Check out our interview with Sarira Sayad, founder of the luxury handbag marketplace Luxuca.
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Angela: Welcome to The Crowd, a podcast where we discuss the collaborative economy. I’m your host, Angela Baldwin.
Today, we’re talking to Sarira Sayad, the founder and CEO of Luxuca, about how to carve your own path.
Hi everyone. It’s Angela Baldwin with Near Me. I’m so excited to welcome Sarira Sayad, the founder and CEO of Luxuca. Welcome to the podcast, Sarira.
Sarira: Thank you so much for having me.
Angela: Yes. I’m so excited to hear from you because I love to hear from different entrepreneurs and what they’re doing as far as the marketplace space. But before we get started and talk about your business, I’d love to hear a little bit about who you are and what brought you to where you are now.
Sarira: Absolutely. So if you don’t mind, I’ll just start with something that I think is really a central part of entrepreneurship for me. And there is this great quote that says courage is being yourself every day in a world that tells you to be someone else. For me, I think that entrepreneurs who are born entrepreneurs really have this courage to carve out their own path. And if I had to guess for myself, I definitely will say I’m a born entrepreneur.
Angela: That’s awesome.
Sarira: Yeah. So for as long as I can remember, I was a very independent and unafraid kind of child and I wanted to discover new things. It was always exciting for me to bite off a bit more than I could chew and just discover things a little bit beyond my grasp and beyond my years and bigger than me in some ways. So going back to my passions, I’d say that I’m a very artistic and crafty person and that started like at a very young age. I love to create art but also to work with my hands and touch wood and leather and create something wonderful out of that rawness. Parallel to that, I would say there may be some tendencies of entrepreneurship. I was very much a tomboy, very competitive. But my mother did have this very feminine and graceful side to her and she loved her European fashion. She was always immaculate and kept her French and Italian made clothing and accessories for decades.
So I definitely learned that from her. And all these kind of formed me into becoming a teenager in high school. In high school, I became this problem solver. I was the kid who maybe didn’t have an allowance but everybody came to for money somehow. I could solve their problems, their issues. And then I just knew how to make money in creative ways and then started my first ventures during my teenage years. That was kind of the beginning of entrepreneurship for me.
Angela: That’s wonderful. So as far as that starting you off in your entrepreneurial ways, what is Luxuca? What are you doing now? What is this marketplace? Can you share a little bit about what it’s all about?
Sarira: Absolutely. So just before that, I wanted to say that I went to a graphic design – I got into graphic design background and I also have an artistic background. So before attending McGill University, I went through a curvilinear period where I withdrew from McGill. I had started wanting to be a lawyer but then withdrew and then followed my passion into arts and graphics. And just to tie in to Luxuca, what really drew me towards this business, I was always fascinated with products that were at the intersection of functionality and design and I would say more particularly containers. I love containers because they are products that facilitate our daily lives but they can also reflect our aesthetic sensibilities and style. So I just love a well-crafted box or trunk or bag because of this exact reason.
And then the fashion part of it, the luxury fashion interest came in a little bit later when I was gifted some beautiful luxury handbags during the time I was in school but I needed money to pay for my studies and I was really – I started selling them and I was really astonished at how much of their value they retain. Then when I finished university, that’s what really propelled me to launch Luxuca in 2010. Basically, Luxuca is a members-only club where customers can shop and sell through consignment, authenticated, new and pre-owned luxury handbags and accessories in a way that’s both economical and ecological.
Angela: Wow. That’s a fantastic story. I love that you had first-hand experience as to what it would look like to resell an item of high value and saw what that really meant and what you could do with it. That’s a great way to kind of have a first-hand experience with that.
Sarira: Absolutely. The turnover was quick and it retained so much of its value that I was amazed. I thought well the next person will probably be able to do the same thing. And so I thought what a great way. I’m sure I’m not the only person that has this need to resell these items and clear up their closets. So that’s why I decided to start the business.
Angela: That’s fantastic. So as far as Luxuca, a lot of times people start different businesses and get into a certain space and this was 2010. Did you have some struggles promoting a reselling marketplace at that time? What were some challenges maybe that you faced in the beginning?
Sarira: Absolutely. I mean, back then between, I would say, 2005 and 2010, it wasn’t as cushioned. I would say entrepreneurs weren’t as cushioned. It was a lot more – there was a lot more risk taking involved and it wasn’t something that they were really teaching you in school per se. They were just giving you knowledge based tidbits but not really actionable things. So yeah, definitely, there were issues. I mean, I had one job after university which I left after a few weeks of starting and I just threw myself into the business. I didn’t have very much capital and I had a very low level credit card for example. So of course, having paid my way through university and being independent for a long time, I didn’t have much savings. Money was an issue and capital was an issue for a lot of people that start businesses.
Angela: Definitely. So what did you do to solve that problem as you started in the early days?
Sarira: Well, one of the great things that mitigated the money issue was the fact that my business when establishing it, it wasn’t capital intensive. It works on consignment. Therefore, people sell their luxury handbags. You can sell your Louis Vuitton handbag for example and then I would take a cut of that sale but it wouldn’t cost me anything to acquire it. And therefore, businesses that are not as capital intensive are definitely better for people who want to start right off the bat instead of trying to raise money first before starting the business. That was one way. And then it really did require all my artistic, graphic design and business skills from the very beginning. So I basically built the website myself, did all the photography myself, all the marketing and graphics myself. So really, it was just my time, my skill and then getting these products at a very low cost and then maintaining a very low key lifestyle at the beginning to be able to do that.
Angela: I’m so glad that you shared that. I think a lot of entrepreneurs forget that you just sort of have to be a one-woman or a one-man show in the beginning where you had your hands in all of these different types of projects and it really required that commitment from you as the founder to really make it something in the very beginning.
Sarira: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, you have to wear a lot of hats and this is the difference. I mean, some people come with different types of support systems which leads me to my next point of struggle which is that some people have support, some people have capital and all these things are great but if you don’t have the capital and if you don’t necessarily have support or membership, you’re not doomed. You could still make it and get those resources from other ways.
Angela: Definitely. So as far as the beginning stages of the business and where you are now, what is something you wish you knew back then that maybe you learned along the way?
Sarira: Well, there are a lot of things that I wish I knew. I mean, part of the struggle was also a lack of support and mentorship. You’re kind of jumping into an abyss. It’s risky and very few people are able to kind of digest that sort of chronic ambiguity and uncertainty. So people tend to project their fears on to you and they don’t mean it in a bad way but you really have to stay focused and cut out the noise. But I really did wish I knew back then how important it was to have a really good solid support network of people with skills such as a good lawyer, a good accountant, a great mentor, some guidance. All these things really help you avoid very costly mistakes that although they’ll make you tougher in the long run and more resilient in the long run, they definitely don’t save you any time. You can learn them in different ways.
Sarira: I would say other than that, wow, there are so many things. I mean, part of – a couple more things that were part of the struggle I’d have to say are discipline and balance. When you’re running your own business and starting your own business as an entrepreneur, personally I like to be organized but I’m naturally drawn to the lack of structure and schedule.
Sarira: And so that’s part of the allure of being an entrepreneur but you really have to constantly self regulate and follow the structure because you won’t get anything done otherwise or you may swing to one side of the pendulum where you work 24 hours a day and you get no sleep to the other side where you’re like in an analysis paralysis state where you don’t get very much done at all. So balance is just so important and trying to find that discipline and balance is also really important.
Angela: Wow. That’s some great advice. Definitely. So as far as the beginning stages when you were building supply and supply for you would be the handbags, the purses, the wallets, how did you do that? How did you find the people who had these luxury items? And how did you contact them to get them to participate in your marketplace?
Sarira: So I started out with the very few bags that I had myself and then I purchased a few more. And through them, I had already built my site and I just put them up there. And I just started marketing it through social media channels and I got a little bit of interest. It took a while to get my first sale. But then slowly, slowly, somebody contacted me from a different Canadian city and said, “You know what, I have all these bags. I have to sell it. Can I just ship them to you?” They took a leap of faith and they shipped them and that’s really how it started. It started rolling and grew organically slowly like hot cake. So, that’s the main way. I grew supply in a very organic word of mouth kind of way.
Angela: Do you feel that there’s something to be said about the timing of it? Because I feel like with marketplaces when there’s a supply side and a demand side, sometimes, people get impatient and they look for “okay, I have a marketplace up. I want to start making money and just starting to see transactions.” But you said that there’s a very organic approach in the beginning that took some time. How did you deal with that?
Sarira: The thing is when you’re doing, when you’re starting a business, you’re all involved. There are so many things going on that really the sale is the cherry on top. But if you’re passionate about what you do, the sale will just be an end result because you’ll put out an output that’s great that people will be interested in. Of course, I mean, you have to – your idea has to be good and it has to be an interesting market. And that bring us to the demand side. So you have to tap into a market that has a big potential to begin with. For example, the luxury handbag market in North America is $10 billion. So, if you want a tiny percentage of that, it’s going to be a really big market anyway, right?
Sarira: Yeah. So, the demand is there. You just kind of have to tap into it. And I think, in luxury in particular, experience is key into building loyalty. And experience translates into word of mouth. And social media is the best way to pass on that word of mouth. So that for me is the formula that’s worked to date.
Angela: Very good.
Sarira: And when I started back then, it didn’t – it wasn’t really – I mean, this kind of business wasn’t prevalent, as prevalent as it is today, for example. So, people establish their reputation before the business and now people trust it and that’s how it keeps the supply and demand coming.
Angela: Definitely. I mean, in 2010, I’m sure like eBay was booming and it was a different time and place. And now, today, you see marketplaces for all types of things.
Angela: I feel like the online consumer is getting more and more comfortable with trusting and participating. And do you think – have you – according to the data, I would ask, have you seen it boom in the last couple of years? Or when do you feel – what year do you think it really took off?
Sarira: 2011, it was percolating and then 2012, it really started to be more prevalent. And by 2013, we were seeing like a lot of things booming, a lot of marketplaces getting millions in investments and really growing big. And that sort of made it a lot more concrete and accepted way of doing business. It was kind of a disruptive sort of way of doing business but a lot more accepted now. So I would say for the past two, three years now, it’s really been growing very quickly.
Angela: Fantastic. So where do you imagine your business going? Like, where do you see you guys in five years?
Sarira: Well, in five years, I’d really like to see Luxuca as one of the top destinations in North America, online destinations for really beautifully crafted and luxury accessories. And I’d also like to evolve the philanthropic component of the business and really be more involved in the causes that are dear to me. Because for me, starting this business wasn’t really about money per se. It was more a way of creating a socially responsible business that was true to my values. And so having been brought up by a single mother, I have a particular appreciation of the difficulties that women go through and I’d love to be able to offer them support, guidance and opportunities for thriving independent life through this business and somehow channel back those funds from a woman to another woman and then back to the social fabric.
Angela: That’s great. That’s definitely something for people to be excited about.
Angela: I just recently purchased a bag from a company called the hiip.
Angela: And they do kind of like a fanny pack or you can turn it into a regular sized purse but they provide – for every purchase, they provide a bag for someone in need in San Francisco, a basic necessities bag.
Angela: And so, a one-for-one concept. But the purse, the idea, the bag concept just really jumped in my mind as you were talking about that and it would be really exciting to see what you could do with women and empowerment and the things that you just mentioned that you’re passionate about. There’s so much opportunity there. And so that’s great that you guys are heading in a very successful direction where you can use that for a social good component.
Sarira: Absolutely. When you grew up with certain challenges, you can really relate to them and I could definitely see this business – it would be very satisfying for me to see this business go in that direction and I’ll do everything that I can to keep it moving in that way. And of course, I love warehouses. So imagining like a big warehouse full of boxes – I love boxes and bags. So that’s kind of like very exciting to me.
Angela: That’s awesome. So as far as peer-to-peer services are involved, do you use any regularly?
Sarira: Well, I do still like eBay. I have to say this was my first love in some way in terms of peer-to-peer services and also Amazon for shopping. There’s also this great place called Lufa Farms. And it’s a Montreal company, agricultural company that produces local sustainable organic fruits and vegetables. And they sell it from their rooftop greenhouse and it’s the first commercial greenhouse on a roof anywhere in the world. And then they deliver it to a coffee shop close to you. So I really like using them as well. They’re a lot of fun.
Angela: That’s wonderful. That’s a great one to hear about. You mentioned why you like them. But as far as any kind of peer-to-peer service, why do you enjoy them or why do you like them?
Sarira: Particularly, I would say that it’s really a much more efficient way of doing things. It’s a much more sustainable way of doing things. Sharing really taps into the fabric of human beings as social animals. We like to be collaborative by nature and it’s really a lot more efficient use of resources when you buy, rent or use something just when you need it and want it and then can make it available to someone else later on when you don’t need it. So it’s socially responsible. It’s cost effective. And somehow, it lessens the gap between the people who have and of those who have lots. Everyone can enjoy a little piece of the pie.
Angela: Definitely. So what do you think is next as far as that space is concerned?
Sarira: You spoke about Internet intimacy. I think that’s really crucial because we’re in an era of unprecedented Internet intimacy where people are just trusting others. And this is good on one end but on the other end, it means that so much of our information is out there. And that means anyone can collect that. So what I think is needed, what I think is next are structures, as the social economy grows, better structures to support the social economy and to safeguard that information. And also, progress. I mean, when you go back to thinking what is progress really, are we progressing? Or are we just going back to the way things used to be with new tools? So it’s an interesting question.
Angela: Definitely. It’s exciting that you see what will be coming next.
Angela: So I really appreciate talking to you today. Where can people find you online? What is the website? Are you on Twitter yourself? Where can people find you?
Sarira: Well, absolutely, you could come visit the website at luxuca.com. You can visit our Facebook page or Instagram page where we have this bustling community of fashion lovers. We share posts. And if you have designer bags and accessories, we’d be happy to have you. And you can also find me on LinkedIn, Sarira Sayad. I’ll be happy to connect with you.
Angela: Thank you so much for your time today and good luck and we hope – we’re excited to see where you guys are in the next couple of years and to hear about the philanthropic efforts that you have in your heart to implement. And we’ll be cheering you on.
Sarira: Great. It was a pleasure speaking to you. Thanks so much for having me.
Angela: Thanks for listening to today’s episode of The Crowd. We encourage you to rate us on iTunes, follow us on Twitter @NearMeCo and explore our blog at blog.near-me.com. The Crowd is brought to you by Near Me. If you like to build a peer-to-peer marketplace, visit near-me.com to learn how to make that dream a reality.