Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey there! My name is Disha Shidham and I’m the founder at Savy.
On a fundamental level, we at Savy believe in keeping commerce local. Small businesses bring diversity, dimension and culture to retail; we strive to build awesome technologies that support these businesses and our flagship product, Savy Sales, is our first means of doing so.
Savy Sales helps businesses clear slow-moving inventory in a fresh manner that preserves brand integrity, increases margins, and doubles buyer conversions.
How it works. With Savy Sales, businesses never have to publicly discount their products again. We allow shoppers to enter a price they’re willing to pay, and if their price is above what the business would have initially discounted to, the shopper gets to buy the item at their price.
With this new model of discounting and clearing inventory, our partners are experiencing, on average, a 30% increase in revenue. Because shoppers love having a say in how much they get to pay, we’ve also seen a two-fold increase in website visitor to buyer conversions. Savy ends up increasing revenues on multiple axes (through margins and volume).
What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
When I was a junior in high school, I attended an entrepreneurship program at MIT called LaunchX (https://launchx.com/). For six weeks we lived on campus and launched prototypes of business ideas. I credit LaunchX with my first foray into a “practical education”—I learned how to work with difficult people and how to sell a vision; I had my first experience with sexism (when a teammate told me I was too small and soft-spoken to be a CEO); and I closed my first client.
I realized I had so much to learn, and most of that learning needed to happen outside of school.
So during my senior year of high school, I started my first startup through programs built for high-school entrepreneurs like Quarter Zero (https://www.quarterzero.com/) and Draper University (https://www.draperuniversity.com/). After those experiences, I was hooked. My trajectory of growth was far outpacing that of any traditional route. For example, during my 8 weeks at Draper University, I had the chance to speak with and learn from Tim Draper himself (billionaire investor in Tesla, SpaceX, Hotmail, Skype, etc.). Those learnings resulted in my startup placing second out of 70 others during Draper’s Demo Day.
Don’t throw money at your problems; find the solution and figure out how to do it yourself. Constraints breed creativity, especially in those low resource beginnings of a startup.
I decided to defer and ultimately forgo my admission to the University of Michigan’s EECS program to pursue this unconventional path. These last few years, I’ve learned everything from front-end and back-end development, to running successful PR campaigns, to building resilient teams, to VC fundraising. This education came from necessity, a requirement for my business to survive, and has led Savy to where it is today.
My experience as a founder has always revolved around the question: what is the best way to support small businesses? My grandfather used to own a small shop in India and some of my earliest memories are of him helping customers in his store. I’ve always been passionate about helping businesses like his succeed. Growing up in the internet age, I realized just how enormous of an opportunity e-commerce was for small businesses, but it seemed to be an area only behemoths like Amazon were utilizing to the fullest extent.
During my first year after graduating, I taught myself how to code and built a small plugin that integrated with Shopify stores. Initially, this project served as a way to gain hands-on experience coding a web app. I also sought to learn more about small businesses’ operations online.
Speaking with my initial customers introduced me to the realm of product pricing. I quickly learned that price was the most influential lever in determining a business’ revenue: a 1% optimization in pricing, on average, results in an 11% increase in operating profits. But product pricing for these small businesses was anything but data-driven—it was based on margins, cost of goods sold, and sometimes (in rare instances) competitor data. I wanted to see if large corporations had better pricing systems in place, but found that even multi-billion dollar businesses like Victoria’s Secret and Express were calculating product pricing and promotions in Excel sheets! There wasn’t any software or automated system put in place to make product pricing data-driven.
On the flipside, data from my Shopify plugin gave me visibility into the importance of price for shoppers. If a shopper’s willingness to pay at a specific price-point was met, there was an 87% chance that they would end up buying.
The impetus for building what ultimately became Savy came from my learnings here—the inefficiency existing specifically in product pricing for e-commerce businesses has created an opportunity where both shoppers and businesses can win.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
It all started with design. This passion sparked during my freshman year when I stumbled into the wrong classroom and ended up participating in an after-school club where I helped craft my high school’s nationally acclaimed literary magazine. By sophomore year, I was spearheading the magazine’s design. Those years were a foray into the world of InDesign and Photoshop. I loved being able to create something digitally and—after a few months of blood, sweat and tears—see it in print. This love of bringing design to life quickly translated to web design; I wanted to see the high-fidelity mockups I’d stitched together in programs like InVision come to life. The only way to do so was to learn how to code.
I taught myself front-end development and back-end database architecture through sites like FreeCodeCamp.com, SitePoint.com and CodeAcademy.com—and ultimately built a crappy, buggy, barely functioning Shopify plugin that served as a data collection tool for businesses.
The crappiness of my product was offset by impeccable customer service, which allowed me to collect feedback from initial customers right away. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten is to launch your product as soon as it has a quantum of utility. For my initial Shopify plugin, that meant I launched as soon as the basics of the product were functioning; that is, it could integrate with storefronts and collect data. But businesses had no ability to customize the plugin, there weren’t any graphs or a data interface (we were sending data in Excel sheets), and businesses had endless issues if they used highly customized storefront themes.
The product you launch with is likely not going to be the product that brings you success. This was certainly the scenario for us. But the faster you get it into the hands of customers, the faster you’ll be able to gain feedback and understand which features are drawing the most excitement. For Savy, this bug-laced Shopify plugin gave us enough data to direct the creation of a product that I believe has the potential to revolutionize the entire retail industry. It gave us the basis to build Savy Sales.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I’m proud to say, to date we’ve spent zero dollars on marketing and ad spend. Much of our success has come from speaking to our customers and focusing on their needs. Even for the businesses that used our initial Shopify plugin, our customer base grew organically—through word of mouth and impeccable customer service. Eventually, over 2,500 businesses used this plugin. We wanted to champion our partners and featured some of those who spread the word about Savy in our “Businesses of Savy” blog.
For Savy Sales, we’re using the same tactics—we’re making sure we’re building something that customers love. Currently, we’re in the midst of conducting usability and product design interviews with early customers, trying to understand which features will make or break the product experience. It’s painstaking work, but I love it because I get to hear firsthand just how much of an impact Savy is having and the value we’re adding to our partners.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In the early days, I began following the path that everyone attempts: cold calling and cold emailing. I realized this method was unsustainable, business owners were getting flooded with emails like mine and it had dismal conversion rates.
On a whim one day, I messaged a business or two over Instagram. I got an immediate response! I began speaking directly with the business owners and they gave my Shopify plugin a try. I did this again the next day, but instead of two businesses, I reached out to 15. Each one of them responded. The best part about this method of outreach was that I could have conversations with my potential customers and speak to them about their needs. It was an easy way to stay in the pockets of my customers. Little by little, I began converting these small businesses and gathering the data that eventually led to the creation of Savy Sales. This clarified for me the importance of personalized selling and using the optimum communication channel.
I also began dabbling in PR after being inspired by a growth-hacky article by Startup Grind. My story was quite out there: a (at the time) 19-year-old dropout who taught herself how to code and was mentored by the likes of billionaires like Tim Draper. A small blog published an interview style piece about me, and this piece ended up being syndicated by Lifehack.org. The LifeHack story was ultimately read by an executive producer at Shark Tank, who invited me to pitch on the show.
The months after my Shark Tank taping were some of the most difficult. I had no idea how the show was going to paint my story. I also knew, focusing on something I had no control over was a complete waste of my energy.
This experience with PR snowballed out of control; I had no intention of being invited onto Shark Tank, but that’s what happened. And I wasn’t one to let an opportunity like that fall by the wayside, even though we were far from ready to pitch on the show. At that point, I had millions of data points around how shoppers and businesses approached pricing, but I had no strategy to monetize this data. I had a vague inkling that Savy Sales would be the path to monetization, but the idea and product was far from actualization. I went on the show assuming the experience would be similar to an investor meeting—and I’d succeeded at those before. But within the first moments of my pitch, I knew it was slated for entertainment value. In the end, Shark Tank is a reality TV show and not true reality.
I came away from the experience feeling defeated and unheard. I was 21 years old and Kevin O’leary had called me “Bambi” in front of millions of people. And Mark Cuban had “gone out” because I hadn’t gone to college.
The months after my Shark Tank taping were some of the most difficult. I had no idea how the show was going to paint my story, but I knew it wasn’t going to look good for me. I also knew, focusing on something I had no control over was a complete waste of my energy. So I took this time to go back to basics, back to my customers and to scouring the plethora of data I had at hand. These were the early moments that lead to the creation of Savy as it is today.
Looking back today, I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It built my resilience and toughened my skin; it made me focus in the face of a thousand distractions (literally, my inbox was flooded with over a thousand emails when my episode aired); and it opened doors that otherwise wouldn’t have even been reachable. For example, without Shark Tank, I doubt Savy would have gotten accepted to Stanford’s StartX accelerator (a platinum plus accelerator ranked alongside Y Combinator & Angelpad) last fall. We also wouldn’t have had the incredible interest and traction for Savy Sales. The show was simply a step to get to where we needed to be.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Like I mentioned, Savy was featured on Shark Tank in January 2018.
We also participated in Stanford’s StartX accelerator in the fall of 2018. We’ve had over 2,500 businesses use our Shopify plugin and since then, we’ve pivoted to a new flagship product—Savy Sales.
We soft-launched Savy Sales in late May of this year and are focused on creating case studies of larger clients. So far, the results have been mind-blowing. In comparison to clearance sales, Savy Sales, have seen…
- a 30% increase in revenues
- a 2X increase in site visitor to buyer conversions
- a 25% increase in average order value
- a 12X increase in ad click through rates
And shoppers who buy from a Savy Sale are nine times more likely to come back and buy products at full price in comparison to clearance sale shoppers. We’re so excited with this trajectory and the value we’re adding to early Savy partners!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I’ve learned that the most important thing you can do is to simply start. Looking back, I was poised for failure: I was trying to start a tech startup while teaching myself how to code and I had absolutely no resources at my disposal. My friends and family thought I was crazy for deciding not to go to college. My days consisted of one “no” after another.
The only way I could move forward was to focus on the most important part of my business: my customers. I became laser-focused on their needs; what they saw was the value from our product. And day by day, little by little, I began to see growth. That growth will snowball, and one day you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come.
Starting a business is hard. It’s an uphill battle 99% of the time. Skills like scrappiness and resilience should be valued higher than anything else—you have to have faith that regardless of how big the problem at hand is, you can solve it.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Mailshake: incredible for email marketing and wonderful, high touch customer service (they’ll even do a campaign review for you if you reach out!).
- Fullstory: integral to figuring out how customers are interacting with our product.
- Tidio chat: awesome integrations with CRMs and highly customizable styling (also free!)
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
- Thinking, Fast and Slow — would highly recommend so far! Honing intuition as a founder is so important and this book teaches the common pitfalls we all have in our judgement
- Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions — this book is amazing. It turns efficiency into a method rather than simply a gut feeling.
- Currently watching: How to Start a Startup, the lecture series by Sam Altman—you can get the value of Y Combinator by following the advice laid out in these videos without giving up 7% of your company
- Success Unfiltered — amazing stories of entrepreneurs turning “no”s into “yes”es and their journeys to success
- 20VC — an inside look into the minds of the best VCs in the Valley and beyond
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- In the early days, don’t throw money at your problems; find the solution and figure out how to do it yourself. Constraints breed creativity, especially in those low resource beginnings of a startup.
- The first few hires will make or break your company—finding your first hires will take months; making a bad hire among your first 5 employees can very well kill your startup, so hire slow and fire fast.
- Your customers’ opinions are the only ones that actually matter
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re always looking for talented & scrappy people. If you’re interested in joining Savy, please reach out to [email protected]!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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