Growing up in Silicon Valley, surrounded by tech giants and start-ups, Shilpa Yarlagadda has seen “so many companies”, but she “has just never seen so many women in the C-suite,” the 24-year-old founder of an online jewelry start-up Shiffon Marcus Lemonis said on his upcoming CNBC limited series, “Streets of Dreams with Marcus Lemonis”.
While still a student at Harvard, Yarlagadda and a few friends started Shiffon as a passionate project to make money to fund. women entrepreneurs. And much to Yarlagadda’s surprise, the business took off.
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Now, since launching Shiffon in 2017, Yarlagadda has been juggling school (she took a sabbatical at Harvard but is on track to graduate in 2021) with running a business in an industry that she knew little, learning as she went.
It might not be a typical path to the jewelry business, but then not much about Shiffon is typical. In fact, Yarlagadda is building her business by deconstructing the traditional fine jewelry business model, selling directly to consumers online, and using the extra profits she makes by cutting out middlemen to fund start-ups run by women and who support women. .
It all started with a Google search
“I started to work on [Shiffon] with classmates from high school and college. It was an exciting and fun project at the start, and we didn’t know it would turn into a real business, ”Yarlagadda said. CNBC do it.
To figure out how to make jewelry, Yarlagadda started out as most young people start anything – she Googled it.
“I read how to make jewelry on WikiHow,” Yarlagadda says.
The Harvard freshman also went to the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology and knocked on professors’ doors because she was interested in using the school’s 3D printers.
“One of the secretaries of a materials science professor told me that her boss had succeeded in designing and 3D printing his wife’s engagement ring. I thought that was really cool,” she says. .
Around the same time, to familiarize herself with the industry, Yarlagadda traveled to New York to visit the city’s famous diamond district (the subject of Lemonis’ first episode in “Streets of Dreams,” which visits some of the iconic streets that fuel American’s vital business cultures). She stayed with a distant relative in Queens and took a two-hour subway to the 47th Street neighborhood.
“I have spoken to so many people from CAD designers, founders, stone setters making Tiffany Blue Book pieces, polishers, stone sources and jewelry production companies that made for some of the most popular jewelry brands. more upscale, ”she says. “When I first came to the Diamond District, I really saw how much craftsmanship can make a product stand out.”
When Shiffon finally launched in April 2017, it was with one design – an adjustable spiral ear ring encrusted with a small diamond or gemstone.
“Doing something simple well is not easy and we wanted to focus all of our energy on creating a heroic product that could bring life back to life,” says Yarlagadda. “Inventory is also a big expense for many new businesses that are starting up, and because we didn’t have a lot of capital to start up, we wanted to be wise in what we clung to.” (Yarlagadda says she started the business with part of the $ 20,000 price she has won for a series of educational YouTube videos that she created, like this one which teaches a mnemonic trick to learn the rules of solubility in chemistry.)
The first sales were made by chance or through personal connection, says Yarlagadda. For example, she sold a ring to an Uber driver who overheard her phone call describing what she was trying to do with Shiffon.
The “most exciting” was when she looked at an order online and didn’t know the buyer, she says. And in the beginning, it was often thanks to the celebrities.
In 2017, the friends that Yarlagadda had started with Shiffon wanted to focus on their studies. So she quickly recruited a family friend Shreya chaganti, as Shiffon made big, growing movements, and quickly. The business surged in gusts, starting almost before Yarlagadda had ready all the organizational aspects of his start-up.
Such a surge came after Yarlagadda constantly messaged Emma Watson’s stylist, sarah slut, on LinkedIn and via email, trying to get Watson to wear the pinkie ring in public. Slutzky finally took a call with Yarlagadda and put the ring on Watson in June 2017 when the star was in Paris on a press tour for “The circle. “
It was months before Shiffon’s website even started accepting pre-orders.
In September, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley each wore the pinkie ring to the Emmys, where they accepted awards for the hugely popular HBO series, “Big Little Lies.”
And that was just the start. Stars from Serena Williams to Michelle Obama wore the ring. Obama even recounted a video encouraging women to vote that was made in conjunction with Shiffon’s October release of a pair of limited edition earrings. The campaign was posted on social media with the hashtag #HoopsToVote (a nod to the “hoops” women had to go through to gain the right to vote).
The times when celebrities wore Shiffon’s jewelry would increase sales, Yarlagadda says.
“The first time we sold a ring to someone we didn’t know or didn’t go to school with was when someone found us after an Instagram post about the tour. Emma Watson’s press release, ”she said. “Whenever there was a great moment and people found out about our story, and our ring could really fit anyone because it was adjustable, we sold ourselves.”
Today Shiffon is ringing from $ 155 for a sterling silver ear ring with a purple sapphire stone at $ 425 for a pink gold ear ring with a white sapphire stone to a pair of hoops with small diamonds for $ 1,965.
Yarlagadda declined to share the numbers, but said revenue from sales (which is entirely direct to consumers through Shiffon’s website) goes to the company to drive growth, and 50% of the profits go to Shiffon’s non-profit organization, The Startup Girl Foundation, which invests in founders and businesses that support women.
“We really thought that because of the margins in jewelry we could really use those profits to do something good and to fund women-led businesses now – 11 of which we have funded, “Yarlagadda said.
Yarlagadda and Chaganti, 24, also offer mentoring to the startups they fund. After all, they’re building their own startups at the same time.
“It’s so much better to have your own success while being able to ensure the success of others and that was really an inspiration to our business model,” says Yarlagadda. “We really thought that if Shiffon’s success could lead to the success of other women and the success of other founders, while also building this collaborative community,” it could be an empowering system of women supporting women, she said. .
Look “Streets of Dreams with Marcus Lemonis“premieres on CNBC Tuesday, December 29 at 10 p.m. ET.
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