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We’re not sure what your readers would most value, but to us, we’d share this: building your brand (even for start-ups) is important. We all hear ‘go early, go ugly’ but we think consumers nowadays expect more than just ‘ugly’. Differentiating on product or service isn’t always easy, but creating a unique look, feel, or ‘voice’ is a great way to separate yourselves from the pack.
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Hoseanna founders Katrina and Tracey are building their bicoastal start-up Hoseanna with the help of java-fuelled Skype sessions, relentless determination and a passion to give busy women (like themselves!) back more time in the day. These two have been best friends since high school and amazing business partners since August 2010.

Katrina Carroll-Foster, a Washington, D.C. native, has made Vancouver, Canada her home for the last ten years. Katrina started her career with Intrawest Resort Corp. as Manager of Regional & Corporate Sales. After working as Director of Sales for tech startup, HCareers.com, Katrina spent five years with Opus Hotels as Vice President Marketing and Sales, one of Canada’s leading contemporary luxury boutique hotel groups. In addition, Katrina served as VP of Marketing and Communication with the Rick Hansen Foundation where she led the rebranding initiative for the Canadian icon in the run-up to the Vancouver Winter Olympics. Katrina is a leader in the community having served on the Board of Dress for Success, and is a member of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (FWE).

A New York resident for the last ten years, Tracey Solomon has made a career of solving complex business problems and building brands for top tier companies in diverse industries. Tracey’s career started at Accenture (then, Andersen Consulting) where she learned the fundamentals of business consulting from Fortune 100 companies such as GE Capital, Lucent Technologies and Siemens AG, which resulted in her and a small group of consultants being named on a patent for their work in learning design technology. After Accenture, Tracey turned her focus to the healthcare industry and the world of branding. She went on to hold Senior Director and Managing Director posts at InterbrandHealth (an Omnicom company) where she led brand strategy engagements for several of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer, Wyeth, Eli Lilly and Johnson&Johnson.

What are you working on right now?

What aren’t we working on! It’s been only 3 months since we launched Hoseanna –  we’ve been busy testing our concept, and finding the right formula for what our customers want. Right now we’re in the midst of overhauling our website  so that we can bring an even better, richer experience to our customers.  At the heart of it is the addition of more product categories. We came out of the gate with hosiery, but we always knew that we would be more than a pantyhose subscription service. We want to be the go-to place for the things that women hate to, but have to buy, like feminine care products, razors, and yes, pantyhose.

There are gorgeous websites out there selling luxury products to time-pressed women. What about the every day stuff? We figured that just because we’re selling commodities, the experience doesn’t have to be boring! Hoseanna brings discretion, convenience and fun to the shopping experience, and we are working hard to pull that through from the desktop to doorstep.

That’s why creating a great experience for our customers doesn’t stop with our website. We are Facebook and Twitter fiends – these are such powerful platforms for sharing our story and engaging people in our brand. Our fans and followers use them to tells us what they’re looking for in terms of products, brands and service!  We also like apps like Wildfire and Strutta for running contests – they’re pretty turnkey and let us roll out new tactics quickly and at a reasonable cost.

Oh – and let’s not forget product selection. We spend hours curating our collection of the top rated and top selling items from trusted brands. Women love to discover new things when it comes to makeup and clothing, but it’s pretty rare for us to deviate from our favorite deodorant, FemCare product or razor. Hoseanna makes it easy for them by including only the best.

What does your typical day look like?

We’re a bi-coastal business and spend a healthy amount of time on Skype. Most people pack their briefcase and head to the office. We brew a cup of strong coffee and dial each other on Skype. Every day we’re on social media posting to FB, tweeting, responding to customer requests, ordering product. We try to schedule set times to review upcoming Marketing/PR activities, Finance, Operations/Logistics etc. That said, we do a lot of brainstorming and on-the-fly decision making – it goes with the territory, we think!  Generally, when we’re done our day at our desks, we’re off to business events where we can meet new advocates or customers, learn from others, or be helpful to others looking to get into a start-up!

What’s been really great is how well our contractors and interns have been able to adapt to our remote and virtual offices. We make sure that every week we have group Skype video calls and that we meet for coffee live + in the flesh at least every couple weeks.

3 trends that excite you?

  1. Mobile – we’re excited to bring Hoseanna-on-The-Go to women later this Fall.
  2. Curated Offerings. And over-used word to be sure, but an important one in e-commerce. There’s no shortage of selection online. It can be kind of debilitating sometimes – so much choice! We’re loving the new focus on curation – helping consumers by providing thoughtful selection.
  3. And, Women In Tech.  We’re inspired by the rise of women in technology – whether it’s women founders or women VCs. The numbers are still small, but the support that men and women alike are showing is encouraging.

[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]As one of our mentors told us early on – go early and go ugly.[/quote]

How do you bring ideas to life?

We’ve leaned on our past experience in the planning and strategy of our business, however we also know the value of moving from strategy to execution – quickly. As one of our mentors told us early on – go early and go ugly. We’re also fortunate to have built a great team of mentors and advisors who are generous with the insights and feedback they provide us. We try to use their time judiciously, and work to implement the best of their ideas. Our biggest challenge has been to ensure that we are nimble and responsive, without overreacting.

What inspires you?

Definitely the journeys of other entrepreneurs. There are too many to name but some of the better known stories would certainly include those of Gilt Groupe, ModCloth, Diapers.com, Flickr, BirchBox. At an event last spring in New York, Laurel Touby, founder of Media Bistro, touched a chord in us when she spoke of her path to success – her philosophy? Be Fearless & Shameless.

We’re building Hoseanna because we are our company’s target market. We’ve been busy Road Warriors. We’ve suffered from a lack of time. Our friends are busy women, constantly juggling their commitments. They inspire us to build a company that will give them back a bit of time, and make buying those products that women have to (but hate to) buy easy and fun!

What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

We’ve made more than one along the way, but certainly one that’s unique to start-up e-commerce businesses is balancing inventory. Purchasing the right amount of product is a juggling act. You don’t want to over-stock and commit excess capital to product. But you can’t afford to run out and disappoint your customers. In these early days, we try to buy just what we need on hand to fulfill orders – not always easy!

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

We’re not sure what your readers would most value, but to us, we’d share this: building your brand (even for start-ups) is important. We all hear ‘go early, go ugly’ but we think consumers nowadays expect more than just ‘ugly’. Differentiating on product or service isn’t always easy, but creating a unique look, feel, or ‘voice’ is a great way to separate yourselves from the pack. This doesn’t necessarily equate to a big spend on design (though a good designer is a godsend!) but rather building your personality using platforms like Facebook, Twitter – even LaunchRock.

What do you read every day? Why?

Tracey devours Jason Goldberg’s BetaShop daily – it’s amazing to watch someone’s business unfold before your very eyes. Katrina tends to scour Twitter late at night for any random insights from the Tweeps she follows. This can make for late nights but great insights! We both love Sprouter, Shop.org, and SmartBrief.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read, and why?

We love the book 3 Moves Ahead by Bob Rice. It’s basically a book about competitive strategy, but uses chess as a metaphor for the business world. Even if you’re not a chess player, it’s a great read! It makes you look at your competitive environment from a variety of angles, and think critically about what tactics you should deploy. One thing is for sure, it drives home the need to focus – it’s easy to get distracted by the ‘noise’ so if you’re not clear on your path, you will find yourself quickly led astray.

What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?

No question: iPhones, Skype and Hootsuite.

Who would you love to see interviewed on IdeaMensch?

We’d be interested to see other female entrepreneurs, and maybe even, * wink *,  a few more first-time entrepreneurs who took the start-up leap after the age of 35!

How does a “niche e-commerce business” compete in world of Amazons?

Great question! Niche businesses such as Hoseanna provide thoughtfully curated product selections, personalized service, and an ability to offer a ‘surprise & delight’ factor for consumers. Because of their size, they can be more nimble and responsive than their larger counterparts.

Are you glad you took the leap to being entrepreneurs?

Emphatically yes! There are definitely some sacrifices and risks along the way, but we would not trade one minute of it for our past Corporate lives! We’re evangelists for starting your own business!

Connect :

We’d love to hear from you!

[box size=”small” border=”full”]This interview was brought to you by Rohit Jain who works in business development. You can follow Rohit via his blog and on Twitter. [/box]

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