Bouchra Ezzahraoui and friend Sophie Kahn saw an opportunity in the jewelry space for affordable fine jewelry, which led them to launch AUrate — a direct-to-consumer fine jewelry brand, offering ethically-sourced and luxurious diamonds, gold and mother of pearl fine jewelry. The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center sat down with them to catch up on their founder’s journey so far.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
BE: It means identifying a problem and an actual need for your idea and going all in.
How did your company come to be?
SK: Bouchra and I were having brunch at our favorite spot and my finger had turned green from a ring that I had purchased. We started talking about jewelry and how it was crazy that women like us – with well-paying corporate jobs at the time – couldn’t afford real gold. Let alone get real gold that was also cool-looking, ethical, and something to feel good about. We decided to look into it and quickly realized there was a huge gap in the market. We both got really excited to fill this void, aka the beginning of AUrate.
What is the biggest experience or lesson gained on your journey so far?
BE: Focus on the big picture at all times & accept the fact that failures should be part of the journey. Building a startup is based on trial and error, you will not know what you don’t know in many cases and the biggest challenge is to keep going and learning.
How is your company changing the landscape?
SK: We’re trying to offer it all to the woman who — in our opinion — deserves it all. This means good-looking, high quality jewelry that’s fairly priced, ethically sourced, made in NYC, and that gives back. No concessions, whether in life, or in jewelry.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
BE: I wish I knew how much time we would spend hiring the right people, they’re as key to your success in establishing your product market fit. I’d have started head-hunting much earlier than our launch, it’s a lengthy process but worth every minute you invest in it.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business?
SK: JUST DO IT. This has been our motto from the very beginning, and something we continue to stick to. In other words, of course, do your homework, but don’t get bogged down by over-analysis. At the end of the day, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so just try it out, and then you’ll see and adapt from there.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
BE: Sophie and I have been friends for over 10 years, we can share stories about stochastic calculus homework in grad school as well as shopping sprees after we started working. Starting your own venture can feel lonely sometimes with all the ups and downs, but having a business partner makes things so much more human, you can bounce ideas off each other, celebrate and even commiserate together. While I think friendship is necessary when you start, it is not sufficient to build a business. You should find the partner who shares the same vision while having different and complementary skills. It makes you more adaptable, stronger and well rounded in a people’s business, no matter what sector you’re in. Sophie can handle the creative direction while I’m spending more time with our investors and our team likes that. You can find people who believe in your idea, but they also need to know your objectives, believe in the long and short them visions of your business and know they can trust committed but also human leaders to drive the ship to success. This way it’s more than a team working for you, they’re working with you, it’s your tribe who will contribute to your success.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
SK: I get inspired by other entrepreneurs, whether in my circle or through what I read & hear. It helps a lot to hear stories of others going through similar things, who can relate to the challenges we face.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
BE: Success means making an impact and raising AUrate to the forefront of the big players in the fine jewelry arena. We want to be the new kids on the block who managed to shake things up and made our sector more transparent and customer friendly. We want people to mention us as a leading example for a great brand that also does good. That’s the new cool for me.
Hard work, being mindful, building a customer base that believes in AUrate’s value proposition, working with the right team and having strategic investors on board are all necessary to accomplish this vision.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
SK: The high was probably our first photoshoot ever – it was amazing to see your brand come to life; from just an idea on paper to an actual real-life world. Bouchra and I had been running around Soho like mad-women with a van and a model (and a slew of paparazzi following her, never a dull moment) and while we couldn’t feel our feet at the end of the day, it was a sense of pure content and joy. Luckily, there hasn’t been a terrible low, but there have definitely been some tough moments. That’s the amazing thing about having a business-partner and best-friend in one. We can always help each other – amplify the highs and soften the lows together.
What lesson did 2017 have for you? What do you look forward to in 2018?
BE: ‘17 was my first year as a full time entrepreneur after 7 years of trading derivatives at Goldman Sachs. It was a definite cultural shock but I didn’t have time to think about it given how many things I had to learn in such a short amount of time. I learned taking more risks, being comfortable with more uncertainty than I ever had in my career as a risk taker. We grew our Ecom business in the double digits, quadrupled the size of the team and I look forward ‘18 to be an even steeper learning and performance curve.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
SK: I try to work in meditation, if only 5 minutes, every day. It really helps me get perspective and, just for that small window of time, be nowhere. Often, by the way, magic happens after this (new designs ideas or just clarity on an issue I was thinking about).
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as?
BE: I want to become a serial entrepreneur and a mentor. I love building things and enjoy the process of going from 0 to 1 then N. N being something bigger than what I thought initially, but also the N that does good and gives back to our society.
While working on that I also enjoy mentoring young talent, something I’ve been doing throughout my “grown up” years. I was a mathematics tutor, an Economics teacher assistant and I think it’d be good for me to share learnings about my experience as a founder or simply a student of life.