Irina Pafomova, Co-founder Shopitize: Disrupting the UK; Next, The World!

Irina Pafomova is Co-founder & Company Director of Shopitize Ltd, a company which is currently making waves across all British business sectors with its market disrupting proposition to directly connect consumers with brands they love the most.

The company was founded in 2010 by Irina, a former investment banker, Alan Griffiths, a former Australian cabinet minister, tech entrepreneur and investor, and former management consultant, Dr. Alexey Andriyanenko.

The company raised £1m from international investors to launch the service first in the UK but has global ambitions.

The concept is based on four Rs - Receipts, Reports, Reminders, Rewards and is set to revolutionize shopping in the UK and world over. The more people join Shopitize, the more the system learns and the more sophisticated the rewards will become, saving both time and money for consumers and the brands. In short, Shopitize is set to change the nature of how people shop and how brand promotions are conducted.

Previously, Irina has worked as a Director of Corporate Finance and Risk Solutions at The Royal Bank of Scotland, Director of Structured Finance at ABN AMRO and as an Associate at ING Barings in London and Amsterdam. Her work has seen her advise and support companies across various sectors including tech, where she witnessed ‘the boom and bust era’; also consumer and retail companies, banks and governments across key regions including Europe and North and South America.

Here Irina, who lists her top three interests outside of work as Latin American travel & culture, music and rollerblading, shares her thoughts and tips on entrepreneurship.

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Shopitize and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

IP: The original idea for Shopitize arrived after the three co-founders sat down together and looked at how smartphones were changing the way people live. The concept, in fact, was first mapped out on a napkin at a Belgian cafe in London in the summer of 2010. All three of us were looking to start something new and decided to do it together.

Shopitize was inspired by the youth generation and noticing how smartphones were such an integral part of their lives.

We wondered how we could build a system that would help them be rewarded for their loyalty to brands in a more direct and interactive fashion, through technology and their phones. It was a couple of days later while shopping that we looked at a shopping receipt and thought: That’s it! It contained a lot of information and was the moment Shopitize was born. After that it involved hours and hours of research in libraries and on the internet and hours and hours of conversations and free-thinking. We quickly realised our idea could apply to all sectors and age groups and could also be global. We felt confident Shopitize was a very scalable business model and could cause significant market disruption.

TNW: What makes your company different from your competitors?

IP: We believe Shopitize brings a unique perspective into the world of shopping. There is no equivalent offering and in that sense, it is a first. Other companies are doing the different elements but not combining them together.

For the first time, Shopitize means users can own and control their shopping data, usually collected by retailers, and benefit from it, by taking pictures of their receipts on our app.

It also means brands can cut wastage from their advertising and marketing spends through more direct interaction with consumers.

What is also different perhaps to many companies is that we also have a small but international team onboard: Russian, Belarusian, Australian, American, Taiwanese, Hungarian, French, British, German, Dutch, which gives us a global perspective as everyone has their different insights and understandings. The whole team is young and driven and we also have a lot of fun together.

TNW: What is your business model?

IP: Shopitize’s Consumer Engagement Platform directly connects brands with individual customers to provide personalised offers based on verified purchase history and where they stand on the brand loyalty ladder. All users need to do is take a picture of their shopping receipt, the rest is done by us.

Basically it means that consumers no longer have to go looking for bargains or offers on the products they like - the tailored offers come to them based on their brand loyalty via our website and app.

It is a simple idea and technology has allowed it to happen. The thrill is that as technology evolves, so will Shopitize. Currently, it is a seamless operation between the app and website and will get better and better the more people use it. Our monetisation will come from brands providing highly targeted offers on our platform, as well as supplying those brands, initially FMCG, with meta-data. We chose to launch in the UK because of its dynamic retail market and because it’s home for two out of three founders.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

IP: Alan, Alexey and myself are old friends. We enjoy working with each other so we were looking for people like us, only smarter and more knowledgeable in their areas of expertise. We made sure all our team members shared the vision and had great enthusiasm, drive, energy, and an entrepreneurial approach, which is essential as the business is starting from scratch. We are now comprised of 11 team members, including 3 interns, who also share these qualities.

We hire people who want to be part of Shopitize and aren’t just looking for a 9-5 job. We also look for flexibility, creativity and the ability to listen.

We work long hours, so existing on little sleep is also necessary. Because everyone believes in the vision, everyone rolls up their sleeves and pitches in, even at weekends.

A sense of humour is also a must, notwithstanding the ability to laugh at ourselves! We also all socialise together.

TNW: What is next for your company?

IP: We launched the product last month (March) and have a big challenge ahead of us on all fronts. We are pitching to brands, building a solid user base and doing the second round of fundraising all at the same time. With regards to the platform, it is a chicken and egg scenario as consumers want brands onboard so they can receive offers and brands want consumers onboard so they can target and reward them. Our approach is to work on both simultaneously, whilst seeking further funding. Shopitize is very much people powered so there is also a ‘call to arms’ involved so spreading the word is also crucial through the media in both terms of marketing and media coverage. This is all happening in the UK first and then we are looking looking globally,  starting with Australia later in the year. We are constantly assessing the most cost-efficient ways of doing things both in-house and by outsourcing.

Eventually we want to build Shopitize in such a way it can run itself so that if the team does change, people can just hop on board and everything is in place.

TNW: What does your day look like?

Currently it’s 24/7, running on adrenaline but absolutely loving it, and that’s not just me! I am trying to focus on moving away from the execution of Shopitize to the management.

After I’ve had my first coffee, I am raring to go. No one day is ever the same. We can be pitching to brands or investors, developing the product, giving interviews, demonstrations, going to networking groups, planning or dealing with whatever arises. We all live and breathe Shopitize and that is what makes a super team.

TNW: Do you lie awake at night sometimes thinking about the company? What aspects of it specifically keep you awake?

IP: Yes! It’s hard to switch off. Your operational memory gets overwhelmed!

I also have the strangest dreams. I once dreamt a whole TV advert by a rival company and woke up in a cold sweat!

TNW: If you could get on a soap box and get something off your chest about the world of entrepreneurship, something you’d like to change, what would it be?

IP: I would love to see entrepreneurship being a valid career choice for bright university graduates. I worked in investment banking before this but I can see now how a person can pick up much more varied skills in a start-up than in an analyst role in a bank, or sifting through law books. This is the opportunity we try to give our interns and several have made the transition from intern to employee. Hopefully it will give them all a taste for entrepreneurship and they will remember us when they one day set up a successful businesses of their own.

TNW: Briefly describe your history in raising investment for your company

IP: The three co-founders funded the first stage after we registered the company in August 2010.

The first round of funding of £1m came quite quickly in August 2011 from a group of sophisticated investors in Australia.

People liked the platform we were proposing and hopefully the same thing will happen now we are in the process of raising the second round. It involves a lot of networking and pitching as the consumer and brand base grows. This time we need a larger amount too for the commercial roll-out, so fingers crossed!

TNW: Do you believe that it is easier for technical women founders to achieve venture funding than non-technical? If so, what are your reasons for this?

IP: Not necessarily. I have mainly business experience having advised companies across a wide range of industries (including tech, consumer and retail) in an investment bank. I believe that being able to attract the right expertise is the key. A founder does not need to be a techy but have a capacity for understanding the big picture and being able to ask the right questions to the right people.

TNW: How would you describe your leadership style today?

IP: I try to be fair and always explain the bigger and long-term picture. I am happy to delegate and give responsibility but expect high quality in return. Perfectionism in everything does not work as it can be misdirected. I am also a pacemaker so that when things need speeding up, I speed them up.

For discipline, I believe in tough-love. if people aren’t performing or misbehave: then quite simply, no love!

At the moment though our belief in Shopitize keeps us going, and united, so there is no need for that.

TNW: What is the best career or management decision you have made?

IP: To start working for myself. I am having the time of my life!

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