Written by Vibhu Gairola
Funding was a nightmare for Ali de Bold and her husband Alex, co-founders of ChickAdvisor.com, an online review site for products and services geared toward women.
“Investors thought the idea was hilarious, and we literally got laughed out of meetings,” de Bold says. “Once there was a woman in the room and even she said, ‘why would anyone ever want to review a mascara?’”
At one meeting with angel investors, de Bold recalls, “we actually had a terms sheet turned upside down on the table…and they said, ‘Alex, we believe in you, but Ali, we just don’t feel comfortable.’ Then they turned to each other and brainstormed — right in front of us — about different guys they could bring in to replace me.”
De Bold strongly believes sexism of that sort no longer exists in boardrooms, and confesses it might have served as a catalyst for her success.
“I kept thinking, ‘I have to prove those guys wrong, I have to prove those guys wrong.’”
She and her team did just that. When it launched in 2006, ChickAdvisor became the first review site of its kind, catering to women looking to compare notes before purchasing makeup, household products, or services at a local salon. The site had traction the minute it went online, and after being profiled by trendspotting sites like Mashable, membership started pouring in — all without a dollar spent on advertising.
As of 2017, the site boasts more than 150,000 members across Canada and has spawned a site for men’s product reviews, XYStuff.com.
De Bold credits much of ChickAdvisor’s success to bootstrapping — they self-financed through the development phase — and the efforts of her core team and family. Relatives provided everything from shareholder backing to legal advice; technical leadership came from her partner Alex, who had experience launching an ecommerce site.
“The beautiful thing is our clients are choosing us over [our competitors] time and time again,” de Bold says. She notes there are lots of places to get product reviews — Instagram, blogs, YouTube — and these sites all have their individual merits.
“But if you’re standing in Shoppers Drug Mart looking at a wall of products…one comment on Instagram isn’t necessarily going to sway you. You need to see a number of reviews,” she says.
Ultimately, the secret to ChickAdvisor’s success may be in its creation of an active user community — and along with it, the volume of reviews necessary for consumers to make informed decisions.
Above all else, one thing is clear: de Bold understands her target audience in a way that male VCs didn’t. As it turns out, women do want to read reviews before buying that tiny but-oh-so-essential tube of mascara.
Photo Credit: Rebecca Tisdelle