Raising €500k (twice), delivering to 15 countries and building a team - all by the age of 23.
Filipa was the lucky first interviewee, and what a great choice she was! Her boundless enthusiasm, and energy, was captivating - so interesting in fact we went well over our allotted time. Filipa started her first business at the age of 21, then founded Chic by Choice this year having raised over €500k for both businesses.
The interview is broken down into sections so you can dip in and out as you wish. Let me know your feedback & if you have any burning questions for Filipa she can be reached @chicbychoicecom
Hi Filipa, great to meet you. Can you just start by telling me your one liner about Chic by Choice.
Chic by Choice is a premium dress hire destination for women who know, and love, high fashion. You can access amazing designer dresses from top boutiques, or department stores, and rent them for 85% off retail price in more than 15 european countries.
So let's start at the beginning, what is your background?
I went to Universidade Católica Portuguesa and studied Economics and Management. My co-founder, Lara, also attended Católica but took Management.
So what made you start a business?
It all started when Lara and I were both 20. We were finishing University and everything just happened in a way that we simply didn't have time to stop and think about it. Once I took a breath I realised everyone in my family has either a fashion business or a tech business, but it took me a long time to stop and realise this. In the beginning everything felt like a rush. Most of the time it was about making sure we were building something consistent and we felt really fulfilled.
Chic by Choice - The Story
How did you come up with the concept for Chic by Choice?
Lara and I were always together at University, one day we had a party to attend and were considering what to wear. We didn't want to wear the same dress again but didn't want to buy another expensive dress. So we came up with the idea of renting the beautiful, expensive dress you want to buy but sending it back once you've worn it. It came from our own need, we had a lot of dresses in our closet but none we wanted to wear to the next party because we'd worn them before. When you wear the dress for the first time its amazing, you get this confidence and you get so many compliments but when you wear the same dress again for the same people... nothing!
Once you had the idea what did you do next?
So we started going to international competitions with this idea. The first competition we attended was the largest in Portugal with more than 3000 competitors. Somehow we managed to get second place which was great. At the time we were both 20 years old, it was really exciting as most of the teams had PhD's or were more focused on pure technology. We really felt like like we did not have a chance because of the nature of the competition. We're a tech company but more of a hybrid company - 1/3 Tech, 1/3 logistics and 1/3 fashion.
How did you go from the first competition to starting a fully fledged business?
So that's where we started, we attended 2 more competitions and did pretty well in those too. As we progressed we made sure we did lots of tests, testing whether people were interested and making sure we were different. After that, we started thinking "Ok we've done well, what can we do next?" We set ourselves a 6 month deadline to raise investment and if we couldn't we would go and do our masters. Neither of us were excited at the thought of doing our masters though! Every time we did a competition we felt excited and knew we were going in the right direction. After the third startup competition we were like "lets make this the real deal" and then it was more about proving it was possible to raise investment at a young age, being a girl. We wanted to launch our dream business whilst building something people would look forward to accessing and that would solve their clothing dilemmas for special occasions. At this point we had consumer studies and a Facebook page with thousands of people wanting to see the website but we didn't even have a prototype!
You launched at Decoded, how did that opportunity come about?
We submitted an application, like any other company, and had chance to talk with the team from Decoded Fashion. We said how much we wanted to push things forward and was there a chance we could speak with the CEO [Liz Bacelar]. We managed to get an hour with Liz to talk about our plans for Chic by Choice. After our talk she was really excited. She said, "It's like Farfetch meets Rent the Runway, I think you’ve got something disruptive!" She gave us the opportunity but we had to promise that the website would be open on the day of decoded - it was! So that was really exciting.
Where are you at now with Chic by Choice?
We ship to 15 countries and have over 200+ dresses online across more than 40 designers. Some come directly from the brands, some come directly from boutiques and department store. Its a hybrid, people never know if the dress is coming from their favourite boutique or direct from the brand.
What would you say has been one of your biggest challenges?
We are a fashion, tech and logistics business. I would say that right now growing logistics is something that we are really focused on. We have to make sure that we have the dresses that people are demanding and that's critical!
So you want on to raise €520k from several VC's including Faber Ventures. How did you go about finding them?
We started by speaking to people that would make sense for us but it was difficult as in Portugal there are few people with understanding of internet and e-commerce. After meeting with Faber Ventures it was clear they know what they’re talking about, they know e-commerce, they know how to build a digital business and few people in Portugal know how to do that. That was what mattered most to us. Plus the whole process and negotiation was really fast and simple and that was already a good sign for us.
Everyones fundraising journey is different so how did you find yours? What were the biggest difficulties?
For our first company it took us about 3 months to raise investment but some time after raising we decided it was time to leave the company. We didn’t have the same vision, and were not aligned, with the investor. We didn’t have the majority of the company so that was the point we decided, although we love the company if we cannot apply our vision anymore then it doesn’t make sense anymore to stay.
Our first company was about renting dresses but a completely different model to Chic by Choice. Now we are doing something really disruptive which is engaging with department stores and e-commerce platforms in order to have an amazing selection of really brilliant designer brands.
How have you found working with Faber?
Not only did Faber invest in the company but they work similar to an accelerator. Our team in Lisbon are on the sixth floor of Faber Ventures and they have Senior Advisors on the 7th floor with 15 years of experience in e-commerce, design, accounting and finance financial. So they have a lot to teach you, and whenever you are in doubt you can just go, meet them, and just ask for whatever help you need.
We feel super lucky to be part of Faber. It is really an amazing team and it’s impressive to see the portfolio companies grow, at the same time it’s really so relevant to have people with know-how that already have launched big companies in e-commerce. I would say there is no better place for us to be right now.
What advice would you give to anyone trying to raise investment?
At 21 we were so eager to raise investment that the most important thing was to launch the company and having the majority of the company was not that relevant to us. But be careful, think about it because somewhere on the journey that will matter.
We had advisors who were consistent and they told us - “Ok, I’ll give my advice. This is not a good contract but you are the ones signing and if you want to move forward then it’s your choice.” Although we have decided to leave the company, I would still say it was an amazing opportunity to learn a lot and when it came time to raise investment for Chic by choice we raised with different conditions so we really feel that we can apply our vision.
So what are your thoughts on competition? How much time should you spend looking at them or not at all?
I would say that when you’re starting it’s really relevant to look at your competition because when you’re approaching investors that’s one of the questions they will ask. So you should really spend time considering it when you’re raising investment. After launching the business you have to know where you want to be and not care as much about where everyone else is trying to go. We decided we want to be the premium designer dress rental website with a disruptive stock model so let’s make sure we actually work on this the best way possible. You have to make sure that you are applying your vision and you need to completely focus on that not anyone else’s vision because that just won’t work.
On that note, what makes you different from your competition?
We're the only one doing our stock model and we are the ones shipping to more than 15 European Countries. This is the first time that a company is challenging enough to do more than one country. There are some other players in the UK, but they’re not considered premium. When you see other platforms you will find that either it is outlet stock, and they buy it upfront, or it’s sister lines. So we are the first ones doing it with this stock model with these partnerships.
Press & Marketing
You were featured in TechCrunch, how did that come about?
It was a complete surprise! I had a chance to talk with Mike as he was presenting Decoded fashion. I asked him who I should talk to at TechCrunch that would love fashion and e-commerce and he said send it to me. So I did. I heard nothing then 3-4 weeks later a friend of mine called me and said Filipa you're in TechCrunch. I was like "I'm what?". She said Chic by Choice is in Techcrunch!
Did it drive much traffic or have much impact?
It drives traffic, mostly from investors and the tech community rather than our customers but it's definitely relevant. It’s an amazing platform, I would read TechCrunch every day if I could!
So have you gone after any more press or is your focus now just on your current customers?
We're currently working on 3 different aspects:
- Growing our brand awareness
- Partnerships with other complimentary startups
- Partnerships with designers and brands
It’s just about making sure more and more people know about Chic by Choice but at the same time our customers are already giving us amazing feedback. They're telling us they are sharing it with their friends, so that is the best.
How did you initially get your first 10 customers?
We were in Vogue Portugal and on TV in Portugal so that was really relevant. And with the UK it was a mix of TechCrunch, some other articles and Google search.
As a B2C startup, what advice do you have for people in that sector who are building and maintaining relationships with their customers?
I would say it is definitely important to give the customers the best service ever, so you can receive those amazing emails saying I’m sharing this with all my friends. We've received those emails and it completely makes my day.
Co-founders & Hiring
So I wanted to talk a bit about hiring, finding the perfect team and co-founders. So what are your thoughts on the importance of a co-founder?
It is important for me in every single way possible! I would never be able to do this without Lara. It's a tough journey, not easy breezy, there is a lot of responsibility and sometimes too much for one person's shoulders. For me, I don’t really see any reason not to have a co-founder. Its a really up and down journey and having Lara keeps me balanced. Plus, two heads always think better than one!
How did you and Lara decide what parts of the business you would each manage?
We decided not to consider our degrees at all but just considered personality and where we would fit best. Lara is extremely organised and she's really talented in managing people, that is probably one of the reasons why she does the operations. In order to fulfil hundreds of dress rentals you need to be organised! I really love the user experience and at the same time I love the designers, I want to meet them and always loved engaging with them. We decided early on that one of us was better at logistics and financials and the other was better at just making solid partnerships.
Both you and Lara are non-technical, how do you find managing the technical side of the business?
So our lead developer has previous experience at Deloitte, so he has a background between tech and management and he loves that part of the business. He really gives great feedback and he can not only execute, but has fantastic ideas on how to iterate the product. This means we really get along and have great communications; he wants to build up the business together.
So hiring is a big issue in a lot of startups, how did you go about hiring your first employee?
For our first team member, it was about using our network and working out who had we worked with previously that would make sense to get in contact with. We had a good relationship with Vogue in Portugal, so for our content manager role we went to the Digital Director of Vogue. We asked her "who has been writing content that would be great for this role?" She told us, "there is this girl, I didn’t have the chance to keep her with me, but you know what, talk to her." We did and, in the end, it was a pretty simple decision!
What attracts people to want to work at Chic by Choice?
I think the excitement of being in a fast growing team, we're all really young and we all want to do our best together. Plus we're all really good team players and, I would say, those are the components that encourage people to work with us.
Portugal vs London - the ecosystems
The majority of your team is based in Portugal, can I ask why they've not relocated to London?
Being in London is really expensive and we are trying to run the business in a healthy way; the healthiest way possible, so we decided to keep our operations in Portugal. Plus we can really find amazing people there so it wouldn’t make sense to move them to London. Then there is amazing support from Faber Ventures, working in their building means we have advisors that can help guarantee the quality of the work that you are doing.
What do you see as the differences in startup ecosystems between Portugal and London?
I would say that the best thing about London is how everything happens here and how fashionable this market is. If you have the right contacts, you can access this amazing world. The not so easy part is that it’s really competitive. I would say that the ecosystem in Portugal is more friendly, less competitive, and that has negatives and positives. It’s just different, I wouldn’t say that being in a competitive market is bad.
"I'm most proud of the fact that we already ship orders to several countries. I wasn't sure if we were going to be able to do that in one month so that’s very exciting."
Women in Tech
You mentioned you were probably the youngest women in Portugal to raise €500k. What was the reaction of people (if any) to that?
I didn’t understand in the beginning, but after a while you stop and realise what you have done and the impact it can have. It was not about raising the investment, although that was amazing and I’m really proud, but it was the great feedback of women that are inspired by what you are doing and saying "it's amazing what you have achieved and now I also feel that I can develop some ideas further".
What do you think needs to change to encourage more Women in Tech?
I think you have to be comfortable in wanting it. There is nothing wrong in wanting to be an entrepreneur, nothing wrong in wanting to be ahead of your time and nothing wrong in wanting to be disruptive. I'd like to see more women feeling comfortable in doing something different that makes them happy.
On that topic, do you think there is much stigma around female entrepreneurs?
When I was 21 I felt there was was much more stigma, but I also think I'm much more confident in myself now. I do think things are changing because more and more women are creating disruptive companies which then go on to inspire other women. The best way to change the stigma is by making sure more women actually go for it so the more female success stories we will have to inspire the next generation.
Recommended Tools & Resources
What tools and resources would you recommend?
Great resource, currently focussed on their conversion design.
What is your grand vision for Chic By Choice?
I want it to become a platform where women can have fun with anything that they can rent, it makes their day better and they feel more beautiful. In the end we are building a company which allows you to rent luxury items, that make you feel beautiful, for those special events and as well as for everyday.
What piece of advice would you give to someone before they start up and then whilst they are launching?
Before setting up always ask for help and search for mentors who will guide you. I would say in the beginning it is all about listening and networking to enable you to translate that into something that helps build your product.
After launching the business I would say define your priorities, listen to everyone, but ultimately focus. Stop trying to reach for every single opinion and go for what you think really matters and just execute.
What do you see for the future of FashionTech?
I think it's going to be really interesting to see what happens with omni-channel, that is something that is going to be big. Keep an eye on omni-channel because it is going to change everyday shopping. I’m also curious about how brands will translate online to offline and offline to online.