Aussie Airbnb-for-clothes startup The Volte has raised $700,000 in funding, after building a base of more than 100,000 active users.
Founded in 2017 by former lawyer Kym Atkins and co-founders Bernadette Olivier, Genevieve Hohnen and Jade Hirniak, The Volte is a platform allowing people to rent out their clothes, tackling the fast-fashion phenomenon and giving borrowers access to clothing they may not have been able to afford otherwise.
“Access is the new ownership,” Atkins tells StartupSmart.
The startup “empowers all women to access designer fashion to look and feel a million dollars”, she adds.
When the team set out to develop The Volte, none of them had any experience in either teach or fashion. In fact, the founding team includes two lawyers, a teacher and an academic doctor.
Now, they have a team of 10 that is still growing, and 100,000 active users on the platform every month.
Trial and error
Initially, the founders reached these customers through their Facebook and Instagram presence — taking advantage at an early stage of anything they could do for free.
Now, The Volte has more than 30,000 followers on Instagram and 10,000 on Facebook.
The team then engaged an SEO provider and invested a little in digital marketing. But, it’s been a game of trial and error, Atkins says.
“Initially, you’re pretty cash-strapped, trying to grow rapidly with a very tight budget,” she says.
“If something doesn’t work very quickly, being careful of cashflow, we cut it immediately.”
However, Atkins adds what makes users come back is the focus on good, 24-hour customer service.
“We look after lenders and borrowers, we try to go above and beyond,” she says.
“Trust is everything. If they don’t trust us they don’t use us,” she adds.
From the beginning, the founders have taken a human approach to customer service, with real people offering advice on the phone lines.
“That’s one thing that might keep you ahead of your game,” she adds.
The numbers are doing the talking
This first round of funding comes from a consortium of angel investors, who have not been named.
It comes as “we hit a run rate where the numbers started doing the talking and investors were interested”, Atkins says.
However, for the founders, it’s about much more than money.
“We’re now looking at really expanding,” she explains.
“We needed some extra skills, mentorship and networking to push us to the next level.”
The funding will be used for upgrading the platform and improving user experience, as well as expanding the team.
A “large chunk” will also be dedicated to marketing, Atkins says.
And, while the founder hasn’t ruled out expanding overseas, for the time being she’s focused on the Australian market, “creating a scalable model” here before taking The Volte further afield.
“You don’t know what you don’t know”
When it comes to launching a startup, Atkins’ advice is to surround yourself with great people.
The founders are all from very different backgrounds, and while none of them have any tech experience, they each bring their own skill sets to the table.
“We all complement each other … we know our strengths and weaknesses,” she says.
“What we lack in tech we probably make up in other areas.”
For example, when the team hired developers to build the platform, they “had never had such a detailed brief”, Atkins says.
“That’s the lawyers in us coming out,” she adds.
Having come from other careers, the founders also bring a little life experience to the table — plus a serious work ethic.
“We come from places where we have to have a high work ethic,” she says.
When launching and running a startup, “you cannot underestimate how hard you have to work”, she warns.
The biggest challenge has been that “you don’t know what you don’t know”, Atkins says.
“We’re not afraid to know our weaknesses and get help or upskill,” she adds.
But that in itself is a skill that comes with time, she suggests.
“When you’re younger, you think you’re invincible,” she says.