Send the Trend, Looking To Transform the Way Women Shop, Comes From Reluctant Entrepreneur

6/13/11Follow @xconomy

Divya Gugnani grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and told herself she’d never do that.

Now, she’s CEO of two startups. One of which, she says, is out to transform the way women shop. That would be Send The Trend, a website that sells personalized accessories like jewelry and scarves. It’s one of the many New York fashion-focused sites that has started up in the last couple of years.

Gugnani, who early on developed a passion for cooking, pursued a traditional career in finance after graduating from Cornell, taking positions at Goldman Sachs, and private equity and VC firms Investcorp International and iFormation. Those exposed her to the creative side of startups.

“I really got to see how people started a business: how they grow it, how they start it, the problems they have,” she says. “I really got to get a feel for business, but the end of the day you haven’t done it. As much as I loved being a venture capitalist, there was just this bug in my body that wants to be on the other side.”

It took her a few years, though. She went to Harvard Business School, mainly because “working in finance for four years is enough to kill someone,” she says. She ended up cooking a lot and making new friends, but when she was done, jumped right back into venture capital.

While working at FirstMark Capital, Gugnani had the idea to turn her passion for cooking into a social website for tips on recipes, nutrition and mixology. A colleague encouraged her to pursue it as a fun side project in 2008, and months later Gugnani quit her career in VC to run the site, Behind the Burner, full time.

Living the scrappy startup life exposed Gugnani to the challenges most women face while shopping, she says. “From that experience my life as a woman changed dramatically. It used to be that a great sales rep would say, ‘this is what you need to wear.’ Shopping was an activity where you got so much service and customization. Once you don’t take a salary, shopping sucks.”

“Women have a hard time shopping, whether it’s online or not online, they can’t discover the things they want to buy,” Gugnani says. “Discovery is the biggest problem.

So last year Gugnani launched Send the Trend with friend Mariah Chase, who had worked with Project Runway winner Christian Siriano. The trio developed a website that surveys women on their style preferences and brings them a fresh closet of accessories to choose from each month, each piece costing $29.95 with no shipping charges. Gugnani’s hope is that women will “buy one accessory to update last season’s look on a budget.”

Send the Trend’s aim is to bring busier, more cash-strapped shoppers the personalized recommendation services that high-end stores offer. Every accessory sold on the site (hats, sunglasses, jewelry, scarves, belts, hair accessories, umbrellas) is designed specifically for Send the Trend. The site’s algorithms also use previous purchases to tailor future recommendations to consumers, and track behavior on the website to better understand the consumer, Gugnani says.

“Christian works with Mariah to come up with what’s trendy this season and what’s’ happening,” she says. “We take a lot of that market intelligence and trend forecasting and incorporate it into our collections.”

Send the Trend raised $2.5 million earlier this spring from Battery Ventures, and has another $500,000 from founders and angel investors. And it hasn’t really tapped into that money yet, says Gugnani, “knock on wood,” because “sales keep ramping.”

The 11-person startup works in the same office space as Behind the Burner, which Gugnani still runs. Behind the Burner may have been Gugnani’s intro to starting a business, but she hopes Send the Trend is about building scale. Gugnani wouldn’t reveal sales figures for the site, but the company boasts more than 45,000 Facebook fans.

Continuous sales growth is built into the site’s business model. Once a consumer purchases an accessory, the next month she has to decide whether to purchase or skip buying a new product. If she takes no action in the first five days, she’s charged $29.95, which she has a year to use on purchasing a new product.

“We feel really strongly that this is a service,” Gugnani says. “There are great prices and a strong product. We really want that experience to be valued. It is a subscription model, completely in the hand of a consumer. We don’t autosend you anything. If we can keep the value proposition really strong, the business really grows itself.”

And Send the Trend’s ambitions aren’t small. “We want to change the way women shop. We want every single woman in America to think of Send the Trend as the way to update her accessories closet,” Gugnani says.

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