Inset: Julie Bashkin.
As a Fulbright Scholar and engagement manager at McKinsey & Company's Chicago office, Julie Bashkin was well versed in creating business plans and working with consumer packaged goods clients. But when it came to launching KLUTCHclub -- a subscription-service company of health, fitness and wellness products -- she found the best approach was diving into execution. Here, Julie shares her experience transitioning from established consultant to first-time entrepreneur.
How did you come up with the idea of KLUTCHclub and bring it to life?
Julie Bashkin: KLUTCHclub came about as a collision of three different forces in my life. One was around a personal passion for health and wellness as a result of weight and health struggles in my mid-twenties, and a constant quest for healthy products to aid in maintaining my fitness level while on the road every week.
The second force was the learnings I gained from consulting consumer-packaged goods and retail clients and navigating the fragmented industry. I noticed most of the brands are niche and they struggle with effective multi-channel marketing.
The third force was the subscription-model trend in cosmetics, that I thought was very applicable to the consumer struggle with health products: not knowing which products and brands to trust, where to find the right ones and distinguishing between gimmicks and what is actually good for you. Coupled with the existence of tech platforms like social media and viral marketing, this led me to believe that being ahead of the trend in e-commerce, social commerce and digital marketing was very important right now and I should jump in while I can. I merged all these insights and came up with the subscription-based model of trying new products and services.
I then came up with the term KLUTCHclub because "KLUTCH" has an athlete connotation and means a good play or player and "club" is something exclusive that one belongs to and gets member privileges.
What are the most challenging parts of starting a delivery-based business?
Julie Bashkin: Customer acquisition is of course a challenge when you are bootstrapping and have no budget, so getting awareness is difficult. Though once we get awareness, we seem to have high conversion rates. The technological execution is also challenging, especially for me, as I do not have expertise in this space and I found few people in Chicago who do. The operations are challenging because the logistics are a bit more complicated than they seem. Curating, receiving product, putting boxes together and shipping them out is not an automated process.
After years of developing business plans for clients, can you describe the process of creating your own?
Julie Bashkin: This is the most ironic piece! My own business plan was an exercise on a napkin in November, followed by some sketches on the beach in Hawaii in December, followed by phone calls to brand partners in January and most people saying, "Are you out of your mind? Who is going to partner with you? You don’t even have a website?"
After years of diligent planning, robust analytics and a lot of data, I was taught by a brilliant man -- who became one of my closest friends and mentors at my old job -- that the key to success is a mix of art and science. It’s trying something very fast and failing fast and early, and getting a lot of feedback and iterating your idea. So while the first month was spent in a mix of tactical execution and trial and strategic planning, the amount of time I spent on the business plan itself was very minimal. It has been a whirlwind - crazy fast, exciting, aggressive and we were delightfully surprised at the early success.
What issues have you faced as a female business owner and how have you overcome them?
Julie Bashkin: I did not ever consider my gender to be a limitation in business, but I do think women face unique challenges. I came from a world where I was usually the only woman in the room or one of few women in the room, but I always had close female and male mentors. In the start-up world, there are few female entrepreneurs, so I have very few female peers. There are even fewer female investors.
I also have encountered another interesting phenomenon. Several people have asked me when I plan to have children and how I will balance that with running a company. I do not think this is a question males have to answer very often. I should not be expected to have to share details of my family planning and my commitment to my job or my ability to balance my personal life with my job. This should also never be in question just because I am a female business leader, but unfortunately it has been.
How do you find the right talent to grow your organization and ensure they’ll be the right fit?
Julie Bashkin: This has been the number one challenge! And I also hope that what I am about to say will not discourage anyone from applying to KLUTCHclub because we are hiring! Finding good people is very difficult. We do have a very structured hiring process as well as a robust process for what we call "people development.”
How do you measure success?
Julie Bashkin: I come from a very structured and analytical culture that encouraged hard metrics, scorecards and performance goals. I have carried a lot of that culture with me to KLUTCHclub, but we still have some progress to make in this area.
For the business, I have hard quantitative metrics -- mostly around revenue targets -- and softer, more qualitative metrics around the happiness level, success and development of my team.
For myself, personally, I measure it mostly from a perspective of, “Am I getting out of this what I enjoy most in a career: intellectual challenges and new ways of solving problems, variety in my day-to-day, meeting new and interesting people, and balance with my personal life and interests?”
So far I have exceeded my expectations on the first three points, but unfortunately have failed on the last. My goal for this year is to attempt to regain some of that balance.
What advice you would give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Julie Bashkin: Spend less time thinking and planning and more time doing. I spent about a month on my business plan before I started executing and that was probably a month too long. We launched and grew incredibly fast and it was only because we were very aggressive about putting product out for feedback and iterating on what we have, even if it is not perfect.
Do not try to do everything on your own, especially if your reason for doing that is to not give away equity. Even without a budget there is always a way to find people to help. There are many things I am not good at, so I am not afraid of giving away my equity to bring on people who have skills and capabilities that I do not have.
Do not take money from people who do not share your vision. While it is very important to be flexible – to be ready to "pivot" and take advice from people with more experience - it is also very important to follow your instinct and pursue the right business model that you believe in.
Rachel Gillman has an insatiable appetite for dining out and an obsession with the restaurant industry. She's also fascinated by entrepreneurs and enjoys uncovering the story behind building a business from scratch. You can follow her on Twitter @RachelGillman.