Rechelle Coombes, entrepreneur and founder of Socielle, spoke at our screening of The True Cost in 2016. We recently chatted to understand why she's decided to wrap up the business and what's in store next.
SS: Socielle set out to change the way we shop, can you share what you set out to do, and when you realised the market wasn't ready for it?
Being a 'mainstream' consumer with a conscience I had set out to educate people 'just like me' who were buying unconsciously to understand the importance of considering ethics as part of their motivation for a purchase. I knew this was ahead of the curve and going to be a struggle and it definitely was. Don't get me wrong, I had endless positive compliments and great brand awareness but struggled with sales.
As part of my marketing activity I did ethical festivals and lifestyle markets and then received feedback that I was missing one of my huge core tribes who were actually ready to buy and didn't need to be educated - this was the 'vegan' market. However my store was not strictly vegan; it was ethical but I do sell ethical leather items so I would need to re-adjust the model to suit that.
The ethical retail market still has huge leaps forward to gain before it reaches mainstream, I can only hope it happens sooner rather than later for the sake of our planet and its people.
SS: There's the saying 'there's no failure, only feedback', which is true for your experience with Socielle. At what point did you decide you had invested enough time and money in this startup?Socielle is still live; but I no longer invest my time and energy into growing the business. At my own fault I realised that retail was not for me; ethical or not. I was beyond the years of wanting to photograph fashion or accessories and post about things I was wearing / doing in those items - it just wasn't me.
For 9 months throughout 2016 I poured my heart and soul into my business whilst working full time and dealing with a multitude of personal, family and health issues and it tore me to pieces by the end of it. I think the defining moment came in December when a friend suddenly passed away at just 31 years old. I hadn't seen her in years, but she was close to my family and we spent a lot of time together in our early twenties. It shocked me more than I could have thought and it really made me think about living a life that made me happy; doing things that made me excited not a chore. 2017 I decided was my year for living every day like it was my last.
So I looked at finding ways I could do more of what I was good at, stay happy and be able to work from anywhere because my long dream has been to live overseas. I couldn't do it with a retail stock based venture and listened to some very insightful friends (including Bridget Wood & Jess Jones) who saw my passion for marketing and technology after I shared an idea I'd had for many years but was too scared to share for fear of failure or maybe a fear of success. Sometimes people can see you better than you see yourself so listen carefully to those around you (but know when to listen!).
SS: What were your greatest learnings from the experience? How has it paved the way for your next venture?
I think I always wanted to understand more about retail marketing and it definitely taught me so much! I've been working in corporate marketing for over 12 years and in that time have also consulted various small businesses on how to attract and retain customers but doing it taught me so much more. One of the biggest realisations was the ability to grow and attract awareness through social influence; I'm not just talking about Instagram models but a variety of new media including Facebook/Instagram but blogs, email lists, podcasts, events and more.
I was working full time running my business; finding these new 'micro media' opportunities required hours of trawling through Facebook groups, searching for like-minded brands or people with good engagement and then having to enquire, acquire their media kits; negotiate a deal, book and then wait for a campaign; I just knew there had to be a better way.
About 8 years ago I considered the prospect of being able to advertise on almost anything and thus the culmination of ideas, experience and my frustrations lead me to create and develop an online marketplace platform to connect brands to non-traditional media opportunities to expand their reach in a foolproof way - something I very proudly built by myself from the ground up. The platform is Promoterly and has been in Beta for about a month after launching at Pausefest after being a selected Start-up for their expo.
SS: In April you are pitching Promoterly, your new business concept, Shark-Tank style, for $500k in investment. Tell us about the idea and how you are preparing for such monumental event!
I was lucky enough to be accepted into a female tech founders pitch ready program through ELEVACAO that was started by Marisa Warren a female tech leader and Karen Jacobson (the Australian voice of Siri) after they met in an elevator in New York. We were the first 8 leaders to be selected for the first Melbourne division and after two practice pitches (one utterly dismal!) I was selected as part of the top three to pitch at an event in Melbourne on the 4th of April.
The program has prepared us with our content and practice to get us ready to be asked all the hard questions! I am most scared of my financials particularly because they are quite attractive and looking at something and saying it could be worth millions and with data to back that up scares the bejesus out of me! I was scared of overinflating the potential value because I laugh at people on the TV show who claim they will make millions without even having their first sale.
But Promoterly has started strong with 100 brands signed up pre launch and more applying every day. I'm focused on trying to maintain momentum right now and building a robust platform; second to that is attracting investment which could mean having to quit my day job and go all out to scale as fast as possible. I'm shit scared about it, but super excited about the potential - pitching is the scariest thing I could ever do (scarier than jumping out of a plane or bungee jumping if you ask me!).
SS: To be an entrepreneur means to have a healthy appetite for risk, and big belief in your dreams. What inspires you?
Knowing that I have the potential to leave a legacy. I love that morbid question about what would you want people to say about you in your obituary. I live my life so that my family, friends and one day my children know I wanted to make my life count, that I made a contribution somehow to changing the lives or life of just someone. I've been given an incredible opportunity to live where I live, to be a woman and do what I do, to have the common sense I have, the aptitude to solve problems and the love of creating better experiences. I don't do the things I do to be a millionaire; I do the things I do to make my life count, to live every day like it was my last and to hopefully inspire others to do the same no matter what set-backs or life challenges they have.
Bravo, Rechelle. We'll certainly be watching with interest!
Check out Promoterly at https://promoterly.com/