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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I walk into a room full of men and I know exactly what they're thinking: "What does she know about whisky?"
I know this because many men have asked me that same question from the moment I started my career in spirits a decade ago.
In a male-dominated industry, I realized early on that I would always have to work harder than my male counterparts to prove my credibility, ability and knowledge in order to earn the trust of leadership stakeholders, coworkers, vendors and even consumers of our products. I am no stranger to hard work and appreciate that everyone needs to prove their worth when starting any career or role. What struck me however, was how the recognition and opportunities seemed to differ between genders. Women usually had to prove themselves before they were accepted and promoted ("do the work first and earn it"), whereas men often were more easily accepted and promoted on future potential. It seemed like their credibility was automatically and immediately assumed. Regardless of the challenges and adversity I faced, my focus was on proving my worth within the industry, and I know many other women were doing the same.
Thankfully, the industry has advanced in the last few years since those first uncomfortable meetings. The rooms I walk into are no longer filled with just men, and perceptions are starting to change significantly. There are more women than ever before making, educating, selling, marketing and conceptualizing whiskies and spirits of all kinds. Times are changing for the better and it's benefitting the industry overall, which is exciting to see.
For me, starting a career in the spirits business was a happy accident. Before spirits, I had worked in the hospitality industry and on the creative agency side. That background just happened to be what a spirits company was looking for at the time and thus began my journey in the industry. I was lucky that my gender did not play a deciding role in the hiring process, as I know that might not have been the case for everyone at that time.
Now, ten plus years later, I am fortunate to work for and lead one of the most renowned and prestigious Whisky brands in the world.. What was once an accident now feels like my destiny. The talent and skill that goes into the whisky-making process is what inspired me to come back and live and breathe those brands as if they were my own. It gave me a deep understanding and appreciation of an industry that although quite large, still has an incredible amount of handmade qualities and a specific and meticulous craft I have not seen in any other industry before. Of course, my journey has not been without challenges, but those obstacles have only continued to light my passion for the industry.
The good news is, we're on the right track. When you look at how many females hold roles in the spirits industry today compared to what it looked like 15 years ago, there has been a significant increase in both the number of women working and the types of roles women are hired for. From whisky makers and distillers to brand ambassadors and brand marketers, we're seeing more women in positions of influence and more spirits companies willing to stand up and provide a platform for women to make an impact. Many would likely be surprised to learn that one of our team's Whisky Makers is a woman. They might even be more surprised to learn that women, with a heightened sense of smell compared to our male counterparts, might actually be a better fit for the role! We're nowhere near equality, but the numbers are certainly improving.
It was recently reported by the Distilled Spirits Council that women today represent a large percentage of whisky drinkers and that has helped drive U.S. sales of distilled spirits to a record high in 2017. Today, women represent about 37% of the whisky drinkers in the United States, which is a large increase compared to the 1990s when a mere 15% of whisky drinkers were women. As for what's causing this change? I believe it's a mix of the acceptance of women to hold roles within the spirits industry partnered with thoughtful programs and initiatives to engage with female consumers.
While whisky was previously known for being a man's drink, reserved for after-dinner cigars behind closed doors, it is now out in the open and accessible for women to learn about and enjoy too.
What was once subculture is now becoming the norm and women are really breaking through and grabbing coveted roles in the spirits business. That said, it's up to the industry as a whole to continue to push it forward. When you work for a company that values diversity, you're afforded the opportunity to be who you are and let that benefit your business. Working under the model that the best brand initiatives come from passionate groups of people with diverse backgrounds, we are able to offer different points of view and challenge our full team to bring their best work forward, which in turn creates better experiences for our audience. We must continue to diversify the industry and break against the status quo if we really want to continue evolving.
While we've made great strides as an industry, there is still a lot of work to be done. To make a change and finally achieve gender equality in the workplace, both men and women need to stand behind the cause as we are better collectively as a balanced industry. We have proved that we have the ability to not only meet the bar, but to also raise it - now we just need everyone else to catch up.