Sometimes it takes a bad experience to recognize a market opportunity. That’s what Opportunista Julie dePontbriand* realized in order to create her business, ShopVenture – a social shopping platform, centered around consumer reviews. Think Yelp for online shopping.
Julie discusses how her Co-Founder had a nightmare experience ordering her bridesmaids dresses online and never received them(!). Determined to prevent such experiences from happening to other female shoppers, Julie and her Co-Founder launched their company with the mission to help women shop smarter online.
Julie shares her experience on working with an incubator to develop ShopVenture and the best approach for handling investor meetings. This Opportunista also discusses how she’s stayed motivated as an entrepreneur and what she’s doing to increase her focus and productivity.
Let’s meet Julie and learn her story!
Thank you to Opportunista Naira Musallam for nominating Julie as her Opportunista.
Name: Julie dePontbriand
Location: New York City, New York
Title & Company: Co-Founder & CEO, ShopVenture
Industry: Fashion Tech
Education: Bachelors in Communications, Boston College
What was your inspiration for starting ShopVenture?
We started the platform after my Co-Founder had a nightmare experience ordering her bridesmaids dresses online…which never showed up! Our mission is to help empower women to shop smarter and help great online stores to grow even more through the power of customer reviews.
How did you determine your target market?
My background is in market research, so I’m all about tracking and analyzing our user data. We were noticing that our highest conversion rates were coming from the United States, even with no marketing or advertising spend focused on that market. We dug deeper into our metrics and found that we could better optimize our ad spend and focus on a larger and more targeted market for our product.
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, we try to follow the Lean Startup method. We do a lot of testing and see what sticks, and we move our business goals accordingly. While having a strong passion for ideas around the business strategy is incredibly important, numbers don’t lie, and we always take both into account.
You brought ShopVenture to an incubator. How did you identify the incubator that would be best for ShopVenture? What did you learn?
We initially launched the company in Singapore and received a government grant that connected us with a number of incubator partners. We spoke to a few of them and after we pitched to Expara, we knew that we wanted to work with them.
Being an entrepreneur is a difficult journey, and finding the right network in terms of support, advice, and expertise is incredibly important. They’ve been an amazing partner so far, and we’ve gotten so much out of working with them.
How did you raise money for ShopVenture? What guidance can you offer for entrepreneurs looking to raise money in a similar manner?
My Co-Founder and I put in the initial capital to launch the beta version of the platform. We then received a Singapore government grant and raised a Seed Round in partnership with a VC and a number of angel investors.
While fundraising can be difficult and time consuming, it’s also a necessary part of the startup process in a lot of cases. You have to think of every single meeting as getting expert feedback on your business model. Remember that these investors will be a part of your business and your life for at least three to five years, so this goes back to the concept of building the right network to support you and your business needs. I met with some investors that I wouldn’t take a dime from, and others (like a lot of our current ones), who have been amazingly supportive and have reinvested in the next round.
Were you ever afraid to make the leap from a steady paycheck into entrepreneurship? How did you overcome that fear?
Terrified! I grew up working since I was 14, and I’ve always been focused on advancing my career and increasing my paycheck. Moving to a startup basically put big question marks around both of those things. I made sure that I had a savings cushion in case things didn’t work out.
I initially went on a lot of interviews. I got pretty far with a few well-known tech companies and had some nice offers, but I still felt that pull to do my own thing. That’s when I really knew that it was the right decision for me.
What experiences did you have and knowledge did you gain from working for other companies that you’ve been able to leverage as an entrepreneur?
My first job out of college was with a tech company where I was one of five in our first US office. We had a very entrepreneurial vibe, and I even remember putting desk chairs together with our COO after moving into a new office.
After a few years, they gave me the opportunity to move to Hong Kong and launch our Greater China business, and I went for it! I had never lived in Asia before, but I’ve never been one to say no to a challenge. Living in a new country was amazing, and learning how to launch and run a business was even more exciting. I eventually moved to Singapore to launch our Southeast Asia business as well, and these experiences helped me to understand what it takes to build a business from the ground up and take on whatever challenge is thrown at me.
What is the greatest challenge you face as an entrepreneur? How do you work to overcome it?
To be an entrepreneur, on some level, you also have to be an eternal optimist. On an average day, I probably come across at least five things that I don’t really know how to do, but instead of getting discouraged, I tell myself that I can figure it out. Sometimes I can, and sometimes I need the help of others, but either way it’s incredibly important to always keep that positive attitude – it will push you through every time.
Did you ever want to give up? How have you stay motivated to keep going?
Definitely! I think every entrepreneur has had days where they question their success. I think it’s important to take a break when you need it. This could be as simple as a walk, a movie day on the couch with my dogs, or a few days off to reset. I don’t let myself feel guilty, because I know I’ll be even better when I get back.
How are you working to increase your productivity as an entrepreneur?
I used to say, work smarter, not harder, but in startups, you actually just have to do both. Each month I write a strategy of our big picture goals, and then I break this down into weekly tasks that will get us there. Then I break this down further into a daily to-do list, and I don’t leave the office until I’m done.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that ShopVenture combines two of my passions: building businesses and fashion. It’s the perfect combination for me and allows me to put my business experience to work in an industry that I love.
How do you balance running your business with making time for yourself, family, and friends?
My husband and my friends are actually just as busy as I am! We all actively work to find time for each other, and we always make sure that we’re there for each other when someone really needs a time out. These relationships are really important in terms of having a strong support network, and it’s incredibly motivating when I see how hard my loved ones are also working for what they believe in.
How are you creating your own opportunities to live your best life?
I understand my priorities in life and business and then go for them 100%. I know the people that are the most important to me, and I actively work on those relationships. I know what parts of my business and team that I have to focus on the most, and I put everything into them. This allows me to feel strong, supported, and accomplished in both my personal and professional life, and this focus has consistently opened doors for new opportunities.
Julie is The Opportunista.
Three words to describe your personal style: Cool, elevated, effortless.
One item in your closet you can’t live without: Looove my Zac Posen handbag.
Your friends would describe you as: I actually asked them. They came up with: Relentless, passionate, and fun!
The woman you dream of taking to lunch: Michelle Obama.
Favorite way to recharge: A walk through Central Park with my husband and two pups cures the toughest day.
Tell us a secret! I would take in every rescue dog if I had a big enough apartment!
Let me know in the comments: How has Julie’s story inspired you to build your own business and create your own opportunities to live your best life?
Learn More from The Opportunistas
Check out my first issue of Opportunista Insights – Stronger Than You Know: 10 Ambitious Women Help You Face The Challenges of Entrepreneurship – to read about the tough challenges that 10 women entrepreneurs have faced, and most importantly, HOW they’ve overcome those obstacles.