Via LinkedIn : If you polled a group of Millennial-aged women, you’d likely be hard pressed to find even one who has bought something from a television infomercial. Ever. With smart TVs doing away with the need to channel surf or watch commercials, young women are now shopping on their phones or computers where they can buy items with a click as opposed to a phone call.
In 2011, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy saw this trend emerging and created a business to address it. Her company Joyus produces online videos featuring beauty, fashion and health products that can in turn be purchased from the company’s website or video player. Joyus turns a profit by then taking a cut of the sales of products featured in its videos and syndicating content to traditional publishers.
Despite some small roadblocks in the beginning in getting investors (mostly male) to understand her product, it seems her idea is catching on. Today, it was announced that Joyus nabbed $24 million in new funding led by Steamboat Ventures, Disney’s venture arm, and Marker LLC. Steamboat and Marker join existing investors Accel Partners, InterWest and Time Warner Investments.
“I thought that the category was going to go through a revolution and building a brand that focused on that was really rewarding,” said Cassidy. “The fact that you could have great content that drives engagement and commerce was the initial idea.”
In an interview with LinkedIn, the former Google and Polyvore executive discussed how she built the business, the future of QVC and her thoughts on the misconceptions of being a female founder.
LinkedIn: What was your inspiration for launching the company?
Cassidy: The inspiration for Joyus came from three places. I was at Google for many years and was pretty aware of the fashion and beauty content that was organically growing on YouTube. The early indicators showed that beauty and fashion was online entertainment for women. I was also the CEO at Polyvore and that was about creating user-generated content in fashion, design and beauty. What was clear from Polyvore is that brands and marketers love the power of beautiful content, but what they love more that engagement is sales. The third piece was really understanding that the analogues of television shopping had yet to come to the online market.
Did you have to pivot your original idea for the company at any time in the beginning?
We had a lot of pivots. The high-level vision has not changed at all, but there were a lot of things that didn’t work out. I thought we would be a marketplace from day one and I never thought we had to be merchants ourselves. But pretty quickly I realized that when we were taking product from other retailers we would just get a hodgepodge of stuff. We put it on the site and realized we would never be able to attract one customer because there was no vision behind the merchandise. We had to pivot off the marketplace and become a retailer. We went from taking no inventory risk to hiring merchants and merchandisers. The other pivot was I thought we would be a destination site, but 75% of the views on Joyous are from syndicating our content to other publishers. Online video continues to fragment.
What type of investor did you find was initially interested in your idea?
I had a long standing relationship with lots of VC firms so I was lucky. Our first investors were Sequoia and Accel. I think I was lucky that people trusted me and understood the concept. Having said all that, it was really no surprise that Theresia Gouw was really the person who saw the vision of what Joyous was doing and now she runs her own VC firm at Aspect Ventures. Event at Accel it took a woman to validate my idea. Particularly in the beginning, any time I raised money I had men say to me “I don’t really understand why women would want to watch videos about products.” Usually I would then say back to them that if they don’t get that then they probably aren’t the right investor. I can understand that women entering the business who did not come from my background would have a hard time getting men to take them seriously. I didn’t have a specific problem, but I had comments that led me to believe that men did not understand.
Do you think QVC, HSN is relevant anymore?
I think they are incredible organizations. They are behemoths for a reason. The Joyus customer is fundamentally different from the QVC customer. When we ask her where she shops it is much heavier online. She doesn’t have time to watch linear TV, she is highly-tech savvy and owns a smart TV. The demographics are quite different. I have had executives of former television networks say we don’t ”sell that hard” in our videos. That’s because [our customers] do in fact want to be educated about the product and we treat them like they are really smart. They know they are being sold to.
Will Pinterest’s buyable pins announcement impact your business at all?
At the macro-level what they are acknowledging is the same thing we are seeing in our apps and the mobile web. On the phone, the integration between the shopping cart and the click to buy must be condensed so it is an easy experience. Is Pinterest going to be a competitor for us, no, they are more of a source of traffic. We are a video provider and largely speaking they will be able to amplify the very rich content we are providing. If we were just a marketplace, I would be more worried. We are going to look at them more as a platform to syndicate content.
What is the biggest misconception you think the public has about being a female founder?
The bias that women still readily face in business is still the defining factor or characteristic of her story. I think that is the misconception. While we want to amplify what is not working, I think to reduce it to that is actually diminishing of all the women today who would unanimously say that entrepreneurship has led them to have more freedom than they otherwise would. Ironically, if you think you are facing systemic bias, the best way to escape it is to run your own company. If you think you’re being judged as too aggressive, you become the CEO. That is just one aspect among so many things. It should not be diminished, but it also should be put in perspective.
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