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It is a common misperception that successful entrepreneurs have to hit upon an original idea. Lourdes Pinillos Delgado, a Peruvian who completed a masters in international management at Spain’s IE Business School, focused on what most lionised founders actually do and created a business that imitated a proven business model.
“I always liked the idea of launching a business,” explains Pinillos Delgado, who started researching start-up stories, funding options and new business trends long before graduating from IE in 2009.
She cites her husband, also an IE alumnus, as an inspiration, having launched his own start-up in Peru after completing the MBA programme.
It was after returning to Peru from her own studies that Pinillos Delgado read an article on Birchbox, a subscription-funded ecommerce platform started in the US and extended to the UK, whose customers can try new beauty products and share their thoughts online.
The New York-based start-up has raised $71.9m since it was founded in 2010 and has created partnerships with cosmetics brands such as Kiehl’s, Benefit and Stila. The idea struck a chord with Pinillos Delgado and she shared it with a couple of friends. They all agreed they would sign up to such a service if it was available where they lived, so they set about researching the idea among a sample of 300 Peruvian women.
This added further weight to the argument. Of those questioned, 70 per cent said they would pay to test a beauty product and 75 per cent would buy an item online, especially if they could test it or read reviews.
“The results were more positive than we thought,” she says, and it was not long before DeluxeBox.pe was born.
Pinillos Delgado’s business lets women try new products through a “discovery” subscription, buy beauty products from well-known brands and be part of an online community that shares reviews. For the cosmetics brands, DeluxeBox brings new customers through the online recommendations and endorsements.
“We wanted to come up with an idea that could work in Peru and the region, that was scalable and that could fit with our personal interests,” says Pinillos Delgado, who quit as a finance manager at accountancy firm EY to focus on the business full time. “We wanted to feel excited about it, and that happens when you do something you love.”
She says her time at IE helped open her eyes to different business models from a variety of countries. “IE is very focused on entrepreneurship through all the curricula and activities, so it switched on my entrepreneurial bug and made me think more seriously about launching a start-up,” she says.
“Team-building in a multicultural space, faculty coming from different backgrounds and countries, and participating in a very diverse environment really helped me develop soft skills and foster leadership abilities I [have since] used after the masters in my start-up and in my life in general.”
In two and a half years of trading, DeluxeBox has amassed about 10,000 customers, who subscribe and buy products through the online store, and has built partnerships with 90 beauty and personal care brands. Last year the company broke even.
Seed finance was from the savings of the founding members. A further $50,000 investment came from being chosen out of more than a thousand companies to participate on Peru’s Wayra accelerator programme, a start-up support service created by Spanish telecoms group Telefónica.
Wayra’s key benefit is not the money or office space but the mentorship, Pinillos Delgado says. “Right now, Wayra is the centre of the entrepreneurial activity in Peru. Being part of it puts me in a strategic position inside the digital ecosystem in the country and region,” she says. “We have presented our start-up to investors in Colombia and Peru, and are evaluating and negotiating our second investment round.”
Fundraising remains a challenge. “Peru still lacks angel investors and venture capital firms. But the digital ecosystem is evolving rapidly,” she says, predicting a better environment for funding in the coming years.
Pinillos Delgado plans to develop new business lines, such as business intelligence for beauty companies. “I have seen a great opportunity in all the information that we collect from customers,” she says — subscribers are encouraged to complete a beauty profile online and answer questions about product preferences.
Pinillos Delgado also wants to offer more products for men and is looking at expansion into other Latin American countries, although she notes there is still plenty of room for growth in Peru.
“Now is a good time to be an entrepreneur in Peru,” she says. “The economy has been growing continuously over the last 15 years. People are open to consuming new goods and services.” It seems they too are open to adopting other people’s ideas.
Jargon buster: ‘sharing economy’
New ideas tend to be viewed more positively in California. Blame it on the sunshine. It should, therefore, be no surprise that the thought leaders of Silicon Valley should come up with a warm and fuzzy phrase such as “sharing economy” to describe the new breed of business models their entrepreneurs are creating based on the power of online marketplaces.
Do you have a driveway that sits unused for large parts of the day and could be rented to someone commuting into town? There is now a smartphone app for that. Or perhaps you would like to earn some extra money as a courier or a cabbie. Then why not offer yourself for hire as an Uber driver?
Key to a sharing economy businesses is the ability for a mass of people to effectively become sole traders, offering themselves or their assets for sale or hire. The concern is that people might be gaining the freedom to work in a less regulated way at the expense of employee benefits, such as a pension or paid leave.
A better way to describe this state of affairs might be the “freelance economy”, but then perhaps that is a bit too negative for those start-up champions of the Valley.
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