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 of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.