Wise Words with Maz Cohen
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It’s around this time of year that most consumers find themselves scratching their head, desperately searching the recesses of their memory for some clue as to what they should buy their family and friends for Christmas. The fact is, amongst all the joy of the occasion, Christmas can also represent something of a problem for the uninspired present giver. Noticing how perplexed consumers often default to unsentimental vouchers or just straightforward money, Maz Cohen says that the “magic of giving” is disappearing.
Her business, Wisher, is a smartphone app that combines the model of wedding registries with ecommerce wish lists. Users can add coveted items to their Wisher profile by scanning a barcode or taking a picture. Geolocation tagging records the locations of these gifts, so the wisher’s friends know exactly where to find them, and can activate iBeacon to get notifications if they’re nearby a friend’s wanted items.
Having worked in advertising, marketing and strategy with global companies such as BBH, Ogilvy, and Sony, Maz joined the startup space with co-founder Urchana Moudgil — “there’s so much opportunity right now [for] female entrepreneurs” — while juggling freelance work. We find out below how she’s building her brand, what sparks her inspiration, and how she would make more of Wisher’s Beta phase if she were to start over.
1. Where did the idea for Wisher come from?
Wisher is a platform that enables people’s wishes to happen. Any wish you have, big or small, can be put on Wisher. It’s like a social community — all your friends and family can see what you want. We wanted to bring ‘giving’ back, because there are too many barriers around giving. In the UK, there is about GBP 2.4 billion of unwanted gifts. After Christmas, GBP 200 million worth of gifts get put onto eBay the next day. People gift stuff that isn’t wanted or needed and there’s just so much waste. Part of what we are aiming for is to eliminate this waste and ensure you always get the thing you want.
2. What was your background prior to starting your own company?
My background is advertising and marketing, I’ve been in the industry for about ten years, and my last job was in strategy. It was very much working on big branding campaigns – from telling brand stories, all the way to developing retail strategies. I worked for Sony for a few years on their mobile phones, their e-commerce strategy, and that’s when I started tinkering with the idea for Wisher. I did the whole circuit, I did everything, and then I realized I wanted to do my own thing. I always knew my fate but I wanted to gain experience and learn from, I guess, the best.
3. Can you describe a typical working day?
There is no typical day as we literally run it like a Wish Factory. We’re spending a lot of time building our brand, monitoring the wishes coming in from all over the world and rewarding [our clients] by granting their wishes spontaneously. We buy gifts, wrap gifts, hand deliver it and capture the content to show that it truly is a platform that “makes wishes happen”. We check in with our developers in Poland, reach out to brands, retailers and organizations to get them involved. We [have] face to face meetings with advisors giving us pointers on what we could do better and bigger.
4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Wisher?
I’m a social butterfly, plus I love drinking wine with friends and chatting about absolutely everything current. I surround myself with people who inspire me as it always gives me new insights and sparks interesting ideas.
5. What’s the most important characteristic for being an entrepreneur?
Passion. There is no question about this. Passions inspires, passion sells, passion is what makes you do what you do. If you don’t have passion, all the other qualities of being an entrepreneur mean nothing. I’ve never really known what passion means up until now. It will make or break your business.
6. What drove you crazy when building your business?
Noncommittal people – both third party suppliers and people in the core team. This can really throw a business in the early stages when everything is fragile. So, commitment is a big deal. I guess the same goes for any relationship – personal or in business.
7. What motivates you to keep going? What do you do when you hit a block?
Wisher has a very clear purpose. We’re not guided by monetary reward in the end, but rather on the positive impact we can have in the world. When I hit a block I always pull myself out of the business to get a helicopter view on what’s happening and why it’s happening. I’ll talk to people close to the business on possible solutions and move on from there.
8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Gosh. I’d make more of the beta phase. Your business is only in beta once, when you are a “shiny new thing”. People love new things and that’s what create the buzz. There are so many tools available now to make the most of your testing community to get the word out.
9. Do you have any habits or routines, which help you in your working life?
I think due to lack of routine and habits, a startup actually works for me. Everyday is unpredictable and you need to face your challenges head on. Anything can happen and that is the exciting part. I have a very bad habit of just jumping on a plane, flying somewhere far away from London to get inspiration or some clarity of thought.
10. What book are you reading, or writing now?
I wish I could say I’m actually reading! I’m not reading anything right now, as I just don’t have the time. The last book I read was “People over Profit” by an American entrepreneur Dale Partridge. The basis of the book is that there are better ways to do business through authenticity, transparency and generosity. It’s about being a more “mature leader” and a “next generation CEO”.
11. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?
Wisher will be the world’s biggest community for “giving” between brands, organisations and people. It will be the only platform that truly enables people’s wishes to happen. There is so much abundance in the world and I believe we can channel giving through Wisher. This is our wish!
12. If you weren’t working on Wisher, what would you be doing?
I’d run inspirational business summits in epic places around the world. I’m going to one now in November called “The Summit” and we’re all going on a boat from Miami to a private island in Barbados for a four day event. It’s apparently a mix between the Burning Man, TED and SXSW, and it will be charged with American entrepreneurial energy.
13. Tell Springwise a secret…
I met my parents in law on my wedding day. Yes, it was a whirlwind romance and I’m still married ten years later ☺
14. How did you get your initial round of funding to get your company off the ground?
We’re still self funding the business by juggling Wisher and freelance work. We’re planning to go for funding in 2016 as we wanted to grow the brand, value, and the viability of the business to get a realistic first funding round. We’ve been offered a few rounds by Angels and Incubators in the UK, but the timing just hasn’t been right.
15. How do you feel about your journey ahead and do you have any wise words for aspiring entrepreneurs?
I’m quite confident about the journey ahead. Mainly because I have confidence in myself and the core team. My co-founder, Urchana is a rock and so much fun. I love that we are two women in the tech startup space – there’s so much opportunity right now and so many open doors if you are a female entrepreneur. I really want to champion more women around the world in startups and “give forward” what I’ve learned and connections I’ve made.
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to be very sure about the type business that you’re going into. You have to live and breathe it every day and if it’s not something you are truly and madly passionate about, then just don’t do it. You will start seeing the faults and flaws otherwise and it won’t work out for you.
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