Despite having paved their careers as product managers in e-commerce, first at Moda Operandi and then at Jet.com, it wasn't always a given that longtime colleagues Elizabeth Shaffer and Lizzy Brockhoff would launch a startup within that very space. In fact, it was a decidedly non-professional engagement that inspired MASSE, their new shopping app: motherhood. "We both became moms, one day apart, and had to put together our baby registries," Shaffer and Brockhoff explain. "We experienced first hand how hard it was to research so many products at once, and realized that everyone ends up asking their friends. We discovered the phenomenon of the 'baby list,' giant excel documents that moms send each other with their favorite baby products. We each received 10 to 15 of these and thought, 'There has to be another way!'"
Enter MASSE, which combines the ease of digital shopping with the advantage of word-of-mouth recommendations—"free of any sponsored content, paid-for posts or fake reviews," the founders add. Here, a look at how they get it all done, from startup secrets to their own app obsessions.
Top three pro tips to building a successful e-business?
1. Lean on your network and don’t be afraid to ask for advice—then take it.
2. Listen to the user. We are constantly running user tests, focus groups, and talking to our top users to figure out how to make the experience better.
3. Partner with someone with whom you have a solid, trusted, relationship.
One misconception about building a start-up in the social/digital space you'd like to clear up..
I think a lot of people think it’s easy to build an app! In reality, it takes a lot of thought, iterations, and testing to build something that feels simple and easy for the user to use. You have to distill a lot of functionality, concepts and content into a very small interface.
What's your go-to entrepreneur/life hack?
ES: I try to be rigorous about prioritization! If I don’t get to everything, that’s OK, as long as I get to the most important things.
LB: Try to be present in the situation at hand—this means both at home and at work.
What's the backstory to the name?
On MASSE we really see our users as our merchandisers—it’s their recommendations that create the value of the platform. The name, which comes from en masse or “all together,” was appropriate because it's our users, all together, who create the value of MASSE.
Best part of owning your own business?
Getting to hire your own team, and choose whom you work with!
And the most challenging part?
Balancing work and life, especially with kids at home. There are always more projects you can be taking on at the office, or more work to be done. You have to be comfortable with saying “enough” for the day.
And how do you overcome the above?
We try to make sure that we are present in each of our worlds. When we are at work, we are present in our work, but when we’re at home with our families, we do our best to be present for them too. It’s not always an easy thing to achieve, but that’s what we strive for!
What are the most-used apps on your phone?
ES: Dark Sky—for weather, especially during this season in NYC! MASSE—for obvious reasons! Evernote—it’s how I manage all of my to-do lists, notes and priorities. Outlook—for email. Slack—it’s how everyone in our office communicates!
LB: WhatsApp/FaceTime—my family is in Australia so there are a lot of long-distance video calls and messages (mainly of my daughter). Google Maps—I just moved to NYC so pretty much can’t function without it. Slack—being a startup we are working lots. Evernote—I keep my to-do list in there. MASSE—it’s addictive :)
“ Lean on your network and don’t be afraid to ask for advice—then take it. ”