Sam and Jane are both big ChickAdvisor fans and were lucky enough to be able to go to the sold out ChickAdvisor event a few months back at the Royal York. We wrote all about it over here, so check that out!
Now, we are even luckier to have been able to talk to Ali de Bold, the Founder of ChickAdvisor, Canada's premier review site, who told us the ins and outs of becoming an online entrepreneur (and the bumps along the way).
If you had to tweet a description of yourself (140 characters or less) what would you say?
3rd generation entrepreneur, mom of 2 great kids.
Tell us about ChickAdvisor: What is it? How did you come up with the idea? When did it start?
ChickAdvisor was Canada’s first review site! We started working on the idea late 2004 and launched in 2006. I was planning my wedding in Winnipeg while living in Toronto and was frustrated there was no place to get reviews on hair salons or products in general. I said to my fiance at the time (Alex) that there should be a place where women could review these things, rather than be left to decide on a hair salon based on the ads in the yellow pages and he said, let’s build that! As someone who started his first company in his 3rd year in university he knew how to get something off the ground. We hired a small team of developers and a graphic designer who worked for equity and built it together.
Congratulations on hitting 10 years! What have been some of the highlights of this endeavoUr? Some lowlights?
Highlights have been the amazing members I’ve met over the years. Meeting women who have been part of our community for 10 years is the most humbling, amazing thing. It’s such an honour to me that these women have stuck with us all of these years.
Lowlights would be the continuous ups and downs of the entrepreneur life. Having great sales one month and terrible the next. It’s scary when your business partner is your spouse so if you fail you lose everything. Your savings, your house… there is a lot of pressure. There are a lot of people that would be let down if we don’t succeed.
ChickAdvisor Premium is being launched in January. Can you tell us about that? What’s the response been like so far (how many people signed up, etc)?
The response has been awesome! We are almost halfway to our goal of 1,000 members by January… and these members have signed up purely on faith that it’s going to be great! They don’t even know what they are going to get yet. It’s going to be awesome. I can’t wait to see their reaction when they see the awesome deals we have lined up plus the amazing welcome gift. It’s a ridiculous deal.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome when starting ChickAdvisor?
We had to bootstrap everything. We tried to raise money before we launched so we could grow quickly. We met with numerous Venture Capitalists and Angel investors. The Venture Capitalists laughed at us - they couldn’t fathom anyone would ever want to review products such as a lipstick. We did have two Angels ready to invest. We’d met with them numerous times talking through all of the details of our strategy. In our final meeting they had a term sheet turned upside down on the table. They told us they wanted to invest in ChickAdvisor… but not in me. They said it was because women were “too emotional” and they felt more comfortable investing in men. They started to discuss amongst themselves the different men they knew that could possibly run the company with my husband instead of me. After all, “as his wife”, they said, “I’m sure you’ll share your great ideas with your husband”. That was the end of those discussions. It was disappointing at the time but it became a major motivation for me to prove those guys wrong. To build a successful business without them. I’m so proud that we did and am honoured by the many women who are or have been part of our team.
What was the best piece of advice you received when starting your own company? What kind of advice would you give a new startup?
Follow your passion and the money will come. If you start a business with the motivation of becoming rich rather than doing something you love, you are doing it for the wrong reason.
My advice for a new start-up would be:
Do what you love.
Do your research - see if there is a need in the market for your idea. Be prepared to walk away if there isn’t.
Choose your partner(s) wisely and put everything in writing. Contracts are made in the best of times… for the worst of times. If you don’t have a contract you could get screwed.
Do something original. Don’t copy someone else’s idea unless yours is an obvious and dramatic improvement over what is already there. Why go into a field that already has a ton of competition?
Do it in your 20s or ideally before you have kids. Kids need a lot of love, time and stability. That’s not a great time to gamble.
Of all the companies you’ve worked with (in terms of samples, etc), what are some of your favourites?
That’s impossible to pick as I have clients we’ve been working with since the very beginning. I have too many favourites.
What is the best part of running your own business? The worst part?
Best part = I take Mondays off to be with my kids.
Worst part = the stress. If I fail I let so many people down.
Where do you hope to take the company in another ten years?
Household name in Canada, disrupt other markets.
You usually do events in major Canadian cities (Toronto/Montreal/Vancouver) – do you have plans to expand to more cities across the country? Or into the US?
Events are extremely expensive to execute across the country. The cost people pay to attend doesn’t even come close to covering what it actually costs us. Every time we do ShowCase or another local event, we get emails from women across Canada wondering when we are coming to their city. It’s not possible to go to all of these places. I’m really hoping ChickAdvisor Premium will take off so women can participate no matter where they are located.