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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The 'Women at the Top' blog is part of a series of online and print publications that focuses on women's achievements in business. With up-to-date news and incisive analysis, the blog will provoke discussion on the role of the world's most prominent businesswomen. www.ft.com/womenblog

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.