Co-founder of Chickadvisor–Ali de Bold– came up with the idea for the Toronto-based product-and-services review site for women, just before she got married and while she was still at Ryerson University studying Radio and Television Arts. (She just graduated last June.) With her husband's help (Co-Founder Alex), they now run the successful company that since launch reaches over 2 million across North America with over 115,000 uniques a month. The brand has expanded to include videos, a Product Review Club and local events, and has worked with a number of major brands like Maybelline New York, CoverGirl, L'Oreal, Garnier, Nestle, Soflips, Dermalogica and Herbal Essences. It's become the go-to safe place for women to share advice and make better purchase decisions before they buy. So how did Ali do it? I asked her to share her story with me.
1. Do you have any advice for Canadian female entrepreneurs?
As a female Canadian entrepreneur, the best thing you can do is start delivering. Do your research, work hard and believe in yourself. Prior to launching our company, some private investors told us they wanted to invest in Alex, but not in me. They mused out loud if it would be better to hire a man to work with Alex because "women are so emotional". Obviously not everyone thinks that way but as a woman you will experience the odd antiquated attitude and you have to brush that aside and ignore it. The best revenge is success and that only comes through hard work and perseverance. If you know you can do something, do it.
2. How do you begin a startup, other than the idea? Is it technology, business plan, executive summary, do you wait for the perfect name, design to be rolled out or just start?
You need a business plan and some research. The business plan doesn't have to be perfect because you will change it a hundred times, but if you're looking for investors, it's the first thing they'll ask for. Ask people in your target demographic what they think of your idea, since they'd be the people using it. Don't be afraid of their responses and to rethink some of your assumptions. Once you know what you want to do, assemble your team. Some start ups can be successfully built on equity, but this is really hard. People are always attracted to start ups, but in their minds many are picturing a beautiful brick and beam office with nerf guns and a playstation in the corner with big salaries. Oh, and instant fame. You need to be shrewd in weeding those people out and only hiring those who really believe in the concept and want to stick with it for the long haul and be part of the success - not just leech off it. Establish contracts for everyone involved, don't go on a handshake. Hire people you belive in. Choosing a name, look and feel and how to market it are the fun parts. We did a lot of focus groups with my friends and their friends prior to building the site and then again when our first protype was ready. It was extremely useful and many changes were made as a result of what they said. If you have a great idea for a name, buy the domain right away and do a trademark search. This seems like common sense, but I know of so many bloggers who are trying to build a business around a name that is already in use.
2. How do you generate revenue?
Banner advertising, affiliate links, local events, sponsored videos and our Product Review Club. We find ways to integrate sponsors on multiple levels and build custom packages so they can get the most effective campaign possible. They really appreciate that - esp in this economy. We've found that our approach has attracted more and more advertisers rather than losing money in this climate, which is great!
3. Do you have an exit strategy and is it important?
We built ChickAdvisor as a long term play so we never had a specific exit strategy. I don't think it's necessary to have one unless you want to be a serial entrepreneur and build and flip.
6. What would you do differently or the same?
Read more business books. I read them now, but before we started I didn't, and made some rookie mistakes along the way that could have been avoided. Business isn't as much about the idea as it is about building relationships. That is not something that comes natural to everyone, but I think it's critical to the success of your company.