Business 24 September 2017
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.
It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.
Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.
Read with a Purpose
Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.
Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.
When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.
Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.
You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.
Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.
Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.
If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.
Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.