How This Female Founder Pivoted Her Already Successful Business Model To Solve An Even Bigger Problem
Mondays can be rough—sometimes we need a little motivation to get the week started. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from Project Entrepreneur Alumnae—female founders who applied to the Project Entrepreneur Venture Competition to attend our two-day PE Intensive and join a nationwide community of hundreds of women entrepreneurs. Get to know more about the PE Community and #beinspired by how these women motivate themselves each Monday to tackle the week ahead.
Could you completely transform your successful business model for the chance to enter a larger market? That’s what PE Alumna Amanda Latifi did, and it’s paying off big time. Amanda is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hafta Have, a SaaS platform that helps brick-and-mortar retailers convert in-store shoppers who want up-to-date plan information on items they plan to purchase later. We chatted with Amanda about the pain point she solved with the first iteration of her business and how she made the decision to pivot and serve a different customer.
What inspired you to start your business?
Our business was inspired by a personal frustration that lead to a realization, that evolved into a much broader opportunity. Isn’t that every founder’s plot line?!
We set out to solve a true in-store shopper pain point I experienced while shopping at one of my favorite stores: [I didn’t have a way to keep track of items I found in the store but wasn’t planning to buy right then]. I was taking pictures of price tags [to refer back to later, but] later never came, or the items would go on sale and I would miss out on the purchase completely.
Conversations with friends and family, coworkers, and a few women-on-the-street intercepts confirmed that [others] had adopted my tactics or shared in my frustrations. That was enough of a confirmation for me to leave my job. Then I convinced our CTO (previously of Magento and ebay) to join [the team].
It wasn’t easy. I spent an entire summer driving around Southern California stealing tags from malls so we could reverse engineer our system for as many retailers as possible. I’m almost certain I’m on a mall watch list…
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Abandoning a successful app for a larger opportunity. We launched Hafta Have to respond to and solve a consumer challenge. After partnering with over 120 retailers, we realized we were passively solving a challenge for the retail industry. We’d built an app where a shopper could scan a tag, [and] we would then add that item to their list of ‘Hafta Haves,’ sending a push message and email notification when the item went on sale, thus capitalizing on lapsed purchase intent. We were featured as the best new app in the App Store, garnished strong organic PR and we growing alongside passionate users.
What we didn’t plan for was the influx of retailers constantly asking us for the data. We quickly realized we were the only ways to capture offline product-specific pre-purchase intent data on an individual and uncompressed user-level. We couldn’t ignore the larger opportunity, and so decided early on to pass on playing it safe. We became an app-less solution that runs via SMS and partners directly with the retailers.
What’s been the greatest reward?
When we started getting the results in from our first pilot with a retailer. Not only did we create double digit sales growth, but our retail partner was promoted for taking the chance on implementing new technology. Another happy happenstance was the feedback that the sales associates enjoyed the experience and had requested that our partnership extend.
It’s one thing to feel that you have developed a strong technical solution and another thing to experience the reward of actionable proof.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
That tech doesn’t have to be sexy, or overly complex to create impactful results. We’ve spent almost 3 years building a sophisticated back-end and dashboard that automates a great deal for retailers, all while simplifying the user experience and reducing barriers to increase adoption. No app, no log-in, no profile, no sign-up for in-store shoppers.
We find ourselves investing in educating retailers on simple omnichannel strategies and communications. It’s a challenging time for the retail industry, but that doesn’t always mean that the solutions have to be cumbersome or require a giant, risky and costly hardware install.
I think there is a wide disconnect in retail tech between what gets the job done and what’s a natural and desired behavioral outcome that benefits both the shopper and the retailer. That’s the intersection I want to continue to own.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
The power of our idea, and the clarity of an insight that we know is steeped in an existing consumer behavior. I know we have developed a unique hybrid solution that benefits both the shopper and the retailer.
And then, if we’re being honest, the internal pressure to not let anyone down—the team that keeps showing up; our investors who have invested time and money; our family and friends who have supported us from the beginning.
Can you provide a few updates on what’s new with your business or what you’ve accomplished since you attended the PE Intensive in April 2017?
We shifted our go-to-market strategy in the sense that we now exist as a Retail SaaS Platform, and we’re focused on B2B growth and not B2C acquisition. We removed our app from the App Store and now operate through SMS, message platforms and mobile web.
We were accepted into Mucker Labs in LA, participated in their accelerator and raised & closed a round with them. We’ve also completed a recognized case study and launched with paying retail partners. Additionally, we’re in process with a major property and department store, so you’ll be seeing more of us soon!
Can you describe a problem you solved in your business that other early-stage founders face and tell us how you went about solving this problem? How can other early-stage founders repeat your success?
Product-market fit: we knew what we were solving for consumers, but we had to quickly learn how to reposition our feature set for retailers. That meant learning the language that they spoke, and understanding the problems that they face. We had to go to the sources. We visited stores, spoke with sales associates, brought on advisors and paid people in the roles that would use our product to test our product. [If you find yourself in a similar situation], go directly to the people that will be your future customers, [and ask them] to tear you apart. Then, go home and fix [the problems they found].
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
Rejection that leads to self-doubt is a downward spiral you have to constantly overcome. I think the challenge of starting your own company is challenge enough. I like to say you have to keep yourself motivated AND moving (forward that is).
I decided early on that my narrative wasn’t going to be that of ‘it’s hard for a woman to get funded,’ and [it’s helped me shift my perspective]. I’ve learned it’s not necessarily that a male investor doesn’t want to invest in Hafta Have—it’s that he may not understand the process of in-store shopping and the fact that women still do it.
For more motivation from our PE Alumnae, check out our interview with Rakhya El-Amin, CEO and Managing Partner of Chef El-Amin, a company that prepares healthy and Halal Soul Food for both catering and at-home preparation (the company’s products can now be found in grocery stores, or delivered direct to consumer via their website). We chatted to Rakhya about her role in the family business, balancing being a CEO with being a mom, and how she believes Chef El-Amin will totally transform the $26 billion fresh prepared foods industry.