Olga Vidisheva adapts a motto from alma mater Wellesley College for her online shopping site shoptiques.com.
Olga Vidisheva certainly does her homework.
While living on the Lower East Side during a summer internship at Chanel, Vidisheva was entranced with the unique pieces she saw in the area’s small stores. This fascination prompted the idea for a shopping site for independent boutiques, but it was the research she did while a student at Harvard Business School that helped make shoptiques.com a reality. “The question was, if this was such a great concept—which I believed it to be—why hadn’t anyone done this before?” says Vidisheva. “The Internet had certainly been around for a while. I had to prove whether it could work financially.”
Vidisheva enrolled in the Founders’ Dilemmas course at Harvard Business School, taught by Noam Wasserman, renowned for his book of the same title and his study of start-up companies. As part of her course work, she surveyed 800 boutique owners and wrote a detailed business plan. “What I found was that many small boutiques had no idea how to market their clothes for an e-commerce site,” she says. “They weren’t optimizing their merchandise. I thought the idea would work if we provided a 360-degree solution for them.”
So thorough was Vidisheva’s research that in addition to being a semifinalist in an HBS business plan competition, she was also accepted to participate in Y Combinator, an incubator group that provides funding and guidance for start-ups. She began beta testing on her website in October 2011, and a few months later, received funding for it. A write-up in WWD about shoptiques.com created instant demand and the site went live on March 21, 2012.
From both her research at HBS and her work at Y Combinator, Vidisheva says she learned that shoptiques.com, which operates from loftlike offices on lower Broadway, couldn’t be just an aggregator for cool shops, and that the store selection as well as the merchandise had to be curated. (Boutiques would come on board once they knew who would be in the network; shoppers buying from boutiques, largely unknown beyond their city, needed a quality control.) Vidisheva personally chooses the stores, which now number more than 150 throughout the US, including 55 in New York as well as 25 in Paris. She’s particularly excited about plans for fall, when shoptiques. com will introduce technology so that after the first visit each user will be presented with a home page tailored to his or her tastes and budget. “No other shopping site will have this level of customization,” she explains.
Vidisheva, who was born in Kyrgyzstan and spent time in Moscow, says her love for unique clothing has its roots in her Russian childhood. “In the Soviet Union, people often had to wear uniforms,” she recalls. “It suppressed individualism, so seeing these boutiques, their creativity, and all that individuality expressed through fashion has a deep meaning for me.”