ABOUT BOUCHRA AND SOPHIE:
Imagine wearing a beautiful gold choker with black onyx cabochons on the end. It’s on-trend, stunning … but wait, it’s only $200? And it’s real gold?
Yes. Thanks to a dream of two best friends – Bouchra Ezzahraoui and Sophie Kahn – over a Sunday brunch, exquisite gold jewelry brand AUrate came to life. AUrate, which is “AU” for gold (thanks, chemistry class!) and is pronounced “OR-ate” (because, like an “orator” the brand tells a story), was launched in December 2014. Inspired by Warby Parker, what sets the brand apart is its ability to offer high-quality gold jewelry direct-to-consumer. By cutting out the middleman, the brand can offer customers stunning jewelry at up to 50-to-75% off typical industry prices. As Morocco-raised Bouchra says, “Gold is extremely expensive in the United States.”
The duo, who met while attending graduate school at Princeton in 2009, built AUrate while holding full-time jobs, taking classes in design and hosting pop-up shops on the side. Beyond the hustle, what’s so impressive about Bouchra and Sophie is their deep passion for educating consumers about the differences in gold and other jewelry, saying stores carry, “Fine jewelry or fashion pieces you’d pay a lot for, but are not really made out of fine materials.” One example of that? Fashion jewelry that turns one’s fingers green! Facing this problem themselves, research confirmed, after some digging, what they had already known: In retail there was either affordable fashion jewelry or expensive fine jewelry. There was nothing in the middle, and a gap needed to be filled.
Others caught on and quickly agreed. Once the demand took off, the two decided to dive into the company full-throttle. While Sophie focuses on the fashion and design side of the business, Bouchra is drawn to the business side. In episode 24 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast, Editor and Host Polina Selyutin speaks with Bouchra and Sophie about the strategies they used that resulted in 400% annual growth, advice to other entrepreneurs, and combining their individual background in math and finance with design, art and social purpose.
TOPICS DISCUSSED IN TODAY’S SHOW:
- Facing Challenges: Bouchra and Sophie say the most challenging aspect of starting and managing a business was building connections with suppliers. The downside of being direct-to-consumer, they note, is that as a brand you have to create all of your own marketing, which the AUrate has achieved through various pop-up locations and their online retail business.
- Growing Gains: Since launching during December 2014, AUrate has experienced 400% growth each year since. During the first year of launch, Bouchra and Sophie’s roles have changed from handling sales and inventory to overseeing and managing operations, their team and strategy. “The hardest part is going from the 0 to 1 customers,” Bouchra says. “It becomes easier going from the 1 to N customer.” The popups were a helpful strategy to help AUrate develop a proof of concept and attract exposure for the product line and initial sales, as well as validate their ideas.
- The Very First Time: “I remember the first [pop-up] we did in SOHO was in September or October of last year, and we were really scared,” Sophie says. “We only rented it for 10 days! We were very anxious about doing it and giving the check,” they say. However, once they saw customers loving – and buying – their jewelry they felt inspired and emboldened to keep going.
- A Passion for Education: Inspired by the buy one, give one business model, for every piece of jewelry sold, AUrate donates a book to Mastery Charter. Furthermore, every time a piece of jewelry is sold, a note is tucked inside that shows which book was donated. Why give back? Bouchra says, “We met here. America gave us a chance to build our business, and we want to give back to the community.”
- Sophie’s Early Influences: Born in Holland to parents who guided her toward higher education, when she was young, Sophie had to read a book every week. Although Sophie was always passionate about fashion, when she was 18 years old, her parents convinced her to study a more numbers-oriented profession. So, Sophie completed a Master’s Degree in finance at Princeton before eventually following her inner drive to a creative role. “In retrospect I am very happy with [my path], because I think it gives you a broader background and really trains your mind,” she says.
- Bouchra’s Early Influences: Bouchra says she was the “black sheep” in her family who was studying math and had dreams of being a pilot. But, math is what she’s always loved. “I love how clear, how pure, how consistent math is. I think it’s something that you use in everyday life. We think in a non-linear way. We think in a mathematical way … and I just went for it. It was the only thing I liked,” she says. “At some point in my life, I had to choose a career, so I came up with finance.”
- All Together Now: It’s said that everything happens for a reason, and it was through finance that Sophie and Bouschra met, became friends and also became connected with other mentors. The two also feel strongly that their finance and economics background has given them an advantage in building and managing AUrate.
- Making It Happen: When it comes to education versus on-the-job experience Sophie believes, “I actually think you learn more in your jobs.”
- On Prioritization: The duo agrees that when launching a business, life is basically filled with family, friends and work. They say, “Having a startup is like having a newborn baby. It consumes you.”
- Taking A Breather: Bouchra and Sophie are big believers in taking breaks for meditation and use the Headspace app to take a break.
- On Starting A Company: “It is one of the most exciting things you can do in your life. Anyone can work on business plans, or think about building a business or working on a business, but you can only live it or feel it when you do it for real,” Sophie says.
- The Motto: “Just do it” is the motto Bouchra and Sophie live by. It’s also the advice they give to others who have business ideas. All of us can be stuck in business plans, analysis and other doubts, they say, but at the end of your day you have to just do it.
- Connect: Follow AUrate on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest