Fashion Start-up Takes Aim at $20 Billion Industry

Olga Vidisheva, founder of newly launched Shoptiques, an online boutique aggregator, explains how her start-up plans to disrupt the world of fashion.

Gilt Group may have redefined the discount shopping experience for shoppers seeking high-fashion labels such as Marni and Prada, but Olga Vidisheva, the 26-year-old founder of Shoptiques, thinks her start-up can disrupt the $20 billion boutique shopping industry.

The site, which officially launches today (it has operated in beta for several months), is essentially a retail aggregator—boutiques from around the world apply for "shelf space" on the site, and revenue is shared among the the two parties.

There have been other start-up attempts to help brick-and-mortar stores find new revenue streams online—such as Shopify or Farfetch.com, for instance—but few have segregated merchandise based on location.

On Shoptiques, a user can decide to "go shopping in Miami," for instance, and check out boutique items (at boutique prices) that are local to the area. While the clothes are "designer," they're usually made by up-and-coming labels that aren't necessarily household names. So far, the site has boutiques in about a dozen cities, from Brooklyn, New York, to San Francisco. Shoppers can read about each individual boutique, and even connect with the business owner to ask questions about the merchandise.

Vidisheva, who was born in Russia, worked at Goldman Sachs after graduation. After two years, she quit, and enrolled in Harvard Business School. The way she tells it, the idea for Shoptiques came after a trip to Paris, where she bought (cliche alert) a pair of perfect high heels from a small boutique. When she returned to the states, she tried to find the Parisian boutique online, but couldn't find it.

"I knew the name of the boutique and kept searching online," she says. "I thought, If I can buy tulips online from Amsterdam and have them shipped the next day, why can't I shop at this particular boutique online?"

Right now, Vidisheva is finishing her last week at Y Combinator, the San Francisco-based incubator founded by Paul Graham. Vidisheva is a curious pick for YC, which has traditionally focused on funding highly technical start-ups like Reddit, Disqus, and Justin.TV. And even more curiously, Vidisheva is the first-ever non-technical solo founder YC has ever accepted.

Although the company does not disclose specific figures, Shoptiques recently closed its first round of funding from Greylock Partners and Andreessen Horowitz. The company has two co-founders, brothers Dan and Jeff Morin, who Vidisheva describes as the company's "technical brainpower."

During her second year of business school—she graduated in the Spring of 2011—she interviewed about 800 boutique owners around the country, trying to understand their frustrations, and how an e-commerce site could help, and why this idea didn't exist already. Eventually, she began to understand that boutique owners—though adept at the craft of sourcing styles and new desigerns—were relatively unsophisticated when it came to driving online traffic, and doing professional-looking fashion photography was a challenge.

Now, once a boutique is approved to be listed on Shoptiques, Vidisheva and her team of six employees will find a local photographer to shoot the store's products, and help them up manage their online inventory. The value proposition for companies is clear, she says: "We can drive them consumers from all over the country that may not have known about this boutique in the past."

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