Start-Ups.Co really enjoyed interviewing the brilliant entrepreneur; Mr. ‘Juan Diego Farah'; Co-Founder and CEO of the UK-Based Start Up “Boxagon”.
Below, is the full interview that we have conducted :
1. What is it exactly that you do and what your start-up is all about?
Boxagon is a social commerce platform where you can create and discover collections or “boxes” of items that go well together for all types of situations. So if you’re travelling to the rainforest or running your first marathon, you can search through the site and see boxes with items that other users recommend for these events. The concept is similar to how people on fashion sites match pieces of clothing to create amazing outfits, but we’re applying it to a much wider audience of sports enthusiasts, DIY hobbyists, and countless other potential users.
2. When has your startup been founded? And what stage is your startup currently at?
Boxagon was founded in 2013. We started development in April and launched our first public beta in November that same year. We continued iterating the first version until April of 2014. Now we getting ready for a marketing push to increase the amount of curators, partners, and content on our platform.
3. What is your startup’s business model and how does it work?
The business is based on a straight forward affiliate marketing model. We connect to over 18,000 different stores and take an affiliate fee for each successful product sale that was generated through our site. The cool thing is that we help store increase the average size of their checkout carts because users tend to buy more than one items if they see products in context. This create a great incentive for our partners to use Boxagon.
4. How did your team meet? And who in your team does what?
We are three co-founders. One of them in my brother who is our Chief Scientist and also works a great deal in the front-end development of the webapp. My other co-founder is a friend to high school, who is our CTO and a career Java developer. He works mainly on the back-end of the webapp. My background is in investment banking so I’ve seen a great deal of businesses and business models. I am the CEO, so I basically deal with everything other than programming (business development, marketing, operations, HR, accounting, etc.). Our founding team is amazing because we all complement each other very well.
5. What, exactly, makes you different from existing options, what will make your product and/or service stand out in the marketplace? In other words what’s unique about you and what’s new about what you make?
We are really focused on becoming a very productive social commerce platform, answering the question, “What products do I need if I’m going to…[fill in the blank]”. That blank can be picking up a new sport, packing to travel somewhere exotic, or learning how to play a new instrument. Most of our competitors focus on random discovery, which mean scrolling infinitely through a feed of pretty pictures. We are more focused on demand fulfillment, i.e. getting our users exactly what they need for specific situations. In a sense, we’re a large database of per-arranged checkout carts. We really give our users a starting point for their online shopping experience.
6. What is your growth like? And what milestones has your startup achieved so far?
We have very healthy user growth and are currently focused on growing our partner network of stores. Even with a modest user base we’re already generating revenue and helping our partners drive product sales. Overall we have gone from concept, to MVP, to public beta, to product/market fit and revenue. Our next step is to scale our early successes and build a massive platform.
7. Who are your competitors? And what is your start-up’s competitive advantage over them?
Our competitors are all the main social commerce platforms. That being said, we don’t really have a direct competitor. Most social commerce platform focus on random discovery through infinite feeds of individual pictures. We focus on sets of product you can purchase.
You could say however that the “Frequently bought together” feature of Amazon is one of our main competitors, but that feature is just an algorithm with no taste, or social skills (to say the least), that solely works on Amazon.
8. What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?
On the one hand, we wanted to get as many stores as possible connected to the platform and creating boxes. We knew that large stores like Amazon wouldn’t really care about creating boxes, but small stores on the other hand would take the time to build them and show customers which products go well together. So we decided to become a Shopify Partner and help small stores on Shopify build boxes with their stuff. It was a win-win-win situation for the user, the store, and us.
9. What are the key things about your field that outsiders don’t understand?
We get a lot of outsiders asking why would someone create a box. We explain that we get four types of users: stores, non-store businesses, bloggers, and individuals. Stores have a clear incentive to create boxes with their products. Non-store businesses might not sell products, but they often want to give advice to their users. For example, we got a hotel in the rainforest to send out a box to their potential guests with a suggested packing list. The guests loved it! Bloggers often post about “Top 5 things you need to…” but then insert ugly links. Boxagon allows bloggers to create a box with items and embed a beautiful collage onto a post. For the final group, we are doing a lot of work on gamification and Q&A style features that will nudge an individual user to share their knowledge and create a box.
10. Why are you going to succeed?
We have an amazing founding team that complements each other perfectly. Out of the three co-founders we have one front-end programmer, one back-end programmer, and a finance / biz dev lead. This really helps us have a 360 view on our product. We also built this product for ourselves so we know exactly where we want the product to evolve.
11. If your startup succeeds, what additional areas might you be able to expand into?
Services. Boxes are all about things that go well together. Today it’s products, but in the future we want to connect to services, so for example you could have a box for going on an African safari, and in addition to all the gear you need, you could add different tours that you could go on, or even a hotel offer.
12. Why did you choose this idea and concept to build your start-up based on?
We did it because we experienced the product-matching problem first-hand. One of the founders wanted to build a wooden desk and in order to find all the right gear, he had to go through a lot of different websites and blogs. Another founder was organizing a photo shoot and had no idea what equipment to get. At this point we realised other people had definitely had this problem in the past and ended up doing all the research to figure out what they needed. So why isn’t there a centralized way for users and businesses to share that knowledge with consumers and have them save time and energy.
13. What have you learned so far from launching your idea?
We have learned to iterate as fast as we can, looking at feedback, learning from the data, and making the necessary adjustments to the platform. We moved from working on all types of boxes, to focusing on sports, travel, and music gear. Fashion has a lot of social commerce solutions so we think Boxagon can be most useful in other undeserved verticals.
14. Six months from now, what’s going to be your biggest problem?
Since Boxagon is a social platform, by definition anyone can create a box. This means we will get very high quality boxes and very low quality ones. Similarly to how Q&A sites filter through all the great and poor responses, we need to deal with filtering through our data. This however is a problem we want to have because it means we have lots of data on our site.
15. What’s the benefit for the customer/user?
The benefit is for both the box creator and the consumer. On the one hand, the consumer can start his/her shopping experience by looking at what essentially amounts to per-arranged shopping carts. Box really helps users cut down the amount of time they spend researching all the products they need for a certain adventure. On the other hand, the box creator, which are typically brands or stores, benefit from having larger order sizes because consumers tend to buy more than one item if they see products in context. Boxes are also great marketing platforms for products.
16. How did customers / users find out about you?
From the store side, we are connected to Shopify, so anyone that has a Shopify e-commerce store can install the Boxagon app from the Shopify app store. From the consumer side, we have various partner sites that use boxes to help their users. Using one of my previous examples, we partnered with a hotel in the Amazon rainforest. On their site they have a section called “What to pack”. In the past, they only had text with general comments about the items their guests should bring. Now they have a box embedded on their site which they created. This is amazing because the user can directly see and purchase what the hotel recommends, and users gain exposure to Boxagon from our partner’s site.
17. Who are your current customers / users? Who are your target customers / users?
Most of our current curators are stores and businesses. These are exactly the users that we want, although we will continue focusing on our sweet spots, which are sports, travel, and music gear. Once we can consolidate those verticals we will look at expanding our reach. From the target consumer perspective, we want to reach people that are about to try something new, whether that is a new trip they are making or a new sport they are practicing. These are people who need to make a purchase to start their next adventure.
18. Where do new customers / users come from and what makes new customers/users try you?
Other than users who reach us through one of our partner sites, we get traffic from SEO. People will tend to search for something like “nexus 5 portfolio case”, and will see the box from one of our users who has created a compilation of his favorite nexus 5 cases. We also have a great social media strategy that has allowed us to grow aggressively over the last couple of months.
19. What do your customers / users say about your product and/or service?
We were voted best demo at the May 2014 demo night at Google Campus London, taking almost half of all the votes. We also got selected to be one of the top 15 European startups to present at London Tech Week. This was achieve through feedback from our users, so overall, we are really happy with what our users think about Boxagon.
20. How are you going to scale?
Our product is already very scalable. The more boxes we have, the more products we sell, and the more fees we win. In fact, our fee schedule is done in such a way that with higher volumes of products sold, we get higher fees. In terms of increasing our reach, we are going to keep focusing on building partnerships and have our partners promote their products through Boxagon. This is a win-win for both our partners and us.
21. What’s the biggest missing feature? The one thing customers/users keep asking for?
We want to build a “Request Box” feature that lets users ask another user to assemble a box for them. It’s almost like asking a question on a Q&A forum. Stores can use this feature to know what types of boxes they should be building. It also helps our content become self-perpetuating as users ask for more content to be created and other users create that content in response.
22. Are you going to internationalize? And if yes how are you planning to expand your start-up’s operations accordingly?
Yes. We are already in the US and the UK. We have also just recently connected to our first store in Canada and India. The great thing is that Boxagon does not deal with fulfilment of products (which is dealt directly by the stores), so it is really easy for us to expand to new geographies. The more important issue here is to create the appropriate filters by country so that the users can see relevant content.
23. How big do you think you can get? Why? And how you are planning to achieve your goals?
We think Boxagon can be huge. If you look at the biggest social commerce sites, most are almost exclusively fashion focused. We want to exist across all verticals and since all our products connect to a store, we know our business model is solid. How are we going to get there? By building our partnerships with stores and businesses, and getting as much relevant content on our site as we possibly can.
24. Are you looking to hire a new workforce? And if yes, what job vacancies do you currently offer and where can potential applicants contact you at?
Currently we are looking for a junior front-end developer and a digital marketing intern for the summer. The best way to find information about these vacancies is through our website’s Careers page. We are based at Google Campus London so these jobs mainly apply to candidates that can work from our offices.
25. Are you looking for partnership opportunities or funding from Venture Capitals (VC) or other funding sources? Or your business is self-sustainable? And if the first option applies where can potential partners / investors contact you at?
We are actually looking to raise a seed round at the moment, and we already have a number of interested investors. We would love however to speak with other potential Angels / VC funds that might be interested in a social commerce opportunity like Boxagon. Please refer to the contact page in our website if you’d like to reach out to us.
26. What advice do you have for fresh entrepreneurs?
Iterate fast! We’ve seen a lot of startups fail because they’ve gone down a rabbit hole thinking it’s the best decision to make. You need to go through your feedback loops as fast as you can so you can make the necessary adjustments to your product sooner rather than later.