Tell us your story: when, why and how did your business get started?
UNItiques.com started out of necessity and almost by accident. I was a junior in college, and needed new clothes, but my parents were less-than-happy to fund yet another shopping spree. I figured "what better way to get money for new clothes, than to sell my old ones?" I remember schlepping clothes to second-hand stores only to get ripped off, and the feeling of "creeped-out" I got giving my address out to Cragislisters. So, I looked for a better option but there wasn't one.
I created a facebook group called BUtique and invited college girls to shop pictures of my old wardrobe. As the group grew to 1,000 members in a short month, I did background checks on each member to ensure they were indeed in college/safe. While the growing members loved the group, but found the Facebook format too disorganized (that didn't stop them from using it). Collegiates EVERYWHERE, not just Boston University, also loved BUtique and wanted in. I realized I had found a need for a service that was not yet out there.
I created UNItiques.com a totally free, college-only marketplace that protects students by requiring a ".edu" email to join. Basically we're Cragislist but just for college students, and we are the most organized and safe way to buy and sell on campus. Our marketplace is online, but student buyers and sellers meet up with one another to conduct each transaction (like Craigslist).
My entire family are entrepreneurs in the metal distribution and recycling business. It is a Shadrow legacy to reuse, and to recycle. It is my hope and dream that UNItiques.com can help eliminate waste on college campuses everywhere!
What’s at the core of your brand? What are your core qualities, mission, vision and values?
For us, by us: Our service, interface (user experience/features), and brand constantly change to be what college students want it to be. We are built for college students, by college students - we give students the marketplace they deserve, for free.
Mission: To enable college students to make and save money easily, and thereby make the college experience a better one.
- Reuse and Recycle
- For us by us
- Always free for students
How do you embody your brand in your business every day?
UNItiques is a part of me. It is quite literally in the clothes I wear, as I always shop UNItiques.com before the mall or a retail store (which has saved me quite a great deal of money). I also am self-employed THROUGH UNItiques.com as it enables me to keep money flowing in as I continue to sell things on the website.
I am quite the "talker" - I love to reach out to college students I don't know on Social Media and learn more about what they need and what their style is (clothing and in life). Its important to get to know all types of people in order to make sure all students feel like they can be a part of our community.
How do you communicate your brand visually?
UNI is always capitalized to emphasize the "college-only" aspect. When you first log onto UNItiques.com it says "join our community of students" - it is essential our users know they are joining a community, not just visiting a website.
We used black and white on the website for a clean, coherent look. We want the items (the things for sale) to be the focal point, and this simple color scheme allows the items to take all the attention.
How do you expect your brand to grow and evolve? How do you stay true to your original core?
It is essential that no matter how many new features we introduce, that our brand keeps its core values of "free for college" and "college-only" marketplace. We will always be free for collegiates, and we will always require a valid ".edu" email to join the community and to see member information. Keeping our users safe is our utmost priority.
Ensuring that user safety and free "college-only" community are within our foundation, it is easier to see what directions we can and can not go in. Once we eliminate those we will never introduce (ex: a Freemium model), it is easier to see what direction we want to go in.
Keeping our team for college students BY college students helps quite a bit. Our team is stacked with very different types of college students also enables UNItiques to reflect the needs of our community at large. We have Faith France, a totally professional fashionista business woman who is a junior at Loyola Marymount in California. We have Storm Ascher, a dancer and creative free-spirit who is a junior at UC Santa Barbara in California. We have Cameron Hoffman, a self-made hockey player at Framingham State in Massachusetts. We have Sophia Foutiz, an international transfer from Greece with a passion for community service, who is a sophomore at Boston University. Having uniquely different perspectives on what the website should be like, not only from our team but from everyone our team knows, enables us to create a website that reflects ALL college students vs. some college students.
What are the biggest challenges you’re facing in your business and as a brand?
The biggest challenge I faced was finding a web developer who was CAPABLE of creating my vision for UNItiques, not to mention one I could actually bounce ideas off of. UNItiques is QUITE a complicated project technically. It involves security programming (.edu requirement), user profiles, an internal messaging system (inbox), an admin panel that reflects aggregate data for the website (how we check our statistics), mobile optimization knowledge, database knowledge (keeping track of all our users), and MUCH MUCH more. Finding someone who possesses all these skills, and the intelligence and drive to learn more as technology changes and progresses, is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do - and the most expensive.
I met my technical lead, Sugandha Goel, after a two very expensive "failures" with comissioned web developers. Suggi messaged me on Facebook to report problems in the old UNItiques website (not the one that launched in Sept). She reported bugs in a way that only a coder could report them. I took the opportunity to turn Suggi into a believer. We are sitting together in our office as I'm typing this now!
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a young entrepreneur?
In life, you only get what you ask for - this is my lesson. If I never asked people to buy my clothing, I would have never started BUtique. If I never asked my peers to join UNitiques.com I would never have had a proof of concept. If I never asked Suggi to work with me, I would still be coderless. UNItiques team is never above going door-to-door, or flyering on campus. We ASK people to know us. The worst thing that could happen is we end up in the exact same place we started - this rarely happens. Doors will open for you if you ask for them to be opened.