Staying in the monthly membership realm, this week at Startup Lowdown we had the pleasure of interviewing Mikael Hamaoui, co-founder of Ditsies. Ditsies is a direct-to-consumer online retailer/membership club for luxury women’s intimates for $12/month. By cutting out the middle-men, Ditsies is able to provide high quality undergarments at affordable prices, while also donating a portion of its proceeds to charities. In this interview, Mikael gives us an inside peek at the history and identity of Ditsies, as well as some perspective as a co-founder of a e-commerce startup.
StartupLowdown: Mikael, first off we really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview. To start, can you describe what Ditsies does?
Mikael: Ditsies in an online members club for underwear. In a nutshell, members fill out our “style profile” and we then send them one pair of Ditsies each month tailored to their tastes. By cutting out the middle men and delivering straight to members, we are able deliver a superior product at half the cost.
StartupLowdown: What led you and your co-founder to this idea?
Mikael: The idea came in early 2012. Dollar Shave Club and Bonobos had business models I really admired at the time – one created a stellar subscription model and the other did a great job of cutting out middle men to deliver a superior product at a lower price. If we could find a way to do both, it would be perfect, so I dug around to see if any other consumer good fit the qualities needed for this – had high marketing costs I could eliminate, 3rd party distributors, ultimately light weight to ship, and was a necessity good. Underwear just made sense.
StartupLowdown: It seems to us that the women’s underwear market fairly competitive with brands like Victoria’s Secret, Aerie, and Bare Necessities, to name a few. What’s your strategy for taking on these larger competitors?
Mikael: Underwear is rarely a fun product to go shopping for, so the first thing we do is take out that pain point by simplifying the process with a style profile. This style profile makes it fun as it allows us to surprise members with something we are confident they will love and its tailored to them. Second, we cut out the middle men which creates big cost savings for us. We pass those savings onto the quality of product and onto our members.
StartupLowdown: Two things (aside from the underwear) stick out when perusing through the Ditsies website: 1) your roots are firmly planted in NYC, and more importantly 2) your work with non-profits supporting women. Can you talk about how each of those pieces fit into your company’s identity?
Mikael: We wanted to build a socially minded business with a stellar quality product, without all the associated costs those two things tend to come with. Somaly Mam was a charity some close friends had worked with for a while, and so I was quite familiar with its goals and really admired its cause – helping women in Cambodia that have been exploited get their lives back. In particular, Somaly Mam has a segment that focuses on providing sewing skills to some of these women so they can become independent entrepreneurs – that’s the part of the organization we try to work with. The second organization, Breast Cancer Research, well that was a cause very close to my co-founder Jacquie; she had recently lost her sister to it so she really wanted to work with that one.
In regards to NYC, that’s where we found the best quality work in the country, and on top of it, I would be able to keep a close eye on production, making sure everything is just perfect; that’s really important when you’re starting out, it has no doubt avoided us some costly errors.
|Quality selection in NYC|
StartupLowdown: What’s been the most unexpected challenge in running Ditsies?
Mikael: It seems that the biggest challenges always end up being the unexpected ones…. there are a lot of unknowns of the skills you’ll ultimately need as a founder building a business, and learning those skills on the fly, regardless of what they may be (fashion, technical, operations), always seems to be a challenge. There are just so many things you don’t even imagine you’ll have to deal with when you first get started, and having to learn things completely out the scope of your skills can intimidating, especially when you are always short on time. You just have to go with your gut sometimes, even though you know you don’t have all the information and knowledge.
StartupLowdown: While we’d imagine the majority of subscribers are female, what’s your pitch to all the boyfriends and husbands out there?
Mikael: Most guys generally don’t feel very comfortable walking into a store to buy womens underwear, its not the most comfortable situation to be in. We launched a gifting platform early in December just in time for the holidays, and a lot of those gifts were bought by boyfriends and husbands, Ditsies clearly takes out that pain point for men, its a great way for husbands to give intimate gifts (Valentines day, birthday, and holidays), without having to walk into the intimates section of a womens boutique.
StartupLowdown: Any other fun insight you can share with our readers about women’s undergarments?
Mikael: I’ll have to get back to you on that one, we haven’t had time to actually dig into the breakdown of how members across the US look in terms of styles and preferences, its just a lot of data, but I’m hopeful that we will find something random and fun soon enough.
StartupLowdown: Sure thing. Mikael, it’s been a pleasure interviewing you. Thank you giving us your insight on Ditsies and some perspective on entrepreneurship. We here at Startup Lowdown wish you the best of luck going forward.
That wraps up our interview for this week. I encourage you to check out what Ditsies offers at www.ditsies.com. As a guy myself, I can attest to how much more preferable gifting through Ditsies is than wandering awkwardly into your local Victoria’s Secret at the mall. Online reviews also rave about the quality of Ditsies products. To learn more, you can follow them on Twitter @Ditsies or check them out on Facebook.
Enjoy Superbowl Sunday!