We talk to Maz Cohen, founder of social gifting app Wisher.
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 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 any wish you have, big or small. 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 preventing it. In the UK, the GBP of unwanted gifts is around 2.4 billion. The day after Christmas, around £200 million worth of gifts are put onto eBay. People gift stuff that isn’t wanted or needed and there’s just so much waste. Part of what we are aiming to do is to eliminate this waste by ensuring our users always get the things that they want the first time around.
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 and 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 realised I wanted to do my own thing. I always knew that would be 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 the company like a Wish Factory. We’re spending a lot of time on building our brand, monitoring wishes coming in from all over the world and rewarding [our clients] by granting their wishes spontaneously. We buy, wrap and hand-deliver gifts and then capture the content to show how truly Wisher is a platform that “makes wishes happen”. We check in with our developers in Poland, and reach out to brands, retailers and organisations to get them involved. We also [have] face to face meetings with advisors who give 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, and 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?
Non-committal people – both third party suppliers and people in the core team. This can really throw a business in its 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 creates the buzz. There are so many tools available now that will allow you to make the most of your testing community, and to get the word out.
9. Do you have any habits or routines, which help you in your working life?
I think due to my lack of routine and habits, a startup actually works for me. Every day 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 that include 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 it, 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 want to grow the brand, value, and 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 in startups around the world and “give forward” what I’ve learned, and the connections I’ve made.
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to be very sure about the type of 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.
2nd December 2015