This Female Founder Raised $1.7 Million In Seed Funding To Help Fashion Retailers Become More Competitive Online
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.
Michelle Bacharach is the Founder and CEO of FINDMINE, a fashion tech company that scales outfitting across a fashion retailer’s enterprise. Her automated ‘Complete the Look’ technology can be found on retail sites for MILLY and John Varvatos. We caught up with Michelle to discuss what motivated her to start her company, the one thing she wants to see change in the fashion industry, and why she believes every founder should be completely obsessed with the problems they’re trying to solve.
What inspired you to start your business?
I struggled to get guidance from stores and ecommerce sites on how to use the products that I was considering or had purchased. I would find a white leather couch I loved and then spend hours on Houzz perusing ideas for other pieces to go with it, or search “how to wear a romper” just so I wouldn’t have to return the romper I just bought in shame for not knowing how the heck to pull it off.
Figuring out how to use what I was buying took too much extra time from my life, and it turned out to be a huge missed opportunity for the retailer, because I would return products or find complementary products on competitors’ sites instead. Retailers default to window displays, mannequins, and online “lookbooks” to service these needs, but each of these efforts is manual, static, and cannot scale without technology. The problem we’re solving at FINDMINE gives shoppers guidance on how to use what they’re buying by helping retailers scale their content and merchandising.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
There is a long series of huge obstacles that makes it hard for any founder to stand out. Almost running out of money every three months for the first two years of the company—before we raised real capital—was stressful, but I was proud we were always able to continue. That scrappiness innate to early-stage startups that don’t take venture funding in the beginning is incredibly useful and impossible to instill in a startup later on if they’ve had it too “cushy” in the beginning (i.e. like Y Combinator’s Paul Graham said, be a cockroach that won’t quit, vs. a unicorn).
What’s been the greatest reward?
Seeing how much money we’ve made our customers, who are major retailers and brands, and [also] how much time we help them save. We’ve actually measured how shopper behavior has changed too so we know we’re solving the shoppers’ needs as well. That has been pretty incredible and has validated that what we’re doing is worthwhile.
What changes would you most like to see in your industry, and how are you working to make those changes happen?
The retail industry just moves so slowly. It’s ironic too because retail is one of the industries undergoing the biggest existential threat. I would like to see more decisive, data-driven, and empowered decision-making at every level of the organization. We beat the drum for data-driven decisions by showing our customers how our solution can pay for itself, giving them back their time by helping them automate the repetitive and time-consuming aspects of their retail business.
Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
I’m motivated when I remember that I’ve felt this impending sense of doom every three months for the entire life of the startup and we’ve always been ok! Also my husband is incredibly supportive and I’m so grateful for his advice. I also spend time with friends, my cats, doing yoga or dance, or being outdoors. Remembering there’s life outside of work is critically important.
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 2016?
We’ve raised $1.7 million in seed funding. At the 2016 Intensive, I had a term sheet for an investment of $1 million. I wasn’t sure about the investor or the terms, and talked through both with Jennifer [Hyman, Co-Founder and CEO of Rent the Runway]. She gave me some great advice, and I ended up not taking the deal. In the next six months, we received another term sheet for almost double the valuation from a great firm that I’m really happy with. We’ve since grown the team to about 15 FTEs, we have eight customers (five of which are billion-dollar companies), and we are currently raising a subsequent round of capital.
Can you describe a problem you solved in your business that other early-stage entrepreneurs face and tell us how went about solving this problem? How can other early-stage founders repeat your success?
Find anyone who can validate what you’re doing, and then build on that. We convinced a friend to let us put our software on her Shopify ecommerce site for free and measure the change in shopper behavior. We used that case study to close a larger customer, and then used that case study to close a billion-dollar brand. Enterprise customers don’t usually take a lot of risk, so having case studies and data to back up our claims was really critical. Finding just one customer at a time and obsessing over making that customer super happy has benefitted us more so than trying to close hundreds at once but then potentially losing them to churn. I’d recommend this strategy to any early-stage founder starting a B2B company.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out?
If you can “quit” your idea, do it. In other words, if you can do anything else in the world, do that instead. It’s so hard to succeed launching something new that if you [aren’t obsessed with solving this problem] early in the process, you’ll never have enough conviction when things get “really, really, really, really hard.”
That said, you shouldn’t be so tied to your [initial] solution, because that will change a million times. [Instead], you should be so completely obsessed with the problem you’re solving that you literally cannot [think about anything else]. I’ve been working on the problem FINDMINE is solving for almost 10 years. Of course the solution has changed so much it’s almost unrecognizable to that earliest business plan competition entry in 2010, but the underlying problem is the same, and I’m still as weirdly obsessed with fixing it now—if not more so than I was back then.
Photo credit: Blaine Davis
For more motivation from our PE Alumnae, check out our interview with Sharree Walls, Founder of SOLĀCE, a company that allows individuals to create their own custom home decor. We sat down with Sharree to discuss the story behind how she started her company, the challenges that come with being a solo founder, and why she thinks it’s so important to make a beautiful home accessible to all.