Business 21 December 2017
I am always texting. I haven't been on Facebook since college, (crazy, I know), I don't get Twitter, and Instagram is growing on me. Yea, I sound a lot older than 31, but I'm not alone. I live in my texts. We all do. Emails are work, apps are annoying to download and I never remember to open them. But there's a reason that text messages have a 96 percent open rate - they're from my friends and family.
It pains me to say that apps are annoying because that's the world I'm coming from. I've built and run two iPhone apps and learned a lot - enough to never build one again. Don't get me wrong, building apps was a lot of fun. Building one for CollegeHumor was particularly fun. But we bent over backwards to get people to download it. Then we did backflips to get people to open it, and play it. It was an awesome experience that we had to beg people to have. You don't have to beg people to send texts.
I wanted to tether the real world, where your real friends and family actually talk, to a commerce experience. And that's why I started Shop Or Not, the weekly text message you can shop. We text you one new thing, once a week. That's it.
Your friend sees something you'd love and texts you a pic of it. We're that friend. All you have to do is text back 'Yes' and the item is shipped right to your door. That's it, pure texting - just one picture and a few sentences. No website, no app. So many times when I found myself out and about, I wouldn't buy much (yes, I hate shopping, and yes, I started a shopping company), but I would so often take pictures of things I saw that my friends would like. It is so simple, something millions of people already do every day, and best of all for someone who hates shopping, the whole experience takes about 30 seconds. We're taking you out of the store, and meeting you where you are these days.
Co-Founders, Kelly O'Malley and Kate Myers
Everything we text about is totally curated, from small batch coffee pods made in Montana to spicy chili granola made in Brooklyn to leather bags sewn in Tennessee and pocket squares made in Texas. Each product is one of a kind, made in America, we absolutely love it, and you've probably never seen anything like it before. If you only ever want to text about chocolate, great. If you only want items made in Colorado, great. Through the text conversation, we get to know you, chatting back and forth about what you like, and that way we'll be able to text you only the best stuff. If you text us any questions, like, “Is that chili granola super spicy? I'm more into sweet breakfast", then we remember that too and make sure you don't get texted anything you'll want to spit out.
Retail is evolving rapidly from the times of wandering stores and running your fingers across fabrics. Those were the days, when you only had so many choices and you could touch them all. Shop Or Not covers one of those crucial bases: fewer choices. In the area of 20-Tabs-Open-On-My-Laptop, fewer choices is a great thing. The in-store experience is limited by four walls and shelf space. Wandering around, revisiting, and discussing items with your shopping mates is a pretty lovely, cozy experience. We'd like to recreate a bit of that intimacy, while also making it so much simpler.
I believe texting, an old-fashioned technology, is the next best thing to the in-store experience, the perfect tether between the old and new ways of shopping. It's so intimate. Which means it's all about trust. It's not an ad or an app telling you what to get, it's your friend. Texting you just one thing at a time. From someone you know, who knows what you'll like, and knows that if you don't like it, you'll text back a thumbs down emoji.
Keeping it super simple is super underrated. I learned that from years of making fun but fundamentally complicated apps.
Texting is really good at some things, not so great at others. It's one way to reimagine the retail experience, but not the ultimate reinvention. For example, I would never buy a couch over text. That's something I need to look at for a while and probably put through the highly sophisticated Butt Test. Texting, however, is really good at reminding you of things, for instance. With every Shop Or Not text, you can reply 'Yes' to buy. After a while, we saw a lot of customers responding 'Gift' to be able to send the item to someone else. That gave us an idea. We texted our customers to ask, “Any special occasions coming up? Let us know your big dates this year." And we got an overwhelming response rate: people texted us back with birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and so many special times. We scheduled texts two weeks out from every occasion to say, “Hey there, your mom's birthday is coming up, here are three gift ideas." And we watched the champagne marshmallows fly off the metaphorical shelf.
Technology moves really fast. People don't. I mean, I've run multiple tech companies and I definitely don't. Forcing apps and bots and complicated websites on people isn't what they want, it's what brands want. What people want is simply to talk to each other. Of course. So we met them there. Said hi. And texted them one awesome thing.
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"Sh*t!" my daughter exclaimed as she dropped her iPad to the floor. A little bit of context; my daughter Victoria absolutely loves her iPad. And as I watched her bemoan the possible destruction of her favorite device, I thought to myself, "If I were in her position, I'd probably say the exact same thing."
In the Rastegar family, a word is only a bad word if used improperly. This is a concept that has almost become a family motto. Because in our household, we do things a little differently. To put it frankly, our practices are a little unconventional. Completely safe, one hundred percent responsible- but sure, a little unconventional.
And that's because my husband Ari and I have always felt akin in one major life philosophy; we want to live our lives our way. We have dedicated ourselves to a lifetime of questioning the world around us. And it's that philosophy that has led us to some unbelievable discoveries, especially when it comes to parenting.
Ari was an English major. And if there's one thing that can be said about English majors, it's that they can be big-time sticklers for the rules. But Ari also thinks outside of the box. And here's where these two characteristics meet. Ari was always allowed to curse as a child, but only if the word fit an appropriate and relevant context. This idea came from Ari's father (his mother would have never taken to this concept), and I think this strange practice really molded him into the person he is today.
But it wasn't long after we met that I discovered this fun piece of Ari Rastegar history, and I got to drop a pretty awesome truth bomb on Ari. My parents let me do the same exact thing…
Not only was I allowed to curse as a child, but I was also given a fair amount of freedom to do as I wanted. And the results of this may surprise you. You see, despite the lack of heavy regulating and disciplining from my parents, I was the model child. Straight A's, always came home for curfew, really never got into any significant trouble- that was me. Not trying to toot my own horn here, but it's important for the argument. And don't get the wrong impression, it's not like I walked around cursing like a sailor.
Perhaps I was allowed to curse whenever I wanted, but that didn't mean I did.
And this is where we get to the amazing power of this parenting philosophy. In my experience, by allowing my own children to curse, I have found that their ability to self-regulate has developed in an outstanding fashion. Over the past few years, Victoria and Kingston have built an unbelievable amount of discipline. And that's because our decision to allow them to curse does not come without significant ground rules. Cursing must occur under a precise and suitable context, it must be done around appropriate company, and the privilege cannot be overused. By following these guidelines, Victoria and Kingston are cultivating an understanding of moderation, and at a very early age are building a social awareness about when and where certain types of language are appropriate. And ultimately, Victoria and Kingston are displaying the same phenomenon present during my childhood. Their actual instances of cursing are extremely low.
And beneath this parenting strategy is a deeper philosophy. Ari and I first and foremost look at parenting as educators. It is not our job to dictate who our children will be, how they shall behave, and what their future should look like.
We are not dictators; we are not imposing our will on them. They are autonomous beings. Their future is in their hands, and theirs alone.
Rather, we view it as our mission to show our children what the many possibilities of the world are and prepare them for the litany of experiences and challenges they will face as they develop into adulthood. Now, when Victoria and Kingston come across any roadblocks, they have not only the tools but the confidence to handle these tensions with pride, independence, and knowledge.
And we have found that cursing is an amazing place to begin this relationship as educators. By allowing our children to curse, and gently guiding them towards the appropriate use of this privilege, we are setting a groundwork of communication that will eventually pay dividends as our children grow curious of less benign temptations; sex, drugs, alcohol. There is no fear, no need to slink behind our backs, but rather an open door where any and all communication is rewarded with gentle attention and helpful wisdom.
The home is a sacred place, and honesty and communication must be its foundation. Children often lack an ability to communicate their exact feelings. Whether out of discomfort, fear, or the emotional messiness of adolescence, children can often be less than transparent. Building a place of refuge where our children feel safe enough to disclose their innermost feelings and troubles is, therefore, an utmost priority in shepherding their future. Ari and I have come across instances where our children may have been less than truthful with a teacher, or authority figure simply because they did not feel comfortable disclosing what was really going on. But with us, they know that honesty is not only appreciated but rewarded and incentivized. This allows us to protect them at every turn, guard them against destructive situations, and help guide and problem solve, fully equipped with the facts of their situation.
And as crazy as it all sounds- I really believe in my heart that the catalogue of positive outcomes described above truly does stem from our decision to allow Victoria and Kingston to curse freely.
I know this won't sit well with every parent out there. And like so many things in life, I don't advocate this approach for all situations. In our context, this decision has more than paid itself off. In another, it may exacerbate pre-existing challenges and prove to be only a detriment to your own family's goals.
As the leader of your household, this is something that you and you alone must decide upon with intentionality and wisdom.
Ultimately, Ari and I want to be the kind of people our children genuinely want to be around. Were we not their parents, I would hope that Victoria and Kingston would organically find us interesting, warm, kind, funny, all the things we aspire to be for them each and every day.
We've let our children fly free, and fly they have. They are amazing people. One day, when they leave the confines of our home, they will become amazing adults. And hopefully, some of the little life lessons and eccentric parenting practices we imparted upon them will serve as a support for their future happiness and success.