Urenna Okonkwo, financial advisor by day and founder of Cashmere App by night, shares her journey to founding her company, the successes and challenges involved and how FutureGirlCorp helped to shape her brand.
The Idea... I've always had a 'passion for fashion' as they say. Although I studied Economics and Finance at the University of Exeter, I was also the president of the Fashion Society which involved organising events for our members, building relationships and collaborating with various fashion and beauty brands (including Ted Baker, L'Oreal, Clarins and No 7) and launching the first Exeter University Fashion Magazine, ExeStyle. It was such a great experience for me because that was my first taste of running a business and providing a service to customers - skills which were easily transferable to developing my own business later on. I came up with the idea for Cashmere about 2 years ago. I walked by Shoe Heaven in Harrods with friends and saw a pair of Christian Louboutins that I instantly fell in love with. Then I saw the price tag. Although I had the money, I couldn't justify impulsively dropping £625 on a pair of shoes that I didn't budget for. So I made the responsible decision to not get them. That evening, I thought to myself, "if I had a special stash of cash that I had saved up purely for my impulsive luxury purchases, then I wouldn't have felt guilty about making the purchase." So I decided to create just that.
Cashmere is a social savings platform that helps trendy millennial women save towards and buy luxury fashion guilt-free and without having to dip into their personal savings.
It works by allowing the user to save an amount each month which we will safely hold using a secure regulated financial institution, and once the user has saved up enough money to purchase the item(s) they like, they can make the purchase via our website. There is also a social element of Cashmere. Through our social network, the Cashmere Collective, users can influence their friends/peers' saving and shopping decisions by sharing luxury items they plan to purchase, seek advice/recommendations through our messaging platform and motivate each other to reach their savings goals, thereby creating a strong community of like-minded fashion-conscious women.
The response has been very positive and there has been a significant amount of interest in Cashmere. I regularly get emails and social media messages from girls like me around the UK expressing their disbelief that something like this doesn't already exist and their excitement for the launch, which is definitely very motivating.
The Successes... Although Cashmere hasn't launched yet, I have had quite a number of successes. Last year, I was selected as one of the six Fashion-Tech businesses to be supported and mentored by the Centre for Fashion Enterprise (CFE), in association with London College of Fashion. CFE supports Fashion-Technology entrepreneurs who want to redefine the industry. In addition, we have some amazing luxury brands on our platform including Harvey Nichols, Coach, Amanda Wakeley, Giuseppe Zannoti and many more! Also, I was recently invited by Google to talk about Cashmere, my journey and my future plans. It was amazing to share my experiences in front of an engaged audience and receive lots of support from them and the Google team.
The Challenges... One of the biggest challenges I've faced so far is building a tech product without a tech background. I've had to outsource the technical team but the learning curve has still been very steep. Another big challenge I've faced is gaining access to funding. Generally, it’s difficult for a black female entrepreneur with no previous experience in running a startup to gain access to real funding, especially at such an early stage. So far, I've bootstrapped the business and that has worked well for me, however, we are now looking to receive external funding from angel investors to help take Cashmere to the next level. Finally, building Cashmere whilst having a full-time job has been a struggle. I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices and plan my time more effectively so that I can balance both jobs. However, it has taught me how to be disciplined and more strict with my time.
The FGC Experience... I heard about FutureGirlCorp through Sharmadean. I met her while having a business meeting at Shoreditch House last year and she suggested I attend the October workshop.
The workshop was such an amazing experience. Although it was a very intense 12 hour day, it helped me have a better idea of what my brand was, why I was creating my brand, who my brand was for and how I would make it a success. It was also great to meet other empowered female entrepreneurs and have a new support network.
The Advice... Understand that having a cool business idea is great but being able to execute the idea with a competent team is most important.
The Future... Cashmere is set to fully launch in early 2018, although we are planning to do a soft launch in the next few weeks. We are currently encouraging as many early adopters to sign up now to gain access to our soft launch. We are also looking for early stage angel investors to help us take Cashmere to the next level, so if anyone is interested in making a tax-efficient investment into a cool brand, get in touch!