Rebecca Thorman works in marketing and social media at the start-up company Alice.com in Madison, Wisconsin. Alice.com is a new venture that provides a way to manage all of your household essentials online. Since we all can't have a housekeeper like Alice on the Brady Bunch, maybe Alice.com can do the trick to help us save time and money. Rebecca answered some questions for me about Alice:
1. Whose idea was Alice.com and how did it get started?
"Our co-founders Brian Wiegand and Mark McGuire have an entrepreneur track record that includes three previous start-up successes, the most recent being Jellyfish.com which sold to Microsoft and formed part of the basis for Bing. They left Microsoft about a year ago, and at the time, they set out to answer one question: 'Why doesn’t anyone buy toilet paper online?' The question was a metaphor for the larger challenge of how to get the mainstream consumer to buy Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)—non-perishable stuff like toilet paper, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and diapers—on the Internet."
2. What are the challenges you faced in starting a website like this?
"There are three main reasons why consumers choose to continue to drive to the store to buy things like toilet paper and trash bags: a.) Shipping Fees. Paying for shipping sucks, and most online shoppers just can’t stomach the thought of paying $6 in online shipping fees for a $3 tube of toothpaste; b.) Competitive Pricing. Try buying things like shampoo and conditioner online today and you’ll often pay anywhere from 20% to 40% more than you do at traditional mass retailers; c.) Online is Too Late. Lots of people buy household essentials when they run out, at which point online purchases aren’t really an option. For Alice to be successful, we needed to address all those issues and decided that we would build a service that always had free shipping, competitive prices, and a Netflix-like reordering queue that made it easy to plan ahead."
3. Who do you see as your competition?
"Other online places like Drugstore.com, Amazon.com, Diapers.com, Peapod, Walgreens.com, etc."
4. What advice do you have for women who want to start their own ventures?
"Show up. I used to run an organization that helped young entrepreneurs and the meetings and events would be extremeley well-attended... by men. I knew there were so many women entrepreneurs, but they rarely showed up to such opportunities losing valuable networking opportunities, resources, etc. I love the organizations that are focused on women helping women, but you have to network with men too if you want wide-spread success. It's just the nature of the game."
5. What it's like for a woman to work at a startup?
"Working at a start-up has a completely different culture than many workplaces. My experience has been that everyone's ideas are valued and there is much more of an equal playing field no matter your gender, years of experience, etc. The fast pace and goal-oriented approach means that we all lean on each other to create a successful company, and while there certiainly is very strong and inspirational leadership, it definitely feels like a team working together."
Thanks Rebecca! Rebecca has a personal blog which has been featured in several media outlets including the New York Times. Her favorite brand of toilet paper is Cottonelle.