Startup Spotlight: Let’s Go Du+ch!

Sharing experiences, creating memories, engaging with like-minded people, enjoying a richer life… this is the concept behind going “du+ch.” The company was born of longtime friends Vincent Paradiso and Debora McCleary, who partnered to create a social network for travel and entertainment. Both entrepreneurs in their previous lives, Vincent and Debora created a unique way for people to connect with others who would share the cost of excursions they may not otherwise have been able to experience due to excessive costs. Their efforts established a marketplace for sharing life’s adventures, big or small and I had the pleasure of catching up with Vincent to chat about some of his hopes, challenges, and goals for the future. I was also excited to gather a few sound bytes from Deb, who founded the premier New York beauty directory, The Debb Report. And you all know I’m a sucker for all things beauty and fashion… =)

IMG_2328

Vincent, prior to co-founding du+ch, you had a very successful professional career in ballet. What made you decide to delve into the world of entrepreneurship? 

I’ve always been bit of an entrepreneur. I love ballet, but I always knew I would do more. I’d always had an interest in real estate so I formed Paradiso Properties. My goal was to have multiple investment homes that I rent and manage, along with a real estate license to sell homes. But I quickly grew bored with my new career choice. I made money, but it wasn’t my passion. I started contemplating new ideas. I thought of all the amazing things I did with colleagues while on tour with NYCB, and how we would split the bill. We wouldn’t have been able to enjoy as much had we not shared the cost. I knew I had something but wasn’t ready to dive in. One night out with my girlfriend, I wanted to book bottle service at a club but didn’t want to pay $1,500. Our friends couldn’t join, so we skipped out and the idea for du+ch was born.

IMG_0259-3

Deb, what differences have you experienced between building du+ch and building the Debb Report? What unique challenges have you faced with each endeavor and how have you addressed them?

The first challenge with the Debb Report was having my partner drop out. I ended up funding the entire site on my own, and found a few friends to help me write all the salon bios that are (almost all) now in place. Updating my site is still a challenge, because aside from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram updates, I have to be on top of so much information. I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own, especially with the time du+ch now needs. I recently hired a wonderful beauty/fashion blogger to help create original content to help grow my site and SEO. Having a partner who is fully engaged and committed is a necessity. Vincent and I definitely have a give and take when it comes to growing du+ch. We complement one another very well and have complete trust in each other, which is invaluable.  Because du+ch is an e-commerce site, it is a much more involved endeavor than my directory so Vincent and I are having to learn as we go. We constantly seek expertise from those who have done this before and people have been very generous with their time and knowledge.

Choosing the right partner is so important when founding a brand-new venture. How do you work through differences in opinion and what qualities do you each bring to the table?

(Vincent) Deb is a long time friend. We have great chemistry. When I approached her with du+ch, she was immediately ready to jump onboard. The key for us is making sure we always keep open lines of communication. She helps ground me and work through new ideas. As I’d mentioned earlier, the ideas don’t stop. You can’t attack all of them at once, you have to stay focused. du+ch would be nothing if I’d built it, then decided to go out and work on another idea. Being able to keep everything organized helps a lot. We have yet to have any major disagreements, but I believe we both are the types of people who will listen. We will acknowledge each others’ points, let them sink in, and compromise on a solution.

(Deb) Vincent and I agree on most things day-to-day, but when we disagree, we have a real ability to listen to one another and come to a joint agreement fairly easily.  Luckily we are both sane, thoughtful and committed to making du+ch a success, no matter how long it takes us.

What is the best part about running your own business?  

Exactly that, it’s mine. I’m directly responsible for its success and/or failure. I take great pride in bringing an idea to life. It’s challenging work, but when you know your hands are involved in every working aspect, it is so rewarding. I look forward to each and every day. I am constantly learning about every aspect of my business.

Du+ch is such a unique concept. Do you have plans to expand beyond more elite and trendy events? Do you see a market for couples, families, businesses?

Absolutely! We’re now in all of those markets. The beauty of du+ch is that everything on the site is user-generated. The same way you can sell anything on eBay, you can share anything on du+ch. It is a marketplace that puts the power of the sharing economy in the hands of the masses. You no longer have to build an app to enter this space, you can use our platform to share anything you want. Every user, individual or corporate, can host and search for anything they want to share. The look of our brand is luxurious, but users can share free events, basic group packages, or even ultra luxe experiences. We take the social element of Facebook events, the payment features of Eventbrite, and combine them into one site. The greatest thing is you can reach more than just your current circle. The point is, friends cannot always join in the fun. With du+ch, you can find those who can, get to know one another, and pool your funds to make anything within reach. The great thing about du*ch, and what separates us from a Groupon/Eventbrite, is our social transparency. Every user has a profile with reviews and verifications, so you can meet new people and feel comfortable sharing with them.

If you knew then what you know now, how might you have advised yourselves before launching du+ch? Any big aha! moments?

I would have been a lot more specific in the design and build of the website. I had it in my head, but translating it to developers was difficult. They needed every single specification and I didn’t anticipate providing them that level of detail. I would have also done more research on payment processors. When we create the app, I am going to document every last detailed requirement for the developers. I won’t leave any stone unturned.

What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur? 

Discipline, focus and creativity. It is so important to stay disciplined. There are too many distractions surrounding us everyday – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. You have to resist the temptation and prioritize. You also have to focus on your goals, plan your short- and long-term strategies and then execute your plans to achieve them. That said, you have to remain creative, think out of the box and fill a perceived need. Always strive to disrupt the status quo.

What have been some of your failures since launching du+ch, and what have you learned from them?

I assumed once the site was built, the audience would come. I thought people would just find it, sign up and leverage the network, which wasn’t the case. I also focused too much energy on creating the perfect user experience. Marc Cuban once said, “Perfection is the enemy of profitability, you can try to make everything perfect, but you’re losing opportunity somewhere else.” What may seem perfect and simple to one may not be the same for others. I also mistakenly assumed that upon launch, I would play a support role. I didn’t realize I was going to have get out there and sell. That is the biggest challenge. Once you fill the need, you need to let the world know you’ve filled it. You have to make your own opportunities.

To what do you most attribute your success? What would say are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?

Taking the lessons I’ve learned from the ballet and applying them to the business world. For both, you need to exhibit the discipline, focus, and creativity mentioned earlier, but you also have to be willing to fail, deal with rejection, perform, and not let anyone define you. We failed all the time while dancing. If a step wasn’t executed as expected, you didn’t give up. Instead, you figured out what went wrong, fixed it, repeated it, and tried to perfect it.  We dealt with rejection on a regular basis. In business, you have to do the same. Not everyone will love you or embrace your vision and that’s okay. So many of my most rewarding experiences came from taking a leap. Never be afraid of failure.

How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Getting the word out is our biggest challenge, especially on a shoestring budget. I have seen a big jump in traffic when I advertise and share available listings on Facebook, but it hasn’t converted much yet. One experience that did convert was dinner with a private chef. The price was extremely reasonable and users wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. We are working on lining up fun yet cost-effective experiences. Giving corporate partners a chance to list group deals as they would with Groupon, but without the heavy fees, will help line up some great offerings. I also notice that when I do interviews like this, we get a major boost. I think it helps so much to get the word out. This interview engages a new audience and helps us connect with them. Some readers may skim our story, some may read the whole thing, some will love it, some will hate it, but either way I just grabbed the attention of a potential user and was able to get my entire message across. It is the best way to acquire new users and highlight interest in our brand.

Follow du+ch: Website  Facebook Twitter Google+ YouTube Instagram

IMG_0100_2

What Kind Of Mindset Should An Entrepreneur Have??

I love Quora. It’s a really cool knowledge-sharing site. You register and build up your profile with topics of interest. Then you can apply your own experience and answer users’ questions about said topics. As you build up your credibility on the site, people then come to you to answer their questions.

I’ve gotten some cool questions but just answered this one today and thought I’d share. =)

What Kind Of A Mindset Should An Entrepreneur Have?

Passion Is A MUST! – Starting a business and trying to gain traction can be extremely disheartening at times so the more you believe in your offering and your ability to sell, the more effective your pitch (and outlook) will become.

Listen To The Naysayers! – Don’t delude yourself into thinking your offering is the end-all, be-all.  You need a thick skin if you’re going to succeed as an entrepreneur. People will slam your ideas. Get used to it. Graciously accept criticisms and feedback then figure out how to respond to objections. Figure out what your key differentiating points are and highlight those to everyone and anyone.

Never Be Complacent! – You’ll have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before to create momentum and then work even harder to KEEP it. I heard a really cool quote this weekend that totally applies. I was at a writing conference and a number of bestselling authors were presenting on sales strategies. They all said market yourself like you’re nobody EVEN IF you’re somebody. This applies to ALL business endeavors.

Be Restless! – Let your creativity flow! Don’t be complacent and accept the status-quo. Dig deep and figure out to disrupt. It’s okay to incorporate new ideas into your offering. Make it as compelling as possible and if at first you don’t succeed….well, you know the rest. 🙂

You Will Never Know Your Limits Unless You Push Yourself To Them

Why Do Startups Fail?

A multitude of potential pitfalls can negatively impact entrepreneurs as they eagerly try to build their fledgling companies…and basically crush their spirit if allowed. In my experiences, there are four reasons that stand out the most:

  • Lack of Research – Research is imperative. It provides insight about what your competitors are doing so can stay several steps ahead and create innovative ways to develop and market your offering. It also provides you with insight about the costs and components of running a successful business in your target industry. Spending time investigating a specific market will show whether there is a demand for your intended offering. Successful research will help shape your vision and strategy. Without it, you risk the future viability of your business.
  • Poor Planning – There are a lot of moving parts that need to come together before your finished product is ready for sale. You have to coordinate delivery timeframes with vendors and partners who are all part of your launch schedule. In addition, you need to plan for bill payment. Figure out what your accounts receivable schedule looks like so you can continue procuring supplies and services you need in a timely manner.
  • Boiling The Ocean – Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what will be a hit in the market. Hindsight is always 20-20. Sometimes you decide to make six different handbag styles, each available in seven different colors because you don’t know which one will be “the” one until it suddenly appears in an issue of InStyle and you now need to satisfy excessive demand without nearly enough inventory because you spread your resources too thin….ahh, but I digress. Focus groups can help! Talk to your target market and gather feedback. It may push out your delivery timeframes but the insight can help perfect your offering.
  • Nothing Unique – If there is nothing new or different about your product, nobody is going to buy – no matter how much you love it. It’s hard to pull off those rose-colored glasses and embrace the reality staring back at you. Leather handbags? Not otherworldly. Romance novels? Been there, read that. The key is to make your work stand out. Dig deep and find what sets your product apart from the competition and play that up otherwise it’ll get swallowed up into the abyss. Perfect your offering. You care, so figure out a way to make everyone else care. Establish a connection, show how them why they should be invested, convince them why they need your product.
Courtesy of www.digitalbuzzblog.com

Courtesy of www.digitalbuzzblog.com

Think Twice Before Joining The Style High Club

Hubby recently joined the Five Four Club. For $60 per month, he was promised an entirely new and fashionable wardrobe. Upon registering, he completed a detailed questionnaire so the company could gauge his style and taste and send him items according to his preferences.

Sounds simple enough, right?

The first shipment came the other day. I had to include pics because not only were the styles completely off, but the quality is extremely sub-par. The jacket is some kind of flimsy nylon material and the shirt is just a plain black t-shirt with a couple of buttons. Neither one of us was impressed and Hubby decided to cancel the membership.

IMG_2364

IMG_2365

After keeping him on hold for about twenty minutes, Hubby found out he couldn’t return the clothing items for a refund. That’s part of the program, not one they widely publicized, by the way. He was definitely cancelling after hearing that.

But then the customer service rep said if he’d like to continue the membership, they would send him higher quality items the following month. Hmm.

Can you say swindled???

That first month tells this company a lot about their subscribers. If customers let it go without complaining about the crappy items they’d received, the company continues to send them shoddy items, saving themselves wads of cash because they’re able to keep costs down and send the lower quality merchandise.

For the subscribers that may not be happy with the quality, they may not want to sit on hold for eons so they’ll just suck it up, take the clothes and not wear them (at least they won’t if they have wives like yours truly).

Only a few will be disgusted enough to call, sit on hold and complain to customer service. These are the ones who they still have a shot at retaining. Offer them better quality to keep them happy. It’ll cost the company a little more, but they’re already making money hand over fist with the others who are just accepting what was sent.

Then there are the dissenters…the ones whom they can’t convince to stay. These are probably few and far between and not the true target for this company anyway, so better to let them go. Not cost to the company since they don’t give refunds. They still sucker them for $60 a pop (even if it was only ONE pop).

The Five Four team is not really embracing the concept of customer loyalty. Or maybe they just don’t care. Seems like a scam to me. Buyer beware. Big time.

Compete At Your Peril?

I just started reading “Zero To One” by Silicon Valley innovator, entrepreneur and prominent venture capitalist, Peter Thiel. He presents a unique way of thinking as a key ingredient for startup success. Startups have to generate new ideas and act on them rapidly to grow and expand their operations. That’s really the only way they can survive. They have to think out of the box and react quickly to take advantage of perceived market trends. Because of their small size, they can be nimble and test/document/respond to their ideas and deliver them in market with tight turnaround timeframes.

Courtesy of www.forbes.com

Courtesy of www.forbes.com

But that’s not an easy feat when you have to deal with that pesky little problem called competition. Yes, it fuels the creative flame but sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the rat race. As a small business owner, you need to make sure your brand stands out from the rest in a positive way otherwise you’ll never get the recognition you need to prosper.

411YBdZVAPL

Competition is healthy to a point. It drives us to excel but it can divert our attention from developing new ways of becoming even better. Think of it this way. You make giglets and compete with three other giglet manufacturers. It’s all-out war between your companies because you are all struggling to be the number one giglet manufacturer in the world, all focused on being more attractive to prospective buyers, using new colors, shapes and sizes to differentiate your offerings from those of your foes, tearing down the competition at every turn, thinking, hoping and praying these methods will advance your sales goals.

But you’re all missing the critical element of innovation. Changing small facets of your product to make it look a little nicer isn’t transformational. It’s imitative and largely ineffective in the grand scheme of things. Focusing all your efforts on competing with others in your space is a waste of time, effort and resources and will only get you marginal results until another giglet manufacturer comes along and figures out how to take the show to the next level. Then POOF! Your giglets are history.

Instead, figure out what your brand brings to the table, what your value proposition is and how you can make your offering more relevant to the lives of your targeted customers. Do something BRAND NEW and go from ZERO to ONE. That type of thinking and execution results in positive impacts to your bottom line. Get out of the way of your competition. Let them spend their precious time battling for that top spot. You focus energy, time and effort on what makes your offering inherently great or how you can GET TO GREAT.

Your path to the top will then be within reach.

Be Loyal To Your Royals

Customer is king…or in my case, queen. =)

But words are cheap. You need to create an experience so a customer truly feels that patronizing your product offering is worth their time and money. You need to make them feel special and valued to inspire loyalty.

I’m going to tell you a little story. A few years ago, I asked Hubby to buy me a wok. As always, he did plenty of research to make sure I had the best and biggest, large enough to stir-fry myself if I so chose. I’m exaggerating a slight bit but my youngest can fit into it comfortably. Yeah, he’s four…and no, I haven’t coated him in soy sauce or anything like that. But it takes up two burners!!!!!

IMG_2296

Anyway, I was so excited when my wok finally arrived. But that’s not all. It came with a set of hand-crafted bamboo cooking tools and a cookbook as well. Everything was wrapped nicely and there were printed instructions about how to prepare my wok for the first use. It was a truly PRICELESS experience.

FullSizeRender

Guess what? The Wok Shop in San Francisco made me a fan for life.

Customer loyalty is critical for success in business. You may be intrigued by my experience with The Wok Shop so maybe you’ll go to their website and check out their products. Perhaps you’ll make a purchase and tell a friend about your positive experience. Word of mouth can have an incredible impact on your sales. Conversely, it can really destroy your business if you don’t place the appropriate amount of focus on your customers. That leads to a lot of angry Tweets and you definitely don’t want those floating around in cyberspace.

You Have Five Seconds To Impress Me…GO!

I’m long-winded by nature. If something can be stated in five words, it will take me thirty to get there. Luckily, I’ve tempered this in my writing.  But speaking…yeah, takes me a while to get to the point.

So it’s no surprise that I hate the words “elevator speech.”

Courtesy of www.eagleonline.com

Courtesy of www.eagleonline.com

This is the golden opportunity to pitch your idea/product or service.  Here’s the set up.  A prospective customer steps into an elevator. The doors close. You have about a five-second window to score a sale. What the heck do you say???

Back in my handbag designing days, when women would ask me what’s so special about Krina bags…well, let’s just say when my back was to the wall and I needed to impress, I fell short.  Exquisite Italian leathers…eh.  Vivid colors…boring.   Made in the U.S.A…makes them more expensive and potentially cost-prohibitive.  Um, Katherine Heigl has one?  Try again.

Same concept applies to writing. People find out I’m a writer and they’re curious about my novels.  Oh, you have a new book coming out? What’s it about? While it’s a simple question, one which I should be able to answer easily, how do I convince them they absolutely NEED to read it?

Well, there are a couple of parts to a successful elevator pitch. And as luck would have it, the setup really applies to any type of sale.

1. Set The Stage – Choose your first few words carefully. They need to hook your audience immediately and heighten interest in your overall message.

2. Reel Them In – Identify the conflict. Provide a scenario that identifies a challenge or obstacle.

3. Establish The Need – Provide differentiation. Show your audience why your product or service is something they need to buy. How is it going to make their life better? In other words, WHY SHOULD THEY CARE?

Check it out…it even works with books!!! This is my elevator pitch for “Unlikely Venture.”

After devastating news threatens her livelihood, Jessica Latham swears off men…until she meets Silicon Valley rising star James Callahan. But when a vindictive frenemy exposes Jessica’s scandalous secret, James is forced to choose – the future of his company or his heart?

It’s hard to stand out in only a few seconds. But when people ask, you need to hook them in otherwise they’ll shut down and anything you say will just be white noise.

You have one chance to make a first impression. So make it COUNT!!

%d bloggers like this: