Molly Flynn: Tell me about yourself.
Tiana Haraguchi: I'm 25 years old and currently a Boston resident. I'm from Hawaii originally but grew up in Connecticut for the majority of my life. I stayed on the east coast for college and attended Bryant University in Rhode Island where I received a BA in Finance. Right after college I got a job at Brown Brothers Harriman working in the Financial Services industry and ended up being a part of the corporate word for 3 years. Deep down I always knew that I wanted to run my own company and be an entrepreneur, however I was waiting for the right idea to pursue. I never had any big fashion dreams while growing up, but I discovered my love for fashion once I started brainstorming the idea for Boutikey.
M: What is Boutikey and how did the idea come to life?
T: I’ve always been a boutique shopper. I love the uniqueness and personalization of it, but I’ve always felt that there was something missing in the experience. On top of that, I’m fascinated by the mobile tech world. From that foundation, I started drafting the idea for Boutikey.
The idea was born after I had an unsatisfying shopping experience at a boutique that I otherwise loved. I made a big purchase, and later found out that I had missed out on a sale because it wasn’t advertised effectively before I checked out. From there I realized that I rarely knew when there were sales at my favorite boutiques, and that none of the boutiques I shopped at had loyalty programs.
I started researching and talking to local boutiques. I realized that none of the boutiques in the greater Boston area had a loyalty program, or incentives to keep their customers coming back. These boutiques didn’t have a way to deeply connect with customers besides Instagram where their posts get lost in a sea of photos. As I continued to research I found an overwhelming statistic that over 80% of fashion boutiques fail within their first 5 years of opening. This was a problem that I wanted to fix.
I quit my full time job in April of 2013. From there I was able to launch the beta version of Boutikey on February 10, 2014.
M: How does the Boutikey app benefit boutique owners?
T: All of the boutique owners I work with understand trends and buying, however some of them don’t have the marketing or business background to help them with their day-to-day operations. Boutique owners are thinly staffed, and have limited resources, so Boutikey provides these storeowners with a simple and affordable platform that helps them better connect with their customers through deals, a loyalty program, and the ability to showcase the latest trends in their store. Ultimately, Boutikey provides boutiques with a product that helps them keep up with modern marketing tactics, and increases their exposure, sustainability, and the growth of their business.
M: When did you start bringing on team members, how did you recruit?
T: I came up with the idea for Boutikey by myself; I don't have a cofounder, which can be challenging at times. However, once I became serious about the idea I hired a mutual friend to be my advisor, who had previously built and sold a mobile app start up. He helped me take the necessary steps to get things off the ground. Next, I hired 3 interns who had just graduated from college. I told them that I couldn’t pay them at the time, however interning for Boutikey was a great opportunity for future full time employment. I highlighted that they had the potential to learn more then they could at an entry level corporate job, and that I could teach them several different aspects of business as opposed to just one. My interns worked very hard to drive results, and were a huge contributor in getting Boutikey launched. They successfully got the first 35 stores to sign up with Boutikey. I later hired 2 of the interns’ full time, and they're still working with me now. We now have two new interns that have joined our team as well!
M: Do you have plans for expansion?
T: Originally we wanted to pick 5 new cities to launch in the fall, and grow from there. After seeing how much work goes into building relationships in a city, we’re limiting our next expansion to 3 cities. I'm flying out to California this week to scope out the San Diego area, as we are very much considering this as our second launch city. If all goes well, we should be in San Diego this summer, and one other city by the fall.
Additionally, our 2.0 version of the app is launching in 3 weeks. I’ve been working very closely with a wonderful developer and designer who are helping build the new version. Version 2.0 is 10x better than the beta product, and I'm confident it will help bring us to the next level. We will also be rolling out an e-commerce platform this summer, as well as adding m-commerce options to the app.
M: What has been the most rewarding result of creating your own start-up?
T: The most rewarding result of starting Boutikey has been seeing the positive impact we've had on the Boston fashion community. We’ve helped small business owners find new loyal customers, advertise their sales and events effectively, and have given them endless social marketing advice. We’ve definitely been able to increase sales for a few local boutiques by thousands of dollars, which is really powerful!
M: What's the most challenging aspect of having your own start-up?
T: The most challenging part of owning my own business is that I'm really young and I started this company alone. It can be difficult not having a co-founder to share my vision with. To make up for this I've surrounded myself with great employees, and an awesome network of entrepreneurs and advisors. When things get tough I think about how the reward will far outweigh the current struggles I face on a day-to-day basis.
M: Can you think of any mistakes you’ve made in your career?
T: One mistake I made in the initial testing phase dealt with how I pitched Boutikey to local boutiques. I approached boutique owners and told them that Boutikey was this great new platform that would help enhance their relationships with their customers, and told them to tell all their customers to download the app. I didn't think about the importance of Boutikey sensitively enough from a boutique owners standpoint. The reality of the situation at that stage was that most people didn't know or trust Boutikey, however they did trust their boutiques. Boutikey is a platform for each boutique to have their own personal app, and their own rewards program. It’s important that when they are telling a customer about Boutikey, they refer to it as their app. For instance, when a customer walks into their store they can say, “We have a new customer loyalty program that we’d love for you to be a part of. You can get 20% off your next purchase every time you spend $150. Download our app to learn more!”
M: What advice would you give to young women just starting out in their careers?
T: Make it a point to learn as much as possible at a young age, and never grow content with a job that you don’t love. One of the greatest joys you’ll find in life is the moment you find a career that you are passionate about. To do this, have the courage to take risks at a young age, and when you commit to something go all in. Don’t look back until you’ve achieved your desired results.
Want to learn more? Download the Boutikey App and visit their website.