Gifting is often arbitrary and daunting. Finding the perfect present is almost impossible. We usually pick something small and random like a gift card or money to give to our friends and family because we don’t know what they like. To solve this problem, future-minded entrepreneur, Katy Aucoin has launched dearduck, an innovative app she says can turn the gift-exchange process into something easy and enjoyable for all parties. Designed as an information aggregator and disseminator, the app lets users check off what they like, or are in the market for, then suggests gifts to those in search off what to buy fellow app users. Auction's goal is to ultimately help people pick out something they will love without a hassle or worry.
In a digital age where we live most of our lives online, roaming aisles of bookstores and department stores is a thing of the past. Although we love Amazon, browsing it's disorganized and massive merchandise assortment, rarely help in the quest to find the perfect item. This is why Aucoin believes the future of gift-giving lies in dear duck, her tech offering that blends high-tech data analysis with human psychology, two of her passions.
1. Where did you go to school, and what did you study?
I went to LSU, studied accounting and my hometown is Baton Rouge Louisiana. I started as an IT consultant at EY specializing in data analytics right out of college.
2. When did you decide to launch dearduck and why?
It seemed like almost everyday I had to make decisions for other people that left me feeling like I was shooting in the dark. Which wine do they prefer? Are they gluten free? What scent makes them sneeze? What should I give them for their birthday? In 2015, I realized that I could combine my background in data analytics with this lifelong passion for the psychology behind gifting to revolutionize gifting. Essentially, I have combined my personal pain point, passion and profession into a solution that benefits many.
Today, dearduck makes it easier to make the right choices for others – every person in your life, for any reason and every budget — every, single, time.
Take the holidays for example, if your clients are in your dearduck flock & you want to give them a bottle of wine - we send the right wine recommendations directly to your inbox 30/14/7 days in advance so you never have to guess again– we even let you know if you should say Happy Hanukah or Merry Christmas!
We allow retailers to send the right recommendations for your flock. Before dearduck, their only option was to send generalized gift guides around the holiday calendar - such as the gift guide for her on Mother’s Day. It should be the gift guide for your mom at any given point throughout the year.
3. Tell me about the technology backend of what you do.
dearduck's Gifting Lens platform captures discreet user preferences across myriad categories delivering highly personalized gifting-focused user experiences, via a proprietary algorithm, to the user's network based on key dates or just because.
dearduck currently includes a rest API, a backend Admin panel for programming the user experiences and an MVP consumer facing IOS app where user experiences such as preference capturing techniques, and algorithm evolutions are tested. In the near future the Gifting Lens platform will power a series of responsive B2B2C pilot experiences.
4. What is the goal of the company? What do you hope to bring to the world?
Our goal is to facilitate successful gift exchanges for any relationship, personal or professional, and for any occasion or just because. Successful exchanges say, "I know you", "I understand you", "I appreciate you" resulting in strengthened relationships - our mission.
5. How do you innovate the app? Any plans in the works?
The API allows us to create new front ends using the existing platform and features relatively easily. The admin panel allows our editorial and curation team to modify significant areas of the live app such as creating and modifying categories and preference tags, adding curated products, creating featured collections and alerting users of key features. Publishing a change in the admin updates the app almost immediately.
Our staging environments make it quick and easy for the team to experiment with programming via the staging admin and perform quality control before taking a feature or experience live.
6. How many users do you have? How do you acquire new customers?
We launched the dearduck MVP in app stores this summer and have seen crazy success. Our goal for the MVP was to test and iterate our preference collection, gift recommendation algorithm, and our gift recommendation delivery experience, on a consumer target of women between the ages of 21-45; essentially building the foundations of our platform. The initial user based found us primarily through word-of-mouth and social media and through this pool of users, we have made thousands of gift recommendations and have gotten excellent feedback. What we did not expect, frankly, was how quickly we would receive Interest from brands. This interest has propelled the prioritization of further development of our Gifting Lens platform in order to power B2B2C features and experiences in addition to B2C. We will be launching our pilot in Q4.
7. Can you quickly take me through the usage journey? How does the app work in layman's terms? How is it priced for the consumer?
The MVP version of dearduck can be found in the app store. Users select their preferences across various categories, such as gluten-free/sour/fruity/candy and invite their friends to do the same. We alert users when birthdays and important holidays are coming up so they never miss an opportunity to be thoughtful. Users can browse our curated catalog of thousands of products or easily filter the catalog by a contact's name to see highly personalized recommendations for each member of their Circle. The user can feel confident about their choice because we never return a recommendation that does not match the user's preferences. Additionally, users can filter by budget, categories or featured collections if desired. Universal, secure checkout is available in the app so that our users can easily purchase across retailers but only have to check out once.
This fall, we are releasing a web and e-mail based version of our app. Users will be invited to take a quick preference quiz from their favorite retailers and influencers – they can easily share with friends to do the same. We will send recommendations for their flock right to their inbox.
Also, our app is free for users!
8. What is next for you? What is the ultimate goal?
Gifting is hard to get right yet the goal for gifting is vitally important to building and strengthening key relationships. And it is not just hard for families and friends, It is hard for corporations, it is hard for employers, it is hard for brands. Yet, gifting is not something people do once or twice a year, it is constant. Whether it is a bottle of wine for a host, an incentive gift from a company to a recruit, a thank you from a corporation to a client, or a thinking of you gesture for a friend or contact, gifting is a constant part of our lives and it carries huge meaning. Because of this it currently is a constant source of stress. We intend to revolutionize gifting and help strengthen all types of relationships by powering experiences that offer the right choices for the right person at the right time.
9. How do you think this app can change people's lives?
People lack the information they need to make the right choice for each person in their lives at the right time. So they project their own desires when selecting a gift. It is human nature!
When you lack the information you make an educated guess and you cannot help but apply your own preferences in the process. When picking out a candle for someone else what do you do? You smell it and you say, "that smells pretty good!" But what if the receiver is allergic to floral scents or hates the smell of vanilla candles (even if she loves vanilla ice cream)? A lot of time and a lot of money is wasted today. We intend to make people's lives easier and their relationships stronger by making the needed information readily accessible. With our platform, ideally, gifters can access the information they need at anytime and anywhere in order to make the right choice.
10. As a woman in tech, what has your experience been like? Have you ever faced any discrimination?
I didn’t realize that I had been treated differently until I read Aileen Lee’s Tech Crunch article and realized that I had been been asked every single one of these questions in almost every investment meeting.
I have surrounded myself with support from people like Carolyn Rodz, Elizabeth Gore & Jesse Draper who are committed to closing the gender gap. I also have a lot of incredible male as advisors who are committed to supporting women in tech.
11. Can you remind us how much you've raised to date, and who your investors are?
For the last 1.5 years, dearduck's operations and product development have been funded by angel investors and good, old-fashioned bootstrapping. We are in the process of closing out a seed round that will enable us to launch our b2b efforts & major retail partnerships. Our seed round includes Halogen Ventures, Circular Board & Angel Investors.
12. What advice would you give to a woman following a similar career path to you?
Think about what change you want to see in the world – the product that gets you there may be far from what you originally thought. As you go, look at the data and if it's not telling you want you want it to tell you, figure out what will. Don’t be afraid to pivot… find out who needs your product the most and how to make it even better for them. The rest will follow.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.