In Conversation: With Her Black Book Founders, Julie Stevanja and Sali Sasi.
Her Black Book is a premium online shopping platform filled with a curated edit of over 700 brands, designed to save you time and money when shopping your favourite designers founded by sisters and founders, Julie Stevanja and Sali Sasi.
We sat down with the two sisters to get a behind the scenes look into how the idea of the platform came about, the challenges they have faced building a start-up, what a day in their busy life looks like, how they like to make sustainable fashion choices and their top five wardrobe pieces right now.
1. Can you explain in your words the concept of Her Black Book and how the idea of the platform came about?
SALI: The idea for Her Black Book was born out of the frustration of constantly searching for promo codes that were lost in my email inbox and missing out on brand updates. It was around our 40th birthday and I needed an outfit, and I knew I had a discount code for a particular retailer but could not find it anywhere! Immediately, I knew there was a gap in the market to create an easier way to stay up to date with their favourite labels, and ultimately save time and money!
2. It’s incredible that two female founders could secure over $1M in seed funding – could you tell us a little about this process. What is tough? Do you have any nuggets of gold to share?
JULIE: Pitching to investors is always a nerve-wracking journey and many, many hours are spent honing a pitch deck and deciphering feedback which is never straightforward and oftentimes conflicting! We have been very fortunate to raise two rounds of funding so far, but building a business is a marathon and the journey is far from over. It’s no secret that solely female funded companies make up less than 3% of those backed by VCs, and there is a lot of unconscious bias to navigate.
My advice to other female founders who are pitching for funding is to do your research, look for investors who actively invest in your category and business stage and try to nurture those relationships early if you can, well before you need the funding. Start at concept stage, even if all you have to share is an idea, start building relationships and trust as early as you can.
3. Start-ups come with many challenges, could you share with us the toughest challenge/s you have faced and how you overcame them?
SALI: Start-ups absolutely come with challenges but some of those challenges can be fun. Working with purpose to prove you are investable - is part of the thrill.
Probably the toughest challenge we have come up against is capital raising during a tech winter. Stats show that only 3% of all VC funding goes towards women founders - we are lucky to be in that mix but that doesn’t make the next raise any easier. Whilst raising, tech winters and current climates can be a challenge it also is a great case to really look at your business and tweak the model from a grow at all costs to a road to profitability one. Ultimately the game has changed - people are no longer writing $10m, $20m, $30m cheques to last 12 months - they’re writing $1-m and it needs to last you 18-24months. You either adapt or sink pretty fast.
4. What does a day in the life look like for you both?
JULIE: I start my day with a walk or some Pilates when I can, before taking my two-year-old to daycare. Then it’s straight into Slack with a coffee. When I’m not in meetings, I’m deep diving into data, identifying areas of improvement and using analytics to tell the story on what is and isn’t working. I also work closely with our CTO on product development, and this involves a lot of market research, strategising and testing.
SALI: I’m also juggling children, so I generally do a quick scan of my inbox and check the App first thing, before getting my two boys off to school. When I get to the office, I check in with the team and start on my never-ending to-do list. At the moment, I’m leading the Affiliate Brand Team which involves a lot of communication with agencies and ensuring the App is up to date with the latest offers and brand news. I also own a wine bar, Bar Copains - so if I’m not rushing home to the kids then I am ducking into the bar for a quick hi to the team. Once I’m home and the kids are in bed around 7:30pm, I generally get back onto emails, reporting and App checks till I go to bed around 11pm.
5. With over 700 brands on your platform from big labels to smaller local business like After Eight, what are some of your go-to brands you are shopping from right now?
JULIE: I can’t get enough of INTU Wellness for their Sleep & Skin supplement and emerging brand Ylio Skin for the most hydrating cleansing oil.
SALI: I love to discover new brands on the app. There are SO many new favourites. I’m obsessed my clever AQUAME water bottle (which connects to my phone and reminds me to stay hydrated!), STAX for activewear, Et-Toi skincare and of course, After Eight!
6. We know you, Sali, love a black tee and jean combo. Aside from outfit repeating, what other steps do you take to make sustainable fashion choices?
SALI: Yes, you’ll rarely find me in anything other than a tee with jeans or tights! I have made an effort to invest in good quality timeless pieces that I can wear over and over again without them going out of style. I also like to sell pieces on PreLovedCLoset or donate any pieces I no longer wear to give them a second life.
6. What are your top five wardrobe essential pieces?
JULIE: A solid blazer, comfortable sneaker, tan slide, a handbag big enough for your laptop, and a go-to cap for bad hair days!
7. We often talk at After Eight about slowing down, so, we’d love to hear what you do to slow down in this fast-paced world we live in? What would we find you doing after 8pm?
SALI: I need to do more of this! Whilst I may not be switched off and doing something completely chill after 8pm, I find that I am working through but at a pace that feels relaxed. The evenings are a great time for me to go over our data, processes, brand research and quality checks on the app - so whilst it’s still work it’s not stressful.