When Bouchra Ezzahraoui and Sophie Kahn went into the jewelry business with their startup AUrate, they had a clear problem in mind they wanted to fix – the market for fine jewelry wasn’t really designed to cater to the people who wear most of the nation’s jewelry: women.
Historically, they found the marketplace was built to cater to men, and the two founders described themselves as “fed up with what we were seeing in terms of offers in the jewelry industry. We decided to go ahead and do something where we were the target customer.”
At that point, neither had much of a background in jewelry beyond wearing it – Ezzahraoui was an interest rate volatility trader at Goldman Sachs and Kahn was working at Marc Jacobs – but instead of using that as a reason to stay away from the business, they took it as an opportunity to learn more about it, and enrolled in some classes while continuing to work at their full-time jobs.
Formally founded in 2015 in what the founders called their “test year,” AUrate was entirely self-funded at first through the founders’ savings and gifts from friends. With a very powerful focus on cash flow, the founders continued working their full-time jobs for that entire first year.
“Cash flow is what makes or breaks a startup at the very, very early stage,” Ezzahraoui said. “It’s a huge mistake that a lot of people don’t pay attention to. It’s okay to be bootstrapped, but we allocated our cash to put our product on top of everything else. For me, that big-picture budget and cash flow management is key to every new startup trying to take a gamble on whatever they’re doing.”
By 2017, both founders had become full-time workers at their startup, and had raised $2.63 in seed funding from Arab Angel, Victress Capital and other undisclosed angel investors.
The vision guiding the firm through its startup days was that they could bring a new perspective to the jewelry industry.
“We make the jewelry we always wanted to wear, but could never find. Some of our pieces are statements, some are classic staples, all are completely original,” Kahn said, further noting that their offerings are ethically sourced. AUrate’s gold is all recycled, and all of the brand’s diamonds are sourced in New York and have gone through the Kimberley Process to ensure they are conflict-free stones.
And for every piece sold, AUrate also offers a book to a child who does not have access to them. The brand is also looking for new ways to reach their customers, such as the launch of their new Curate By AUrate service this summer.
The program allows customers to fill in an online profile and be paired with a personal stylist who will choose five items specifically for them. After seven days, customers can send back what they don’t want and pay for what they want to keep. For items that are not sent back, AUrate charges the card the consumer put on file at the beginning of the transaction. When someone returns a piece of jewelry, AUrate follows up to learn why they chose not to keep the piece.
“It’s information you’re getting that you wouldn’t typically get from having an eCommerce page,” Kahn told Digiday in an interview, noting that when consumers just leave, there isn’t a lot of insight there. But knowing exactly why a customer didn’t choose something, on the other hand, is a window into building out better experiences going forward.
The fine jewelry startup is a long way from where it started as a bootstrapped two-person shop. Going into Black Friday, it’s gearing up for its 25 percent off sale, and has drawn a lot of listicile mentions among “best Black Friday startup deals.” And they are confident that going forward, both for the business they built, and due to the product they sell.
“Jewelry can be worn as a second skin, it has a story and can reflect the whole history of your personal style. Fine jewelry more specially lasts for life, and that’s something much more powerful than a piece of clothing or shoes,” Ezzahraoui noted.