Inspired by travel #18: Boticca.com
How a chance encounter with a jewellery designer in a Marrakech Medina in 2008 led to the creation of this global marketplace for independent designers
Founder: Kiyan Foroughi and Avid Larizadeh
Started in: 2010
A picture can paint a thousand words, but first-hand stories can take you deeper still. So it was with the creation of Boticca.com, which Kiyan Foroughi started following a chance meeting on his travels.
Such is the power of words that the stories behind independent designers' accessories lie at the heart of the global curated marketplace’s e-commerce platform.
Foroughi set out to enable design lovers to “connect with talented, up-and-coming independent designers of fashion accessories around the world, discover their stories and shop directly from their studios”.
Foroughi and his co-founder Avid Larizadeh successfully grew the business to work with hundreds of designers in 40 countries across the globe, with thousands of pieces available to purchase to a global member base of hundreds of thousands of customers across 60 countries.
In 2015, Boticca.com was acquired by Young Gun-founded Wolf and Badger, an online marketplace for independent brands.
In 2014, we caught up with Foroughi to hear the story behind Boticca.com:
Where were you when you got the idea?
I was travelling in Marrakech in December 2008, rummaging through the market stalls of the Medina, when I happened on the stall of a very talented jewellery designer called Myriam. She started telling me about her story of how she grew up in the Atlas mountains, started making jewellery for herself before her mother noticed and started wearing her pieces.
After that, other women in the village noticed and started buying her creations with her business spreading to the neighbouring villages. She now treks two hours each way, four days a week between the Medina and her village in the Atlas mountains to sell her pieces to a bigger market for her – the tourists in Marrakech.
That’s when I realised how impervious the industry was for up-and-coming fashion accessories designers.
Why were you so inspired?
I learnt two things right then and there when I met Myriam. The first, I already mentioned, which was the inefficient distribution channels. The other, was the power of a beautiful story and how that could stimulate desire in a product and lead to a purchase – which is what happened with Myriam as I bought a bunch of pieces right then and there.
With the advent of the internet, I thought there had to be a better way to get designers like Myriam access to customers all over the world instead of having to trek four hours a day for it.
I did some research and there wasn’t anyone doing that. Sure, there were marketplaces like eBay and Etsy (both companies of which I am a big fan of), but there is no curation and product selection on those platforms. And you certainly don’t get to discover the stories and connect with the designers at a human level in the way I wanted you to.
Were you actively looking for a start-up idea or did it just seem too good to pass up?
I wasn’t actively looking for an idea. I knew I’d go for an entrepreneurial venture some day but I didn’t think I’d do it so young (I was 25 when I decided to take the plunge with Boticca).
The idea was too good to pass up as it was a perfect blend between my background in business and tech (I was in private equity and investment banking, always focusing on technology), and my personal family heritage (I am part of the fourth generation in the luxury industry and the third in jewellery specifically).
How easy was it to start the business on your return?
It was fairly easy to get the business up-and-running as it was a pure internet business. The fact that it was a marketplace with no inventory issues or warehousing/logistics also made it easier to get off the ground. But that was the only easy part. Figuring out our “formula” once launched proved to be the real hard part.
What research did you have to carry out to learn more about the sector and the market opportunity?
Upon my return from Marrakech, I spent six months doing research on the idea and the opportunity. I did reference calls with tons of contacts in the industry and went to various tradeshows to meet with designers to talk to them about the opportunity, get some feedback in order to fine-tune the MVP (minimum viable product) and gauge their interest in the product.
After these six months of research (done in the evenings and weekends whilst I was still working in private equity), I decided to quit my job and launch Boticca.
How did you replicate what you’d seen overseas or use your experience there? Did you modify the idea for the UK market?
The thing I tried to replicate most about my experience meeting Myriam in the Medina was the story-telling that is now so prominent on the site and our trademark: real, authentic, human-interest stories that go to the heart of who our designers are and why they do what they do.
How much did you invest in getting started?
My co-founder at the time and myself invested about £50,000 each to get the business off the ground, hire a few staff and start searching for our first round of investment – which was a £240,000 round with business mentors and angel investors.
How quickly after starting did you experience what you’d describe as ‘success’?
Four months after launch, we got a piece of press in the FT’s How to Spend It with Lucia Van Der Post writing about our website and how much she loved it. The site had a surge of traffic and sales (about 200+ sales from that article alone) like we hadn’t experienced before. That is the first time we really tasted success.
Where did you go for advice?
Our investors who were angel investors, business mentors and operators who had been there, done that before. Five to 10 mins of chatting with the right people like that can bring you so much more than hours spent in a conference.
What advice would you give to others who travel looking for start-up ideas?
Don’t travel to look for ideas. Travel to keep your mind open and flexible. Try to appreciate and understand what you see around you, and how it is a reflection of the sum of all parts from that location’s culture, people and history. If you travel to flex your mind, your mind will be open to the idea when it does eventually pop into your head.
What are your future plans?
We’ve recently beefed up our senior management team with the additions of Dave Killeen (product director – ex-Product Lead at Badoo and Executive product manager on the BBC iPlayer) and Luisa De Paula (former fashion director at Liberty’s, buying & merchandising director at MyWardrobe.com, and buying manager at Selfridges) in order to have the foundations internally to scale the business.
In the immediate future, we want to focus on polishing our site, our UX and product offering whilst continuing to scale the business in the UK. Once that is achieved, further international expansion is the next big thing.
Kiyan Foroughi was one of three great businesses who joined Startups.co.uk's Ian Wallis for a Google Hangout discussion on the impact of technology when starting a business.