This is Mentoring Moments, a series of WOW-you-need-to-know-these stories from successful women of multiple generations. Mentoring Moments is now a podcast.
Jessica Wilson at Stashd Headquarters Holding The TenCent Mascot. Photo credit Snappr.co
Three years ago on a whim, 21-year-old Jessica Wilson booked a one-way ticket from Australia to Silicon Valley. She didn’t know a single person nor did she have any immediate plans for when she arrived in the world’s tech capital. With her iPhone in hand, with the screen saver of Sir Richard Branson and the quote “screw it, let’s do it,” she began a journey that would change her life. Today Wilson is the (non-tech) founder and CEO of Stashd, the online shopping app with a Tender-esq swipe motion. This is Wilson’s Mentoring moment in her words — a story that will definitely inspire you to screw it and just do it.
How did I, a girl from Australia, who didn’t speak a word of Chinese, end up as a contestant on a Chinese TV series The Next Unicorn? And how did my app Stashd become a best new app in TenCent, the leading Chinese app store?
It started with The Next Unicorn — a search for the next billion dollar tech business. Think Shark Tank meets The Apprentice, but filmed in Shanghai with 55 global budding tech startup teams pitching for $2 million in funding (winner takes all).
The judges were world leading and included a seed investor in PayPal, seed investor in Baidu and ex-CEO of Alibaba. Oh, and the series would air to 15 million people in China.
Being a contestant was a mental marathon. Whenever self-doubt would kick in, whenever I started to compare myself to others, I had no choice but to shut it down and stay focused. I just couldn’t allow myself to enter that mental war zone.
If you’re wondering why I would do this, it’s because I’ve found some of my greatest successes when I jump right into the deep end. I’ve learned that the things that scare me the most are normally the things I need to do. And this was definitely up there!
At the end of the three weeks of filming we didn’t get the $2 million, but we did place with the bronze trophy and I was the last female founder standing.
But the winning opportunity to take Stashd to a whole new level, even bigger than winning $2 million, hadn’t even presented itself yet. We had three months between filming and the show being aired on a major TV network in China, reaching 15 million people. So I thought, “How do we leverage this?” The only way was to develop the Stashd app so it could be used in China (Stashd was available in Australia, UK and US, but not China). The idea in theory made sense, but making it happen was on the verge of insanity and definitely a risk.
Normally, to develop a working app takes some companies six to twelve months, including a testing period. We needed to develop an app in three months, in a different country, in a different language, with different currency and no time to test. It was crazy. But what seemed crazier to me was that 15 million people would hear about Stashd, but they wouldn’t be able to use it.
It was months of late nights and insane deadlines, but we did it. And then the first episode of the show aired to 15 million people and we had… 11 downloads of the app. Yep, 11. Not 11,000 or 111,000 but 11. My team and I were crushed, exhausted and confused.
I had to pick myself and the team back up. We had to figure out what went wrong, alter our approach and try again. We couldn’t just walk away.
Here are the top three things we learned:
1. Build it and they may not come: No matter what the audience, the real gem is exposure to the right audience. We were so excited about the big 15 million number that we didn’t even ask ourselves, “Are the viewers our users?” We discovered the viewers are business professionals, but our users are Chinese millennials.
2. Got help. After identifying who our market is, we had to figure out how to speak to them, leveraging the exposure from the show. We secured a PR company, learned how to engage influencers on Weibo (one of the most popular social sites in China). We also learned how the app stores worked so we could gain more exposure in relevant categories for our target of fashion savvy millennials.
3. Got local. China is a very different market. People living in China often don’t use email and Facebook is not possible. Once we integrated with the likes of Weibo and QQ as a form to login to the app, we were now talking their language. We had to fit into a new market.
After the third episode of The Last Unicorn, we had implemented our learnings and were trending within the top “Best New Apps” in the TenCent app store (China’s largest app store).
That’s when I took things up a notch and contacted the three leading Internet companies in China: Alibaba, TenCent and Baidu. I had a contact, Jade Jin, who had a friend who worked at TenCent. We organized a WeChat call and numerous coffee catch ups turned into me booking a ticket back to China to meet with the TenCent team at the Innovation Centre in Tianjin.
After months of speaking we secured a deal in which TenCent and TenCent Leilai will assist us in the localization of Stashd in China, providing: exposure into the TenCent app store (700M users), integrations with their payment providers, access to marketing teams, assistance in recruitment and an office for Stashd in China.
I first set foot in China in January 2016. Now, nine months later, we’re set to open an office with a strategic shareholder who has access to the largest social network in China (WeChat), the largest app store (TenCent) and preferred payments provider (WeChat Pay). The goal: make Stashd the go-to app in China for Chinese millennials to shop western fashion.
If we had given up when we only had 11 downloads, we wouldn’t be here. If we hadn’t been innovative, we wouldn’t be here. I learned a ton in those short months, and I was constantly reminded that it’s not about what doesn’t go to plan, but it’s how you pick yourself up, change your perspective and keep going.
Take a listen to the Mentoring Moments podcast where successful women (Kat Cole, Jane Wurwand, Sallie Krawcheck, Cindy Gallop and more) are dropping their V bombs and sharing their vulnerable moments.
Check out my Forbes podcast, Mentoring Moments, and follow me on Twitter and Facebook. My book, Their Roaring Thirties is here.