I had to learn this mantra: Get up. Again. And Again.

A female mobile tech entrepreneur’s story. 

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. And, in my case, this was true in more ways than one.

I was getting my MBA at Emory University in Atlanta, at night, and working my corporate advertising job during the day. But my last semester, in the wake of the financial crisis, I was laid off.

I was terrified, like so many others who lost their jobs in 2010.

How was I going to pay tuition and my bills, while studying for school and looking for a new job?

Immediately, I jumped into action and lined up job interviews. I wanted to feel confident about my appearance, so I decided to freshen up my beauty routine. However, because my spending habits had dramatically changed, I bypassed my usual trip to Sephora and found myself in the drugstore beauty aisle. A wall of thousands of products, trapped in plastic packaging, was protected from curious shoppers like me. With no testers, no mirrors, no experts, and no handy reviews, this mecca of beauty products turned into a tyranny of choice. I abandoned the aisle, frustrated. I wondered, “How the heck do people decide what to buy?” I went home and began researching beauty blogs and how-to videos.

Five hours deep into my online frenzy, I had a shopping list and a startup idea.

Pretty in my Pocket (PRIMP) would solve the beauty-buying dilemma. My freshly minted MBA birthed a business plan for this mobile shopping tool. I should have been excited but, I was broke. I shelved the pursuit of PRIMP and went hunting for corporate jobs. Despite my fresh makeover, twenty interviews led to a slew of rejections, and my best bet seemed to be PRIMP.

I convinced my stepdad to invest $10K into a prototype. He’s a solid businessman, but he did not understand PRIMP. He was backing the idea because he believed in me. We hired an intern, a designer, and a developer and shopped the prototype to several investors. Nothing for months.

Just as I was about to give up,

I got a call to present to local investors who were convinced enough to keep things moving. We built a product alpha, then beta, then our shining moment: a pilot with a major retailer and beauty brand. The pilot in New York City produced a mobile Perk conversion rate (rate of coupon views/redemption at register) five times that of the retailer benchmark!

We had proof of concept: Rewarding customers with coupons within a mobile app that helped them make a better purchase decision in store, generated compelling results. We got a verbal to move forward on a national deal with the retail partner. But, the giddiness from that deal waned after seven months, and the verbal yes has still not been inked, despite my numerous attempts to urge a corporate giant to move at a startup’s necessary pace.

A couple of slight pivots for revenue, an almost hostile takeover, and my team shrunk from five members to two. Having to let go of people who are more to you than “employees” is a burden I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Now, 2014, everyone in the bleachers is watching the clock run out, and two of us are still in the game. The once supporters became naysayers and one investor asked for his money back.

My coach and mentor pushed me to get back up.

He reminded me that we had seen far too many miracles along the way to quit now.

He was right, but I had to get creative. I discovered a small investment fund I forgot about, and my Facebook stock turned around, so we had enough resources to last us until the 4th quarter of the “game.”

Throughout all of these emotional and financial challenges, I’ve stayed committed because the original idea turned into an even greater opportunity. We found a partner that enabled a direct integration with a retailer point-of-sale. So, for the first time, personalized Perks could be offered to users, and those Perks could be tracked all the way to the register, providing useful and previously unavailable data to retailers and brands. In addition, PRIMP was giving power to women by providing real photos of makeup on real women rather than photoshopped models. PRIMP users were posting their own beauty product reviews and helping each other make better purchases.

The concept was solid. We submitted a couple patents on the idea and pressed on. We tried raising capital, but came up empty. We came within inches of one big investor deal, but it fell through.

So, we did what we had learned to do, get back up.

We redesigned our website, updated the app, installed a robust CRM (customer relationship management) module in the back end—all with no additional capital.

Recent Posts by Caroline Van Sickle

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