Sramana Mitra: What prompted you to go dig into jewelry? What was the trigger for jewelry?
Jared Shusterman: We had a family friend who who was a consultant for jewelry retailers. I was lucky enough to spend some time with him and actually attended a show with him. I was able to speak to a lot of the retailers at the show as we pitched our concept.
Rather than going back and starting a full-time job, we felt that we had something. This was around the time that Constant Contact was starting to get popular with email marketing. I moved back in with my parents. For the first four to five months, I hired a developer to build out a prototype. It was an online system for direct mail where users could go online, upload their customer list or purchase a list, and then send out the direct mail order.
I knew it needed to be online because it was the only way to be scalable. I founded the company with my bar mitzvah savings. My parents never allowed me to touch it. I was lucky enough to have that to provide for the initial seed capital to start the business. It’s really the only money we’ve ever needed since we’ve grown a lot.
Sramana Mitra: Interesting. What year was this happening?
Jared Shusterman: 2006 is when the company was initially founded. I started this in September 2005.
Sramana Mitra: With the bar mitzvah savings, what was the first thing that you did?
Jared Shusterman: The first step was, we came back from Vegas with a list of customers who would potentially be interested. I focused on building a proof of concept where I could test the idea and validate it. I partnered with one developer. We built a very rudimentary system. I was the customer service agent. I was the sales person. I was doing the marketing. We started calling up the people who had expressed interest.
We started signing them up for specific programs. It was a very shoddy system. It would break midway through the demo, but I was learning a lot at the same time. I think the original goal was to build something to further validate the idea prior to putting all the money in one basket.
Sramana Mitra: Yes, that’s great. This methodology is what we recommend to our members. Don’t go develop stuff without validating that there is an appetite for this product amongst customers. How long did it take you to get that validation and get the software developed and start generating some revenue?
Jared Shusterman: It took about two or three months before we had our first order. This is when I was working on it full-time. I think what happened was I started learning that this was a lot harder than we thought it would be. We learned a lot about what the retailers needed in the software – things that we hadn’t accounted for. Even though there’s interest at the trade show, when you go to follow up, they’re too busy to get a hold of. Of course, it had been a few months.