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Shoptiques' Founder on Start-Up Life: It's Incredibly Challenging

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In a new series, we sit down with some of the many women who are killing it in the fashion-tech industry and find out how they're kicking ass in their careers. This is Ladies Who Launch.

Olga Vidisheva. Photo via Accessories Mag.

While working "24/7" for Goldman Sachs, Olga Vidisheva never had time to walk around and shop, so she bought everything over the internet. On business trips, though, Vidisheva would indulge in her favorite pastime: boutique shopping. It was in Paris that she got the kernel of the idea that would become Shoptiques, a retail platform that brings localized boutique shopping to the web. "I stumbled across this super-tiny shop and bought a pair of shoes that I absolutely loved," she said. "When I got back to New York, all my friends wanted them. I gave them the name of the store but they didn't ship to the US and weren't online." She briefly thought about how strange this was, then forgot about it and "went back to her crazy job."

A few years later, enrolled at Harvard Business School in Boston, the thought resurfaced.

At the time, Vidisheva was interning at Chanel. "Women would complement me not on my Chanel pieces, but on the items I would find in some random little store on the Lower East Side," she said. So she decided to devote a year to the project, and was then accepted into a program at Y Combinator. She launched Shoptiques on April 21, 2012—a "date I will never forget," she says.

The site allows users to browse by store, by city and neighborhood, or by item. The selection includes women's clothing, accessories, bags, shoes and more—and as an added bonus, most everything is reasonably priced. We chatted with Vidisheva last week after she landed NYC boutique Pinkyotto to find out more about the business, which cities have the best shopping and how she accomplished so much so quickly.

How do you select the stores, and do they have an unifying aesthetic?
"That's really the hardest thing. There's no unifying point of view because each store is so distinct. There are three main criteria for how we select stores. One is how unique the merchandise is and is it good quality for the price. We offer pick-up-in-store options so we try to find stores with amazing sales associates so shoppers have a positive experience. And the store really has to have its own point of view."

What cities have proven the most popular?
"The highest number of stores are in New York and Paris. It's so funny: New Yorkers buy so much in Paris. I think it's one of those aspirational cities. But everybody else shops in New York. San Francisco does really well, too. I think we have the best stores in San Francisco on the platform."

What's your growth strategy?
"We have 150 stores now and we want to have 750 by the end of the year. So we have very aggressive boutique acquisition goals and to be honest, that's the number one priority for us right now. We want to provide service to the stores, give them analytics so they can see what is selling.

We ship internationally now and we definitely want to expand to more cities, but that won't happen this year."

What kind of roadblocks did you run into on the way?
"To be honest, there were so many. People always laugh and say it's so glamorous to be a founder but it's so up and down. It's an emotional roller coaster. Starting from the beginning—it was me, going to the stores, asking them to believe in me with no website yet, just an idea. That was the first roadblock. People didn't know who I was.

Then, obviously, raising a round of funding was difficult. I was lucky because I was at Y Combinator which has the best investors and provides amazing support. But it's never easy to say 'give me money'. After that, it was how do I build a team and hire great engineers? I don't code. How do I find people for editorial? I don't really write. Every day there's something new. Now we're at a point where we want to scale quickly and we're adding new stores daily. So how do you do that? It's incredibly challenging. You have to sort it and break it down into simpler questions and deal with it."
· Shoptiques [Official Site]
· How Wildfang Turned Its Tomboy Brand Into a Movement [Racked]
· How Of a Kind's Founders Bootstrapped Their Way to Success [Racked]