Lenka Gourdie, Co-Founder BagServant, on Using The Latest Technology to Find the Perfect Handbag

Lenka Gourdie is Co-Founder of BagServant.co.uk, a one-stop-shop retail site specialising in handbags, enabling browsing of favourite brands from trusted high profile retailers using sophisticated navigation.

BagServant searches hundreds of luxury and designer brands and high street offerings, seeking out new upcoming designers to find the perfect bags for its customers. A comprehensive search facility offers filtering by occasion, price, personality, colour, brand, bag size and much more.

Lenka has over 15 years’ experience in B2B and B2C business development and marketing in a variety of industries. After studying Economics in her native Czech Republic, Lenka moved to the UK, where she set up her own executive coaching business before moving to a headhunting role. Before founding BagServant, Lenka’s most recent post was with Kingston University, where she was responsible for the commercialisation of their healthcare faculty.

In 2011, Lenka decided to make the most of her business development experience and leave her full time job to set up BagServant.co.uk with her husband Allan (Co-founder) to tackle the challenges of the fashion industry.

How did you come up with the idea for BagServant.co.uk and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

I have always loved fashion. Since I started having my own disposable income, I spent lots of money on new clothes, shoes and handbags. However, my real passion for handbags was born when I married and was bribed by my husband to take a helicopter trip on our honeymoon in Hawaii.

When he asked me what he needed to get me on-board, the first thing that came to my mind was a Fendi handbag!

Since then at every special occasion, I treated myself to a new handbag. Whenever I had the opportunity, I always bought a designer bag. I treat my bags like my best friend and carefully choose them for every special occasion and as Tamara Mellon, the founder of Jimmy Choo Ltd has said “At the end of the day, a woman’s status comes from her handbag and shoes”. Since then I learnt that not every bag needs to be a well-known designer bag as there are so many options out there, there is no need to limit yourself.

I have always been searching for a business idea. Last year I came across an article about bloggers and making money from blogging. My husband at that time interviewed for a job with a successful startup offering a search for properties. The two ideas fused and BagServant was born.

Fashion is very competitive industry, how do you make sure that you are different?

We spent hours brainstorming ideas on how to make it different. We looked at other industries for inspiration and revised the ideas for the fashion industry. Our changing room idea came about in this way. We also spoke to many different women to find out what they like/dislike when it comes to their handbag shopping. At the end of the day, I felt that I was the consumer and I knew what I wanted.

We took a lean start up approach by implementing each feature step by step and validating our assumptions.

How important is technology and innovation to the success of BagServant?

Extremely! Our advanced analytics provide lots of valuable insight into customer behaviour. We use the latest A-B testing tools to experiment with changes. We try to follow the “lean startup” approach by testing interest in a new product idea before going to the expense of building it. We try wherever possible to use “best of breed” services such as Get Satisfaction’s customer feedback tools.

My business partner is an IT person – which is always an advantage. We are trying to make the site as interesting as possible to visit to create an interactive visitor “experience” so we have a number of different ways that you search for bags – an innovation to be introduced shortly will be the “search by personality” function which will be a fun way to find a bag according to your personality type.

We also have a “changing room” feature which allows you to see how the bag will look when wearing it with different outfits and colours.

What is next for your company?

We are still in the building stage. We will shortly be launching our handbag personality search filters to make it easier for women to find what bag suits their fashion style and taste, as well as making it easy for friends and loved ones to also choose the perfect bag as a gift. We are also officially launching our complementary Handbag Concierge services. When you spot a handbag you love, you tweet us or send us a picture, we will find the bag for you. Then we are very excited about an official nationwide launch.

What lessons have you taken from you successes and/or failures?

  • Focus and stick to your vision
  • Be aware of your finances all the time.
  • Focus on your customer needs
  • Things always take longer and will cost you more money than anticipated
  • Keep going and believe in your idea
  • Listen to others but make your own decisions and stick to them
  • Your employees won’t always be engaged as much as you are
  • Accept that people don’t like to get out of their comfort zones

Do you have any role models or mentors?

My main role model of success is my father. My father was a managing director of large engineering companies for over 20 years and has always been very entrepreneurial. My fashion industry role models are Tamara Mellon, the founder of Jimmy Choo, Sarah Curran from my-wardrobe.com or Natahsa Meta … from net-a-porter.com

Do you have plans to expand internationally?

Yes, from the outset, the idea was to succeed in one territory and then rollout globally. The technology has been built to support multi-region and multi-lingual setups. There is a big demand in the Middle East and Asia, but also Russia and Norway.

Have you come across any other exciting startups recently and what is it about them that appeals to you?

I am always trying to find ways how to create something on our website which allows females to spread the word creatively.

I really like the ideas of Pinterest and Polyvore. They give females creative tools to express themselves and their desires and share it with the world.

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

I think about the business all the time. I am trying to find better ways how to promote the business, improve the product and how to spread the word. When some problems occur I tend to wake up at night and try to solve them. At the end of the day, it always comes back to finance. When you are self-funded as we are, each penny which goes out of your pocket matters more, you start evaluating and watching your ROI immediately. There are lots of businesses in the market which are happy to take money from you and not deliver, when you invest your own money, it hurts even more.

What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it?

My background was in the B2B marketing and sales (15 years), starting a business to sell to B2C has been very challenging and a huge learning curve.

Management is new to me as well; although I used to work on matrix projects where I managed people, when it is your own company and you manage people, your expectations are higher.

Is there a moment in the history of your company which you remember as the highlight so far?

When I approached Deborah Meaden to be interviewed for BagServant, she accepted, I was very excited. On the day of the interview our Editor was ill and I had to step in and conduct the interview myself. It was great to speak to Deborah directly; She is a very different person than how she comes across on Dragons’ Den.

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