Bootstrapping Aprizi: the Pugilist Period

Giff Constable Aprizi

rockyIt has been a while since I have done an Aprizi update. The shorthand is that we are deep in the pugilist-state of the entrepreneur experience. We have had some wins, we have taken some blows, and we fight on.

In the “fun news” department, Daily Candy featured Aprizi at the top of their national email one week last month. In just one day we got over 5K new uniques (1,000 of whom came back again that very same day), with a 12% bounce rate, 9 min avg time on site, and 45% registration rate. I was happy that day.

The big challenge as a bootstrapped organization is building and maintaining momentum with ridiculously few resources. We are stretched more than ever because earlier this year, after focusing our full time efforts in 2010 on Aprizi (we opened up our beta in the Fall), we started consulting in order to support both ourselves and our basic operating costs.

I did speak to quite a few investors, and while a round looked promising in December, a critical party backed out and we were not able to rebuild momentum to the point that a round was worthwhile (at small levels, one might as well just bootstrap). A year ago, Jules Pieri of Daily Grommet wondered out loud whether I would have an easier time pitching a female-oriented concept to male investors as a man myself. The short answer is no. So many investors fall in or out of love with an idea in the first few seconds, and it is tough trying pitch ideas that they cannot relate to — but that is only one factor.

Liz and I have pretty good credibility as technologists and product designers, but it has not been enough, especially when you mix in fears of the fashion space getting crowded. At first I beat myself up, until I started talking to other, solid local entrepreneurs. I realized that raising money in New York remains a brutal task, no matter what you might read in the media. (Part of the reason why this blog went so quiet is I didn’t want to write about any of this.)

But when it came to the site, we had too many women raving about Aprizi to pull the plug on the business simply because a round was not forthcoming. In mid-January, we decided to stop distracting ourselves with investors and self-fund through consulting. So these days, several days a week one can find us doing a different kind of pitching, i.e. pitching in on tech and product design at Birchbox.

Birchbox has an awesome team, a great business model, and is growing like gangbusters, so it is a fun place to be, but there are two obvious downsides to bootstrapping: 1. context-switching hurts productivity in a big way; 2. progress and momentum on Aprizi has inevitably slowed down because Liz and I are stretched so thin. It is psychologically tough, but better than quitting before we have given Aprizi a proper chance.

What is next for Aprizi?
We recently expanded our curator team and are making a bigger push into homeware, because our goal has always been to create a personalized window shopping experience for emerging *design*, not just fashion.


While there are a thousand things we need to do to improve the Aprizi’s product and business, the big next step is to implement our e-commerce model. It is critical to connect the dots between our “personalized discovery engine” and actually selling products.

As part of this focus on e-commerce, a couple of months ago we decided to shift entirely away from user-generated content. We “hid” our bookmarklet tool so that only our curators, or people trying out for the curator job, would see and use it.

By keeping Aprizi’s database entirely curated, we keep quality high, we safeguard our focus on independent and emerging designers, and we ensure that everything added to Aprizi is actually actionable by a shopper (i.e. purchasable and in stock). These are some of the key things that differentiate us from some of the other interesting startups in the “discovery as entertainment” field, such as Svpply and Pinterest.

Of course, killing the UGC angle went against the recommendations of many investors, who thought that UGC was necessary for scalability (I completely disagree). My belief, after having spent years dealing with UGC, is that it can be great for community engagement, but it is not great for actually selling products.

I miss some of the viral dynamics that come with UGC, but feel more confident in our business model. I have been doing startups too long to be comfortable with the “get hot, raise money and figure it out later” mode that remarkably seems back in vogue among certain investors. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt and little else to show for it (not counting some good friends and excellent lessons).

So here we are, slugging it out. But all in all, things could be worse: we have over ten thousand people using our product regularly, I have the best co-founder I could ever imagine, a team of dedicated curators all over the country, and we are able to pay the bills and continue to put one foot in front of the other.

Now, us entrepreneurs tend to be a foolishly optimistic lot, but I feel world domination coming on any moment, don’t you? 😉