Last week, Elizabetta Camilleri stopped over at YHP’s HQ as she shares her story since starting Salesgossip, her online and mobile service which enables shops to communicate their Fashion Sales and Promotions to targeted customers. This is our conversation.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’m from Malta originally, I moved to the UK in 1998 to do my MBA at London Business School.
Before co-founding SalesGossip, I worked across a spectrum of multinationals and start-ups including eDreams.com, one of the first travel Internet companies, and Orange, the mobile operator working closely with the board and various Country CEOs on all aspects of innovation and growth.
Before heading off for the full entrepreneurial immersion, I was Director of the Telecoms and New Media practice at Gartner.
Tell me how you initially got into business?
I studied marketing during my undergrad and got addicted to the creative side of building a business; specifically by focusing on targeting the right, amazing product at the right customer. My first job out of Uni was export marketing for a Maltese toiletries manufacturer.
How did the idea for SalesGossip come about?
I had a eureka moment! And I decided to act on it! I popped into my favourite shop when I had some time between meetings in London only to find that they were two weeks into their sale – everything good was gone. On to my second favourite shop – same story. Not a good shopping day!
When I was talking to my friends afterwards, I asked them what app they used to find out about their favourite brand’s promotions and no one could suggest one. Eureka! I was going to create one!
Tell me about the early days, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
That’s simple, getting the first few thousand shoppers to sign up to use the service and then convincing the first retailers that they should work with us. This is the time when you really need to believe in what you’re doing – I’m passionate about what I’ve created and that definitely came across in every business meeting I had back then, and still does today.
What is SalesGossip? And what are you trying to solve with it?
SalesGossip is an online and mobile portal offering exclusive, comprehensive information about pop-up sales, flash sales, sample sales, seasonal reductions and discount codes before they are released to the general public. Members of the site can browse sales by store, product category or sale type and all content is provided with full fashion editorial content. We have more than 300,000 subscribers to the service and we work with over 900 fashion and beauty retail brands in the UK; 90% of that market.
These brands include household name department stores such as John Lewis, M&S, Liberty and House of Fraser, online retailer Amazon, fashion stores including Accessorize, Armani, Joseph, Net-a-Porter, Banana Republic, J Crew and Uniqlo, children and parenting stores such as Isabella Oliver, Petit Bateaux and Mothercare as well as beauty stores such as L’Ocittane, Liz Earle, Boots and Clarins. The SalesGossip service is currently available online and through a personalised mobile web app.
How have you been able to fund it so far?
A mix of personal funding and two rounds of Angel investment. I think you have to be willing to invest in your own idea if you expect strangers to.
We’ve just secured our second round of funding. We were oversubscribed which was fantastic – we were looking for £500,000 and we received £600,000. It’s great to have so much support.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to raise funds for their startups?
• Be able to demonstrate a strong proof of concept – if you can’t prove that the concept works, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
• Your business roadmap is key – You need to understand how you are going to build the business; for us, it was how we were going to get from 1,000 customers to 1bn.
• Try to show continuous traction would also be my top tip – if you can show that you’re on an upward trajectory, you’re a much more appealing prospect.
• Don’t be shy! Now is the time to leverage every single connection you have ever made. I’ve found that if you ask people to help, and they can do something for you, they will.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
Excitement is an understatement!
I just kept watching the number of customers that signed up to the service every day and I still remember the particular day that we reached 100 - all people we knew of course - then we started getting 10’s of new customers every day and then 100’s and now 1000’s
I also remember the first paying retailer we won. Let’s just say it wasn’t a lot of money but you would have been forgiven for thinking I’d won the lottery.
How did you initially get traction?
Word of mouth – I know it’s a cliché but it’s true. We told everyone about it, twice, at least, and then we made them tell their friends. And lots of hard graft.
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
SalesGossip is a double-sided network so everything we do is focused on growing either the number of shoppers who are using us on a weekly/ monthly basis or the number of retailers we work with.
Back in 2012 one of our biggest initiatives was to redesign the full website and mobile app to make sure that:
a) Fashion and beauty retailers and brands we worked with were represented in the most beautiful and engaging way possible.
b) Shoppers can not only find what they need immediately but also be able to explore and discover new brands and trends.
Since then we’ve kicked off a number of initiatives including digital advertising, technical and content improvements to ramp up SEO, and a number of media partnerships.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
A tough choice because there have been many highlights but it has to be closing the first round of funding. All of a sudden we weren’t just two eccentric individuals with lots of energy and a great idea, we had other successful entrepreneurs who believed we had a great idea and believed in that idea and us enough to put their hands in their pockets!
What should we be expecting from yourself and the SalesGossip team for 2014?
2014 is the year when we make sure that what shoppers see on SalesGossip is very pertinent to their needs. As a shopper you will first and foremost have access to promotions from brands you really love or we know you would love. On the other hand we continue to help retailers target their promotions to the right customers.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
• There is a solution for everything - the challenge is finding a problem that you’re passionate about solving.
• Month-on-month growth/ improvement really convinces everyone that you're on to something.
• Enjoy the ride. It’s the best roller coaster experience you’ll ever have. Go with it.