Behind Mon Purse with the founder, Lana Hopkins, and how you nail a business in mass customisation and personalisation as a startup.
Let’s get inside your head first- was your own business always the final destination?
Absolutely. I believe the desire to have your own business is something you’re born with and you always think about. Early on in high school and primary school I was looking for crafty ways of making money and challenging the status quo.
I began as a grad at Unilever in a business development job, then moving into marketing communications for an insurance company, which was more in line with my Marketing Communications and International Business studies at UTS. From here, and before starting my own business I moved through:
- PR, working freelance
- Print media at News Limited working across The Australian
- News Magazines on Australian Good Taste magazine
- News Life Media on Delicious and Donna Hay
- Business management at mcm entertainment…
…all before founding my first business, iCoverLover (bespoke custom smart phone cases), which was just sold at the end of 2014.
It’s all about building little networks, rather than building it all myself. I like being a bit of an all-rounder. I believe an entrepreneur knows how to leverage the best out of all the people around them to create something amazing. It’s about the influence you infer and that you have over others.
Tell us about Mon Purse and the opportunity for it you saw in the market?
I founded Mon Purse in 2013 after spending way too many hours pounding the pavements for my perfect handbag. Knowing that I want that “the perfect handbag” and that I wouldn’t pay premium price for something that’s not exactly what I want, I thought there simply has to be a better way.
From business trips to Hong Kong for iCoverLover, I thought about some of the beautiful suppliers and decided to head out to Turkey to investigate the quality of manufacturing, set up, and tap into the high European quality. At the same time my friend Benjamin was thinking the same thing, and so we took our vision and have turned it into an elegant, state of the art bag build for high quality customisable creations. Think Shoes of Prey, but bags.
I travelled a lot with my husband (whom has a media background), and this was a big part in setting up the business as I was able to draw on his experience. We went to Turkey and through a partnership with an atelier I worked with during iCoverLover, we were able to select some leathers and make prototypes of our product which today are still hand-made in Europe, with free delivery worldwide.
As a startup you don’t necessarily have the capital around you to have a full time person for each position that your operations need, so be resourceful and ask, “who do I know?”
This isn’t your first venture though, how is Mon Purse different to iCoverLover in terms of the skills you needed to set it up, and how you have marketed it?
It has been a completely different business, and a lot is still very new. The biggest difference is the customisation aspect, which has seen a lot of complication and problem solving as we move away from a fashion ecommerce business to more of a custom model. We need to have extraordinary quality control as every single piece is bespoke. That’s the production side of things, and means we need to have strong relationships with our teams overseas.
Logistically, now that we have assured strong relationships and QA with our production teams overseas, instead of all the orders coming to me before we ship them worldwide, they can go directly to the buyers from production. Cutting us out as the middle man is making our business more scalable.
Technology also plays a huge part as we use a start of the art 3D modelling tool which has over 50 million design combinations.
Marketing has been fairly organic. People are very excited by the innovation of Mon Purse, and by seeking influencer groups through women’s groups, the media, and a pop-up store in Sydney, people are really able to get an understanding of the high quality.
What things did you learn in your first business that have influenced the way you approached your second business?
I learnt a lot about MVP (Minimum Viable Product – the product with the highest return on investment versus risk). I was such a perfectionist, but really realised that you are your own biggest critic and that your product gets better over time. Take that pressure off yourself and learn as you go.
I’ve also learnt about working with different types of people. I’m marketing and sales, and so now I need to work in a way that suits everybody.
How has this marketing and sales background helped your venture?
Collaborations. My biggest focus is on no matter how small we are, we are doing collaborations with the big guys. You need to be open and build reciprocal relationships- be able to break down the door, have a level of confidence, and propose how you can work together to create something special. Doing this we’ve been able to form collabs with big players like The Collective.
What have you found to be the most successful marketing tactics to build brand awareness and sales for your businesses?
It’s a combination of everything. Doing everything and trying everything- we’ve allocated a bit of budget everywhere to see what works, and ensure that we track everything digitally to ensure we don’t keep going with bad strategies.
So far we have found that:
- Focusing on SEO is an important medium to long term strategy
- Collaborations are great opportunities- The Collective has been good for sales and also awareness
- Press is good for brand awareness it’s not groundbreaking for sales
- Retargeting through AdRoll and other similar digital campaigns are great
- Grow social in a smart way. Buying 1000 fans in India isn’t worth it
Without the internet, do you think you would have launched this business? What dynamic does e-commerce add to your retail offering?
Customisation is a traditional and old business, think suits and belts, so probably yes- there’s still a business, and a lot of our early sales came from face to face. The internet however is the best way for us to scale and become global.
While an exciting opportunity to design your own bag, have you found it difficult to convert sales with customers only being able to see a visual representation of your product?
Live Chat is big for us- having a constant ‘human’ presence. If there’s something a user wants though that they can’t see online, we encourage them to send us an image and together we can create it for them. It’s all about creating things that are possible. We’ve only just launched, so the offline side of the business is still crucial for us.
Are there any other challenges you have faced with your businesses and have had to overcome?
Scaling and growing your team is something that is a challenge if you do not have the right infrastructure in place. You can never be over prepared in this, but need to be nimble and agile- priorities and situations can change quickly.
You’ve previously mentioned that embracing the ‘Cloud’ has significantly helped your business operations- running an e-commerce business, and especially one with overseas manufacturing, what online tools do you use?
We use a lot of collaboration-based systems:
- Google drive
- Google Analytics
- Xero- finances
- Fiverr (we don’t use this one for Mon Purse, but we did for iCoverLover.
Finally, is there anything you wish you had have known starting out?
The appeal for me of being an entrepreneur is not knowing everything, and navigating your way through it all. Things will happen and go wrong, but it is your strength of character that comes from how you manage these things.