Simon Bland in Tech & Digital

02/10/2014

Interview: Mihaibao.com Co-Founder Jacqueline J. Lam

E-commerce is here to stay. No one knows that quite as well as Jacqueline J. Lam, CEO and co-founder of Mihaibao.com (formerly Boutiny.com), a fashion site that aims to transform your web browser into a one-stop shopping mall personalised to your style. However, that wasn’t always the plan...


Along with co-founders Ye Lin and Jonas Simkus, Jacqueline entered into our Dot Forge Accelerator in March 2014 with their digital product Talentap, a self-described ‘AirBNB for performing artists’. However, it wasn’t long before the team felt that things weren’t quite working out. “It wasn't easy to make the decision to pivot five weeks into the accelerator programme at Dot Forge,” explains Jacqueline candidly, “we changed industry completely partially as a result of the feedback we got.”

After a period of intensive customer development and research, Jacqueline and her team spotted some potential issues with their original Talentap concept. “We decided to pivot for three reasons. Firstly, our real competition was word of mouth. Secondly, frequency of purchase was low and would require longer time and capital to prove repeat purchase. Thirdly, customers who would use Talentap services frequently, such as bars and clubs, often host artists who are willing to play for free,” explains Jacqueline. “Once we decided to pivot, we had to come up with a new problem to solve. Each co-founder came up with 6 ideas." What followed was another intense bout of research, with Jacqueline and her team heading to the streets of London to discuss pain points in online and offline shopping with over 160 women in cafés, tube stations and shopping malls.

“Mihaibao.com was born during the pivot as fashion based e-commerce is something I am deeply passionate about,” recalls Jacqueline. “I think a pivot is probably one of the most difficult things a team could go through. Many teams ‘die’ during such a stressful moment because you’ve just spent months on your ‘baby’ only to realise it’s not going to work. As a team we knew we had to learn fast, fail fast and get back on track fast.” It was during this intense period that Boutiny.com emerged from Talentap’s ashes. “We worked more than ever,” remembers Jacqueline, “more than humanly possible and we managed to successfully pivot. Within 10 days of deciding what to go for we had done the research, quizzed 160 women in London and we were on full speed again.”

But what is Mihaibao.com and how did it get Jacqueline, Ye and Jonas back on track? Jacqueline answers this question with a few of her own: “Don’t you have the problem of opening a million tabs online when you shop? Isn’t it a pain in the ass to remember what you put into your shopping basket and repeat the payment across each online store?” These shopping quandaries form the backbone of Mihaibao.com. “It’s a fashion boutique made for you,” enthuses Jacqueline, “with all the brands and stores you shop at in one place. You buy with one basket and pay with one payment. It’s a personalised shopping site and it’s hassle free. Today, we have 124 retailers and brands on board.”

For Jacqueline this was a natural change. As an avid online shopper, she had spotted a problem and had her own idea of how to fix it. “We tell retailers and brands that abandoned shopping baskets online are worth 31 billion dollars a year and this number is only going to explode because e-commerce is growing.” 

As for that tricky last minute pivot, Jacqueline has some advice on how to navigate this difficult manoeuvre. “The first thing is never just jump into the new idea; research and planning really matter,” she says. “Don’t build anything, just identify potential customers and ask them about their existing behaviour and pain points. If there’s a problem you can solve then that’s when you start doing more research,” she says. “Ask yourself questions such as ‘What’s the size of the problem?’; ‘What’s the competitive landscape?’, ‘What’s the timing to market?’, ‘Do we have the skills and resources to execute?’, and ‘How could we add value to the right customer? It’s a lot of research understanding your customers and market before even starting to build,” she says. “As well, I feel it’s important to keep your team in line with what you want to do. You have to really openly communicate ‘Are we still on the same vision? Are we all passionate about this idea?’ - if not, it’s not going to be the same.”

With Mihaibao.com firmly on track, and following a successful soft launch late last month, Jacqueline and her team are looking forward to a successful full site debut later this year. “It’s important for us to get the right investors on board who can help us with recruitment, next round funding and strategic partnerships,” she says. “We’ve met with investors in London including early stage VCs and Angel investors. We want to launch our final product, put it into the market, drive traffic, get customer data and then raise another round of funding. We’re going to literally focus on customer engagement.”

Visit Mihaibao.com here

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