2 women who built a business while at Goldman and Marc Jacobs share their best advice for entrepreneurs
As Ezzahraoui described it, the two women "were fed up with what we were seeing in terms of offers in the jewelry industry. We decided to go ahead and do something where we were the target customer."Neither knew much about the jewelry business; but instead of feeling intimidated, they took design classes for a semester. At the time, both Ezzahraoui and Kahn had full-time jobs: Ezzahraoui was an interest rate volatility trader at Goldman Sachs and Kahn was working at Marc Jacobs after a few years at The Boston Consulting Group.
"It was hardcore," Ezzahraoui said, "having a job on the side."
Today, Ezzahraoui and Kahn are the founders of AUrate New York, which sells affordable, ethically sourced, high-quality gold jewelry. The founders are also dedicated to giving back to the community: For every purchase a customer makes, AUrate donates a book to a child in need in New York City.
AUrate's founders didn't sit around waiting for the perfect moment to launch their company
Ezzahraoui's advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is based on her own success with AUrate: "Just do it."
That might sound trite, but Ezzahraoui explained that the opposite - waiting for the perfect moment to strike - can be futile. "A lot of people spend years working on business plans and debating what strategy they should go for," she said. "In startups, unfortunately you can't be making a two-year strategy. That's not how it works given how fast things are moving. You're moving almost a quarter at a time."
That said, Ezzahraoui added that "just do it" comes with some caveats. When you're thinking about launching a company, she said, it has to be something the market needs and it has to solve a problem. "Going after redundancies might sound great on paper, but actually are not needed in the market," she said.Once you establish a need for your product in the market, the next step is to figure out who your customers are and learn as much about them as possible. "The more precise you are about your target demographic, the better your business will be," Ezzahraoui said.
The AUrate founders created focus groups with everyone they knew (they enticed people with free drinks) so they could ask people questions like how much different products should cost.
While they'd previously believed their target demographic was millennials, they learned their ideal customer was actually slightly older, "millennial-plus."
Once they'd created products, they tested the concept in two pop-up stores in New York City. Both sold out within a matter of weeks.
In the very early days of AUrate, cash flow was a priority
At first, AUrate was self-funded through the founders' savings and through family and friends. The founders' goal was to prioritize cash flow so that, when they pitched investors on their startup, they'd have something to show for themselves.
"Cash flow is what makes or breaks a startup at the very, very early stage," Ezzahraoui said. "It's a huge mistake that a lot of people don't pay attention to."
Kahn joined full-time in 2016; Ezzahraoui joined her in 2017, the same year the company raised $2.63 million in a seed funding round.
Today, AUrate has more than 20 employees, and Ezzahraoui said they're planning to double the size of the team by next year. In addition to their online presence, the company has stores in New York City, Boston, and Washington, D.C.; they're planning to open another store this year.Ezzahraoui remembers people laughing at her and Kahn when they announced they were leaving their jobs to "sell jewelry."
Still, they stayed confident in their vision for AUrate.
"It's not easy," Ezzahraoui said of her current career. "But it's much more rewarding."