passion rather than their appearance and circumstance.
- Remind yourself that most images have been doctored to look perfect. Even the images that claim to be undoctored have been selected as the best of multiple shots. Meaning they might capture a perfect angle, or portray our lives as fun and exciting at all times. The reality is everyone has down days, or days where they feel overwhelmed and can’t face their lives.
- Be protective of your happiness. Imagine you are creating your own filter for your self-esteem as if it is a precious and delicate entity which needs your protection. What messages would you allow through? What would you want to erase? Be ruthless and unfollow anything which makes you feel less happy, even if your reaction doesn’t make sense to you.
- Replace mindless scrolling with high-quality downtime activities.
- Do not substitute real-life social experiences with messaging and social media. They do not have the same physiological benefits and loneliness can lead to anxiety.
- Try to stick to time limits that seem realistic for you. Check your time spent on social media daily and track your progress. Motivate yourself with real-life rewards.
[Cassie is also youth ambassador at SADAG, Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group. As well as promoting the work of SADAG at events such as One Young World.]
As you are having more and more success with your companies, what is the most important thing you tell startup founders?
The best advice is actually something my dad says to me all the time: “the world is full of ‘overnight successes’ which were ten years in the making.”
This is such an important message to keep in mind, especially in this social media driven world where we really are only exposed to the highlight reel of everyone’s story. It will do you a huge disservice to buy into the idea that success is easy.
There may be a few people who strike it lucky, but my experience is that it takes hard work and a lot of failures. That is why you need the passion for what you are doing to carry you through the hard times.
A sense of humour and resilience are also key. Humour for those times when the only options are to laugh till you cry, and resilience to help you learn from your mistakes or bad luck and carry on.
Thank you for the fun, Cassie. We’re excited to see where this adventure takes you.
For more info, see Cassie Sneglar’s projects: