By Mercedes Mapua (Founder, Jeanome) I am in love with shopping. But I don't like crowded malls, long lines at the checkout counter, or trying on a dozen items in order to take one home. So I thought why not create something that revolutionizes shopping?
Let me digress here by saying I've been on a career path of designing user interfaces, and have quickly grown weary of the corporate world. Not one to sit idly, I've decided to to take charge of my life by taking a risk and launching my very own startup.
I'd be lying if I said I simply had a spark of genius one day.
Dreaming up ways to improve some small aspect of life, I began to extensively research the denim industry as an Industrial Design student at San Jose State University. I discovered a huge consumer market with an equally huge consumer problem: Finding jeans that are both stylish and figure-flattering. This inspired me to create Jeanome, a social web service dedicated to jeans, run by jean lovers for jean lovers. Users connect with friends and fellow jean-aholics to exchange shopping advice, collect points for rewards, and create and share their denim collections online. People ask: "Why jeans?" I say: "Why not?"
The denim jeans industry boasts a multi-billion dollar market worldwide and probably the least saturated market for e-commerce solutions. I believe that by successfully designing a recommendation tool that makes jeans shopping easier, Jeanome (the company, rather than the website) can apply the same methodology to create tools for other industries, such as shoes, makeup, furniture, and wine. Licensing the trademark API to such industries will hopefully create and expand a modern user community that utilizes our technology.
I began recruiting friends and brought together a team of 4: Caroline Carlos for PR and Business Development, Werther Dong for Front-end Web Development, myself for Design and User Experience, and Shams Shafiq for Back-end Web Development. The most challenging position to fill was that of a back-end engineer. We interviewed several candidates, but none were willing to risk working with a startup. I was on the verge of giving up hope and started deliberating the pros and cons of outsourcing when Caroline introduced me to Shams. After a couple of virtual interviews, he was in (and is now our CTO).
Building a team was actually the easy part
Now, we have to figure out how to make the magic happen. Everyone on the team has a full-time job. We moonlight to make progress on Jeanome. What's hard about moonlighting for a startup company is finding motivation to do the work without a manager's pressure and guidance. While it would be nice to have a well-structured corporate environment over the ever-evolving, initially unpaid world of startups, we don't have that luxury. This makes it difficult for me to find team members who can run my race to the finish line.
I feel defeated when I hear team members -- friends -- voice their doubts about being able to juggle a startup in addition to life's many adventures (the current team is comprised of different members than originally planned). This only drives me to work harder to ensure Jeanome's success. It’s important for a CEO to be passionate, optimistic, and constantly striving for solutions. So, I push forward.
Startup Monthly in the Silicon Valley
Because no one on the team had ever started a business before, I knew I needed to expand my professional network. Looking for kindred entrepreneurial spirits, I came across Startup Monthly through Meetup.com, a five week idea accelerator program that focuses on helping dreamers like me build teams, create prototypes, and test concepts. Through the organization, we were able to pitch our ideas to a panel of judges (mostly venture capitalists) who gave us great insight and encouragement to continue our project.
Perhaps the key learning point for us came during user-testing week of our Startup Monthly program, when we learned that the majority of users often rely on other users' reviews of products and services. Believe it or not, we rely more heavily on such review and feedback than the company’s directives. Consequently, we adjusted our presentation of Jeanome to better appeal to you, our audience.
Check out the website in progress at www.myjeanome.com. We currently only have a clickable demo of the web application, but we're moving quickly to build the back-end code. We're also beginning to lay out the blueprints for marketing our product on a low-cost budget by incorporating social media.
I have to be fearless. That said, I am not without my reservations. There have been several failed attempts to revolutionize shopping for clothes. There was the 3D body scanner that was intended to suggest what brand of clothing would fit a user based on body measurements. There is also MyBestFit.com, which markets itself as the all-in-one solution for all “fitting” issues, but we all know an all-in-one solution is a near-impossible feat. There are other websites, such as MyTrueFit.com, that ask site visitors questions about body image.
The problem with these websites is that people, particularly women, often don't have accurate perceptions of their bodies, and plugging in this inaccurate information results in inaccurate page displays. What this shows us is a problem in need of a solution. How does a company improve the online shopping experience to help users easily find items they'll love? That is where we jump in. Jeanome may not be the complete solution, but we firmly believe it can -- and will -- be an integral building block towards the development of that comprehensive solution.
Jeanome seeks your feedback!
As a fledgling CEO who is still learning how to spread her wings, I'd very much appreciate your feedback! Whether it's words of encouragement and inspiration, suggestions on growing a startup, insight into finding venture capital, recommending a potential team member, or anything else under the sun, I'd love to hear from you. Because Jeanome's web services will be tailored for people like you (yes, you), it's important for you to chime in! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the guest blogger: Mercedes Mapua is Founder of Jeanome, moonlighting to bring fashion into the next web. An aspiring entrepreneur, Mercedes is currently a User Experience designer for a tech company in San Mateo, CA. Previously, she was a User Experience Designer at Cisco System. Prior to that, she interned at Plantronics and Oracle. Mercedes holds a bachelor's degree in Industrial Design from San Jose State University. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.