Women are the key market

In 1997, Julie Mahloch started GiftPoints, an e-commerce site that enabled shoppers to buy gift certificates at a time when they were only available for purchase in-store. The site – which turned into GiftCertificates.com – had revenues of about $100m five years after its founding. 

In 2002, Mahloch co-founded Hammocks.com, a home furnishings website. The site, now known as Hayneedle.com, last year earned roughly $200m.

Now Mahloch – who is based in Omaha, Nebraska – is focusing on a new venture: Bloom, an online social beauty store. The site gives personalised product recommendations based on the reviews of other shoppers. 

I spoke to Mahloch recently for an article I am writing for the FT about the new generation of women entrepreneurs. She is, after all, a woman who’s been at the forefront of online retail since its evolution.

She credits her success to a keen appreciation of the market retailers so desperately want to target: women.

“Many women are the primary consumer of their households, so I see the customer point of view. My business models have always been about using the current technology of the day and pairing it with a consumer approach.

“Hayseed.com was built to give consumers choice where there was none. It was born out of my own frustration when I was building and furnishing my own home [and choices were limited to local home supply stores] … It’s the same with Bloom. The beauty industry is so confusing. Women spend lot of money on products. We want to look our best. At same time it’s very personal: what works for you may not work for me. Bloom utilises social media and gets women to help other women [pick out the best products for them].”

She acknowledges that as a woman and a mother, she is keen to cultivate a family-friendly workplace. Bloom currently has 20 employees, 70 per cent of whom are female. Some employees work part-time; others telecommute; most work flexible hours.

“We don’t have formal policies, but it’s something I emphasise. I expect a lot from our team members. People are dedicated, but if someone needs to leave for a couple hours in the middle of the day to go have lunch at their kids’ school, I support that.”

She understands the tug of family. Three years ago, she left Hayseed “to retire” – she says. Her air quotes, not mine.

“At the time, I had three small children and I was lucky to be able to step away from the day-to-day running of the business.

“Women probably suffer more guilt from working. So to create a win-win, I need to create a place where they enjoy being, where they have the flexibility to be a good mom, and they’re being challenged and rewarded. We need to live to work, not work to live.”

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