Retail in Asia


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Her Black Book Co-Founder, Julie Stevanja

Julie Stevanja and Sali Sasi founded Stylerunner in 2012, in response to the booming athleisure trend. For the first time in years, the co-founders are collaborating in the second endeavor of their new business venture, Her Black Book, in the hopes of providing a more friendly and affordable take on womenswear fashion. With a centralised retail sales, events and incentives business model at its core, the app offers shoppers a variety of deals and promotions (including cashback options), as well as style tips and slick content.

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With the advantage of preexisting extensive business experience,  the company raised USD 1.6 million on its 3rd month of operation in an oversubscribed round led by Andrew Hagger, CEO of Tattarang, Australia’s largest private equity firm. As compared to its pre-launch capital raise, Her Black Book’s equity round increased its value by 50 percent.

As one of the keynote speakers at the eTail Connect Australia Event, which took place on 6th and 7th of September, Retail in Asia had the opportunity to speak with Her Black Book Co-Founder Julie Stevanja. Our interview discusses the company’s key to success, in addition to the Australian retail scene and her advice for startups across the APAC region.

RiA: Can you give a short introduction of yourself?

Stevanja: I’m the co-founder of premium shopping and discovery app, Her Black Book, which is a B2B2BC SaaS Platform and Consumer solution connecting retail brands with consumers who love to shop.

Source: Her Black Book

Within the app, you’ll find a curation of exclusive incentives, cashback promotions and brand news from more than 700 retail brands including FARFETCH, Nike, Vida Glow, Alexander Wang and more.

Prior to Her Black Book, I co-founded the global first-to-market women’s activewear concept, Stylerunner in 2012.

RiA: How does Her Black Book differ from other platforms that also provide special offers on branded items?

Stevanja: Her Black Book’s inception came after noticing a gap within the premium women’s space for centralised retail sales, events and incentives. While we haven’t reinvented the wheel, we identified a segment of the market that has not previously been catered for.

Leveraging on our decade of retail and brand experience, we are striving to create a version of this that best suits the demographic we understand so well.

Our ‘freemium’ business model is also different to other offerings in the market. This allows consumers to upgrade their experience for a small fee, and that membership tier gives them access to deeper discounts. This is often something that brands like because it protects the exclusivity of codes.

RiA:How do you come to terms with brands? Has that been the biggest challenge in running the company so far?

Stevanja: From our perspective, the first point of call is not asking brands to run more promotions but simply centralizing deals that are already happening within the market. We believe that there are already hundreds, if not thousands of brands running promotions at any point in time and it’s about helping consumers browse those and find out where they are on a day they may be ready to make a purchase within a certain category.

Additional incremental deals, for example our exclusives, are really there as an option to merchants when they do want to hit specific, short-term objectives, for example, if they need to move some inventory or hit particular targets. If brands want to be promotional, they can do this within a premium environment and speak directly to their target market, so we find that it’s a win-win.

It hasn’t been a huge challenge for the business, in fact it has been received very very well. Because of the current supply chain disruptions over the past couple of years, a lot of businesses are in a position where they need to be a bit more promotional and Her Black Book can help them do this while maintaining brand integrity.

RiA: How does the Australian retail scene differ from that of any other APAC countries?

Stevanja: The Australian retail scene is evolving really rapidly, but there is still a lot we can learn from our APAC neighbours when it comes to retail where technology has been trailblazing for years. Just look at multi-faceted conglomerates like Tencent/WeChat and Alibaba, they are really pushing the boundaries of innovation in shopping globally. Consumers in Asia are also fast to adopt new trends, like the thriving Live Commerce industry, which has already spread to Europe and the US but is yet to take off in a big way locally.

RiA: Where do you see Her Black Book in 5 years?

Stevanja: Since we have been in the market for less than a year, what you currently see from Her Black Book is just ‘Version 1’ and only the tip of the iceberg. We have a pipeline of exciting features to roll out that include a high degree of personalisation and relevance for consumers, and additional solutions to merchants who are feeling the pain of rising CACs (customer acquisition costs) and want organic reach to their existing brand fans.

In addition to the innovation in the space, we would love to see HBB grow globally in the next 5 years, as the solution is highly scalable and region agnostic. Australia has always been a great test market and is a great place to iron out the offering before launching into multiple new markets.

Ultimately, the ambition is global.

RiA: What would you identify to be the most difficult part of being a start-up?

Stevanja: One way to look at startups is to divide into two camps. One camp is an already proven, adopted idea with plenty of market opportunity where you launch your own version with unique differentiation; the other camp is building something for the first time that is highly pioneering/innovative, but therefore unproven and has no playbook. The latter is inherently riskier and more difficult but plays in blue oceans, with enormous opportunity and can shift and even create new markets – think first versions of Cryptocurrency, or Buy Now, Pay Later.

I would say our ambition for HBB is a mix of these, on one hand we are centralising retail incentives and offers in the premium women’s space, taking a proven, existing model but applying it to a new market demographic. But behind the scenes, we are working on complementary features that are first to market but have the opportunity to be game-changing.

Source: Her Black Book

These new solutions are based on our unique insights of being an ecommerce retailer for 10 years, and solving ‘hair on fire’ pain points that we feel are not being addressed.

Startups are inherently difficult to begin with, you have a lot to deliver with very little resources, but  pioneering and innovating is even harder, because early believers are harder to come by and harder to convince until you reach mass traction. It takes visionary backers and investors that understand the industry well to jump on board the journey early.

RiA: What is the one piece of advice you wish you have had when you first started?

Stevanja: It’s a marathon not a sprint.

Any great business will likely take you 7-10 years, minimum. Develop a pace that is intense enough to deliver the rapid growth and progress you need, but also one you can maintain consistently – because you will need to!

RiA: What do you expect to get out of eTail Australia Connect 2022? And can you give us a sneak peek on what you will be sharing with the audience on the panel?

Stevanja: eTail Connect always pulls together an incredible roster of speakers and industry leaders. I’m really looking forward to hearing from some of the panellists and participating in some of the roundtables and workshops.

As a panellist, I’ll be sharing some of the innovations happening behind the scenes, which we believe are first to market.

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Our strategy is always about not just delivering things that already exist and trying to deliver incremental value, but truly challenging a category to deliver solutions that don’t yet exist for our merchant clients.

This requires innovation that is truly meaningful to customers, and having never been done, it is by definition risky – you don’t yet know the level of satisfaction from your clients, but pioneering is where we like to apply ourselves and time will tell to what degree merchants enjoy what we have built.