She Sold Her Bat Mitzvah Gifts on eBay When She Was 13. Now at 32, She’s Running a Multi-Million Dollar Company
Meet Rachel Tipograph, an e-commerce obsessive who channeled her passion into a software service working with some of the biggest brands in the world.
The Helm: Rachel, explain your company in a sentence.
Rachel: MikMak is the eCommerce platform for highly distributed brands like Adidas, Campbell’s, and L’Oreal, where the majority of their sales come from environments like Amazon, Target, Walmart, but they live in darkness when it comes to gathering consumer data from those platforms. MikMak allows brands to unlock valuable data that leads to increased eCommerce sales.
The Helm: Your entrepreneurial journey began when you were 13 and decided to sell your bat Mitzvah gifts on eBay. Tell me more.
Rachel: I was given all of these presents I didn’t want so I decided to photograph them and upload them to a website I’d recently heard of called eBay. I knocked on my parents’ door on a Saturday morning and told them I needed a ride to the UPS store. They asked why, and I said, “Because I sold all my bat mitzvah gifts on eBay.” My mother was mortified, and my father said, “She must be on to something.” That turned into selling hundreds of my neighbors’ products on eBay — and taking a 20% cut of what I sold.
Ask for forgiveness after the fact. And that's the advice I give to so many people within corporate America. I did what I instinctively felt was right for the business.
The Helm: So you start monetizing your life at 13, then you go to NYU, hopped around in the job world a bit, and then at 24 you’re hired as the global director of digital and social media at Gap.
Rachel: Gap’s Global CMO made the bold decision to build a new marketing team in New York, and he wanted to hire a “young person” to run global digital and social media. He felt like 20 years of job experience for that type of role was ridiculous — you needed someone who would eat, sleep, and breathe that world and who represented our target customer, which was a 20 something woman. When I started, the average customer was a 47-year-old woman. When he hired me, he told me it was my job to lower the average age of the customer. By the time I left, we had knocked a decade off the customer.
The Helm: At Gap, you had the keys to the kingdom and controlled the brand’s ultimate megaphone through its social handles. Did everyone know what a big deal that was?
Rachel: Definitely not, which is why I was given those keys. My whole attitude while I was there, and I had Seth’s support, was: Ask for forgiveness after the fact. And that’s the advice I give to so many people within corporate America. I did what I instinctively felt was right for the business.
Rachel Tipograph's Wishlist
The Helm: Fast forward to MikMak, which started as a consumer shopping app. Retailers hired you to create mobile-first, socially optimized mini-mercials for their products. A lot of people saw it as a Home Shopping Network for the digital age. Now MikMak is an enterprise software platform. Tell me about the pivot you made.
Rachel: The pivot was the hardest thing in my career and the best thing I ever did. I quit Gap at the end of 2014 and I launched the first version of MikMak as an app in June of 2015. After a year, I realized the app would require $65MM of additional capital to reach the scale of a platform like eBay. Raising that type of money was not going to happen, but at the same time, Fortune 1000 brands were asking if they could license my app for their own brand. Toward the end of 2016, I decided to pivot the business to an enterprise model. Today, we have around 100 clients within the Fortune 1000 licensing our software.
The Helm: Do you wish you had pivoted earlier?
Rachel: Do I wish I built an enterprise software company from the very beginning? Sure. Would I have? No. I had to go through those learnings to get to this point.
Our software MikMak Attach lets brands own the customer through their shopping journey.
The Helm: You work with brands like L’Oréal, Nestle and Unilever to “shorten the path to owning their shopper.” Describe what that means.
Rachel: Highly distributed brands lose their customers to retailers like Amazon. Our software MikMak Attach lets brands own the customer through their shopping journey. For example, a customer sees an ad for a product she likes, she clicks on the ad, and she is now in MikMak Attach which is connected to a cart like Amazon. We outright replace product detail pages and have integrations with 200 eRetailers.
The Helm: What do your clients use as key performance indicators of your product other than purchases and data?
Rachel: There are three main value props that retailers care about when it comes to MikMak. One is lifting your e-retail sales. The second is building shopper audiences in your customer data platform. And then the last is because we replaced the product detail page, they now have major insight into the customer journey, so they can optimize media, creative, channel, merchandise. They’ve never been able to do that before.
The Helm: How does Instagram’s new shopping feature factor into the business?
Rachel: It doesn’t — but that certainly creates communication challenges. We’re an official marketing partner of all the social platforms, so their sales teams bring us to market as a solution. Instagram checkout in its current form is very much focused on direct-to-consumer brands, and my entire business is oriented toward distributed brands.
The Helm: What’s the biggest misconception people have about what you do, or about the industry?
Rachel: It’s what you just hit on. When I first went to market in March of 2017, all the headlines were like: “MikMak is commerce for Instagram Stories and Snapchat.” We are so much more. That’s how I went to market two years ago because I knew it’d create noise in the marketplace. But today, my clients use us everywhere — programmatic, paid search, branded content, streaming video, Messenger. Our goal is to be the universal product details page. So for me I’d say the biggest misconception is that MikMak equals Instagram shopping.
The Helm: What’s a bad habit you’ve had to break on your entrepreneurial journey?
Rachel: I rewrite my job description every three months, so I’m always trying to break my own bad habits. I think one of the things that I’m still trying to break is that MikMak doesn’t equal Rachel Tipograph’s story, because the company can’t scale that way. So, how does the company stand on its own two legs without me?
The Helm: You also make seed investments on behalf of Cleo Capital. Can you finish this sentence: “The key to getting my attention is…”
Rachel: Proving to me that you are a ruthless founder.
If you're building a software business, you have to really force yourself to answer what your software is displacing in the market.
The Helm: If you were starting a business today, what would you do differently?
Rachel: If you’re building a software business, you have to really force yourself to answer what your software is displacing in the market. Founders often come up with ideas that are operating in a new space and then prospective clients don’t have a budget for you. You really want to make sure that you’re building software that someone out there has a line item for. If you’re building software that’s a better email client, great, then you’re playing within the email budget. I think that can save someone years in their product lifecycle.
For all of 2017, I was operating in people’s innovation budgets. The market is now matured, and we’ve also pushed our product to displace things in people’s current line items. But that was a hard lesson that I learned that I think could’ve accelerated my company by a year.
The Helm: That’s a great lesson. What’s your process for working on yourself while building MikMak?
Rachel: I’d say two things: One is direct candid feedback from my team, and creating a culture where they feel its safe to do that. When I first started working at Gap, my boss never gave me feedback. I would go home every day thinking I was doing a bad job. I finally worked up the courage to confront him, and he said, “Rachel, if I’m not giving you feedback, that means you’re doing a great job.”
It was this huge cultural adjustment for me because I had come from a digital advertising agency where everyone was a millennial, and you got a gong rung if you did a good job. Then you become the boss, and no one wants to give you feedback. So I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of creating a culture where people feel comfortable giving me feedback.
Number two is creating my own time for reflection. I reflect best via writing. I always journaled growing up, so on Sundays I write an email to the company that I call MikMak Attack. It’s the priorities of the week, and it gives transparency into a lot of different aspects of the business. I do a version for the company, and then I do a version for myself. And it’s those 30 minutes on a Sunday night that I know are the most valuable 30 minutes of the week for me.
The Helm: You’ve told me before that you wouldn’t recommending being a solo founder to other people. Why?
Rachel: I’d only start my next company with other people. It’s too lonely. You can’t get it all done yourself, and there’s no way you can be the best at everything. If you can find someone who has a complimentary skill set who you trust and who you want to spend the next 10 years of your working life with — that’s the person to start a company with. Luckily I’ve hired some pretty strong people to work around me, but at the end of the day, they’re not going to jump in front of a car for this company, I am, and the only way that can happen is if you have a fellow founder.
The Helm: What productivity tool would you be lost without?
Rachel: I have two tools to get things done – one is MikMak Attack, and I refer back to it multiple times throughout the week. The second is a CRM system called Copper. There’s a to-do list function in Copper, and I just live in it. When people want me to do something, they have to give me a to-do in Copper.
The Helm: Last question, what is your favorite female-founded product?
Rachel: I’m addicted to Yasso’s. They’re frozen yogurt bars that are available at Whole Foods, and the founders are a man and a woman who were kindergarten best friends. Every night, I’m reading the founder story right on the packaging.
Invest in a woman. Work with MikMak by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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