For a while, nobody cared about the project, and there were no users and no indication it would succeed.
Deena Varshavskaya wants to make shopping fashion and home decor easier for us. She founded Wanelo (Want-Need-Love) in 2009, but not after emigrating from Siberia, dropping out of Cornell, sleeping on the floor of her first start-up and getting rejected for funding 40 different times did she get to leading the fastest growing social shopping site with 11 million users. Determined? I think so. Let’s see what Deena had to say when she sat down with Refinery29.
1. What inspired you to start Wanelo?
I always had unique taste and found traditional malls to be too limiting and frustrating. I’d go in looking for some crazy pair of shoes, and they’d have to fit a lot of different criteria — be unique, not trendy, and comfortable! I knew that there were so many options for shopping outside of malls, but it all felt very disorganized and felt like a ton of work. How do I find these stores? How do I find and organize the products I like? Maybe if I spent all day doing it, I’d be able to figure it out.
I realized that the Internet has the power to unite all of these stores and products in one place and make it possible to easily find incredible things from anywhere. That’s what Wanelo is.
2. What makes Wanelo stand out from other shopping sites out there?
Wanelo is really the absolute best place for discovery of fashion items or home decor. It’s the only platform where you’ll find a huge range of stores, from all the names you know to endless boutiques and unknown brands.
And, Wanelo is built by people who really understand the needs of shoppers, because we are shoppers ourselves. For me, Wanelo is first and foremost the way to solve my own frustrations with shopping, and I see so much opportunity. We are really just scratching the surface of what’s possible.
3. What are some of the greatest rewards of starting your own business?
I think the greatest reward of starting your own business is starting with declaring really big dreams that seem entirely out of reach and then closing the gap between what you said you’d do and doing those things. The smaller the gap, the more powerful you become. And, it honestly surprises me that the impossible things I set out to do became reality.
4. What about some of the challenges?
What challenges? Just kidding. As an entrepreneur, if your company grows, you are doing everything for the first time, which always makes it a challenge. I think of these challenges as black boxes. Black boxes for me were fund-raising, recruiting, and public speaking. These were all things I’d read and heard about, but none that I actually had any experience with.
Take fund-raising. There’s so much pressure to figure out how to do it and to be perfect about it. And, at some point, you have to realize that perfection isn’t going to happen if you actually want to move forward. The best way to do it is to just open the black box and get inside of it. You allow yourself to jump forward with a lot of missing information and a lot of unknowns, but you may find that it’s the best way to learn.
I also find it funny that I haven’t really had a chance to learn very much from another company. I’ve only had jobs and bosses for less than two years and didn’t get exposed to most of the things I have to work on now as a CEO. Sometimes, I think that I could really use some relevant work experience, but instead, I’m learning everything on the job as it happens. I’m embracing all those black boxes.
5. What has been the biggest accomplishment of your career to date?
Bringing together the team of 35 kick-ass people. It’s pretty incredible, because I started working on my own on Wanelo in 2009 as a side project, using my personal savings to build it. It took a lot of work and persistence. For a while, nobody cared about the project, and there were no users and no indication it would succeed.
Eventually, I started getting users on Wanelo and seeing the early community grow. I finally moved to San Francisco in 2011 to fully focus on building the company, which also meant getting funding. It took me 40 investor rejections to close that first round. [And then] I had to immediately launch into hiring a new team. That seemed just as daunting as fund-raising. I had no idea how to build a team. And, I thought I’d be terrible at it. The good news is that I never let that actually stop me from doing it!
6. Lets get personal. What is your exercise routine?
I’ve always known that in order to get myself to exercise, I needed to remove all barriers to going to the gym. I’m really fortunate to be able to have a gym in my house, and one of the easiest and most versatile pieces of equipment is my Pilates springboard. It costs less than $400, and it fits into a small space because it simply goes up on your wall. Pilates is one of the most intelligent forms of exercise for your body, and I do it at least twice a week.”