Shop Pulse: Alice Ratcliffe & James Deer

Company name: Shop Pulse Founders: Alice Ratcliffe & James Deer  Age:  22 & 21 Based: Our home office in Aberdeen  Staff Numbers:  4 Date started: September 2009 and launched in January 2010

Tell us what your business does Shop Pulse is an online fashion aggregation site which delivers live updates of the latest fashion, as it hits stores. We are concentrating on revenue from the affiliate market and currently have partnerships with 21 of the biggest designer and high street stores.

Where did the idea for your business come from?  The idea for Shop Pulse came from our realisation that there wasn't a single place online which collates the latest fashion products. All of the big online stores have a ‘new in' or ‘just in' section on their website but it's time consuming to trawl each of these stores individually. Currently online fashion is a fast growing industry. On a quiet day there are around 600 new items from all of our 23 stores. After a small, invite only beta testing we got great feedback from users and ever since then the concept has really taken off.

What were you doing before starting up? Alice: Before I started Shop Pulse I was working part time for James' web design agency and dealt with all of the project management and the business development for the company. I am also currently in my third year of my law degree at Aberdeen University. I didn't anticipate the demand for Shop Pulse when we first started playing around with the concept in September last year but now it is a struggle to fit in lectures. I plan to complete this year- leaving me with a Bachelors in Law and concentrate on Shop Pulse full time.

James: He currently provides web design and development for Shop Pulse during his spare time, after work and over the weekend. He runs a small digital agency, James Deer Design, which is also based in the home office in Aberdeen. James has been involved with a number of tech start ups and has experience with designing ecommerce sites which helped a lot when designing Shop Pulse.

How did you raise the money? We have had to bootstrap with Shop Pulse because as two young, self-employed people the banks won't touch us with a bargepole! We have learnt to be flexible and frugal; we work from home, we invest our own time and skills in the business and we haven't splashed out on anything more than the bare minimum. Most of the giveaways we do on the site our financed from our own pocket. We also have an amazing team – Becky White our PR has been amazing and we have some fantastic writers for the new content on our site who are all understanding of our start-up situation. We enter local business competitions in the hope of winning prize money and are in the process of applying for a soft loan from PSYBT. Luckily the overheads for Shop Pulse are very low which has helped a lot. We would like to steer clear of VCs and ideally finance the company ourselves.

How have you promoted your business? The most successful tool we have used to promote Shop Pulse has been social media. 1) it's free and 2) it has such a wide reach and has potential to go viral. We use Twitter, Facebook and have a blog on the site. We also do regular giveaways for low cost must have designer items. These have been measurably successful in the number of emails collected, fans of facebook and followers on twitter.

What has your growth been like? We have only just put together a proper business plan- before we were constantly reassessing and revolting every month and working to short term goals. We are experiencing 11% growth in sales every month and last month there was a 160% increase in unique visitors which has gone beyond our expectations.

What was your first big breakthrough? The first big breakthrough was being invited to press events such as the ASOS Blogger event, the Drapers Next Generation Academy and the Mulberry press day. It is important for us to provide good industry standard editorial content for our readers but being ‘accepted'  in a very cliquey industry like fashion takes a lot of work. Now we have our foot in the door thing are a lot easier and people take much more notice of us.

Where do you want to be in five years' time? Our exit plan for Shop Pulse is to sell when the time is right. We want to establish ourselves in the UK market, dabble with internationalisation and then exit at a peak point in growth in the online fashion market. We have more businesses up our sleeves and can't wait to bring them to life once we've made the most of our current venture. In five years' time it would be great to have a few different businesses under our belt- and hopefully an office!


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