Founder and President, SheFinds
Who Is She?
Meet the woman who can update your wardrobe and make your pre-holiday shopping more merry by saving you from lines at the mall and hours surfing the Internet: Michelle Madhok, founder and president of SheFinds. SheFind’s motto: “We shop the Web so you don’t have to.” Madhok studies the latest trends and recommends fashions, often at a discount, from a variety of big-name retailers, as well as smaller boutiques and new designers.
Since starting SheFinds in February of 2004, Madhok has racked up more than 6,000 subscribers to her twice-weekly e-mails that offer tips on trends, products and special discounts, and many articles in publications like the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Newsday. She also provides personal shopping services and puts together shopping tours in New York City.
Getting an Education from Consumers and Corporate America
“While working toward my master’s degree in marketing from Northwestern, which has some of the best consumer behavior experts in the country, I learned how to recognize what people want and understand why they buy. After college, I spent three years with CBS Broadcasting New Media helping the company to start CBS.com, when I received a call from AOL, which at the time was the center of the universe for Internet content. They wanted me to revamp their editorial content for women. I took the job, changed the content based on extensive research into what women want online, and within a year we went from about 150,000 to 10,000,000 unique users per month.”
What Women Want
“One of the things that kept hitting home is that women are split in half… one half is the woman who is CEO of her home – she goes to work, pays bills, gets kids to soccer practice and plans dinner, and the other half is the woman who wants a bubble bath, a glass of chardonnay and time to have her nails done. Women are time-starved. My goal is to help women use the Internet to add time back into their lives and fulfill their desires to look and feel better about themselves.”
Where to Find the Best of the Web
“While working in D.C., I used to shop at the outlet malls for friends who didn’t have time. Meanwhile, last Christmas was the biggest online shopping season ever, with an increase in spending of nearly 20 percent over the previous year. So after five years at AOL, I started thinking… say you want to buy black pants. No one was telling you the best place to buy black pants on the Internet. Shopping magazines like Lucky were popping up, but the online content did not exist, so I created SheFinds.”
Model for Making Money
“SheFinds makes most of its revenue through advertising and through the commissions we receive – usually 5-10 percent – when subscribers use a link on SheFinds to buy a product from a retailer with whom we have an affiliate agreement. But I do not accept money from advertisers to push certain products and don’t recommend anything that I personally wouldn’t wear.”
Change Your Look – and Your Life – Online
“I love things ideas that change people’s lives for the better, and the Internet has changed the entire world. I never would have been able to create SheFinds if it weren’t for the Internet, because the established media wouldn’t let me in. Even with years of consumer experience from AOL and CBS and a Master’s degree from Medill, I went to a major fashion publisher to try and develop editorial content and they told me flat out, ‘We’re sorry, but you’ll have to start as an intern.’ I thought to myself, ‘I’ll create my own publication.'”
Starting and Running Your Business on a Budget
“I financed SheFinds myself and have spent about $5,000 of my own money to get the business off the ground. Initially it made me nervous – I didn’t want to blow through my savings, but we started realizing revenue within 4 months.”
“The most expensive items were forming the LLC, legal costs and public relations. My site was built for about $250 by a guy in the Ukraine who I found on craigslist (www.craigslist.org). My photos were done for barter and I got a good deal on the illustrations on my site because the artist had downtime. I work with many independents – my lawyer is an independent, because I don’t see the value in paying for a big, fancy firm. And I look for discount resources on the Internet – if you search around, you can find companies that will make quality color copies for about 20 cents a copy.”
“SheFinds taps into women’s emotional connection to shopping and makes it easier to look and feel better, and I would like to see that extend into areas beyond the Internet including TV, books and radio.”
“Our biggest sales month so far was $4,000 just from advertising revenues and some of our shopping trips bring in another $4,000, which is not bad for one weekend. Also, our number of subscribers astounds me sometimes. I’m surprised that so many people want to listen to what I have to say. I get e-mails that say, ‘You have revamped my whole wardrobe and given me a new outlook on shopping.'”
“Letting go of the corporate safety net. I’ve been a ‘good girl’ all my life, a good student, worked for good companies. Making the jump into business for yourself, sometimes people look at you cross-eyed and say, ‘You’re going to do what!?’ You’re not going to starve. You can always get another job. But it’s a challenge for most of us to get over that initial fear.”
Always Scouting Good Deals, Even During Downtime
“Eating out and drinking wine are two of my favorite things. A funny story… I recently went to the Napa Valley wine region for a reunion with friends and the limo services there wanted $65 per person to drive us around for the day. I posted an ad on craigslist and found a guy who agreed to chauffeur us in his van for a total of $100 for the whole day.”
Words of Advice
“It’s important to connect with other female entrepreneurs so that you can cheer each other on. When I started this business, I set a goal to meet four new people each week. I told myself that I HAVE to do this, every week. What works in business also works for dating. I decided last year that I was going to go on Match.com and a friend asked me, ‘How many people do you think you will have to meet to find five who you like and five who like you?’ I realized I was probably going to have to go on 100 dates within the year. That’s how I met my boyfriend – he was Number 20. Without services like SheFinds, you have to shop around.”
To learn more about Michelle Madhok and to subscribe to her free weekly newsletters, visit www.shefinds.com.