Michaele Kloudova is the founder and CEO of Genster, the first online personal shopping service in the Czech Republic. Michaela interviewed dozens of men in Czech streets, found her co-founder in less than a month, and if she could join politics, would support small businesses. She told Femme Palette what is her secret to starting a business in the Czech Republic.
How was the idea of Genster born?
It started with my boyfriend who was fed up with the high-school-like fashion. I got him a stylist and saw a rapid change in him. The stylist wasn’t shopping for the latest trends but instead focusing on what suited him and made him feel comfortable. Through clothes, you can see a massive impact on one’s confidence.
And then I thought, why not offer a similar service to other men around the country who might be facing a similar problem? And why not take it online? And that’s how Genster was born.
When did you decide to launch the start-up?
Having played with the idea for some time, I signed up for the Google Launchpad accelerator program in Warsaw. I had a stylist but needed to find someone from IT in less than a month. Surprisingly, a lot of people signed up and one of them was Ryan Cole, my future co-founder.
The accelerator was amazing and very intense. We were working non-stop on developing the idea and we absolutely loved it. On the way back we agreed with Ryan that he would join the company. We became co-founders and joined this incredible ride together.
What is your experience of running a company?
I call it an MBA. Loads of new experiences every day, you have to learn everything super quickly. It’s a challenge but I strongly believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. You kick off a start-up because you love the idea and you see great potential in it.
But it wasn’t so straightforward at the beginning. In the first months, we walked around Prague asking people whether they would be interested in our service, trying to identify our target audience. This was the biggest learning from Warsaw's accelerator. Before I started the business, I thought I had a perfect vision that was already working in the West, so it would surely succeed in the Czech Republic. Needless to say, they crashed my idea. So after I came back from Poland, I had to go out and ask people for their opinion and gather feedback. It is useless to build something people are not interested in. You must identify whether there is a demand for it.
‘My advice to other entrepreneurs: when you have an idea for a start-up, share it.’
How did you identify the demand in the market?
We had to get in the streets and ask people. I must admit this was a big step outside my comfort zone, so I got someone to help me get started. Fortunately, my friend has no issue addressing strangers, so she would always start the conversation and I would continue. And so we walked around Prague, asking people whether they would be interested in personal shopping service and why. During this process, I also identified my target locations. For example, Karling was the ideal place, whilst Florenc was out of the picture. Overall, we received very good feedback and ensured there is a demand for our product.
So who is your target audience?
After having surveyed people in Prague, I got a clearer idea that my target audience is a young man, around 30, working for a corporate firm or a larger startup. During our survey, we also discovered that 70% of men don’t enjoy shopping. That’s why we chose to focus on men.
And what about women?
We received questions on a weekly basis when we will provide the same service to women. This year, we finally launched the pilot, Genster for women, on September 24.
How did you build a startup?
I believe in the power of co-creation. It is no good shutting yourself off from the world when developing your idea. Quite the contrary. I would advise other entrepreneurs: when you have an idea for a start-up or business, share it. Because the more you talk about it, the more you realize what people want. And even if somebody copies you, it is not the idea but the execution that counts.
In the case of Genster for women, we duplicated the website we already have, took some photos of me and the stylists, and went live. Simple as that. We will make constant improvements as we go, but the key thing is to get started!
What was the greatest challenge when starting a business in the Czech Republic?
Before I started Genster 2,5 years ago, I was helping with running two other businesses. What I learned is that the more you grow, the more bureaucracy you have to deal with. The Czech system is not making it easy and if you can, you must hire people to help you with it.
If I was ever to enter Czech politics, my agenda would be definitely to help young businesses and small and middle entrepreneurs who are, in my opinion, driving the economy. Genster alone is currently employing 15-20 people and that is already significant, and yet, we must follow so many governmental guidelines. It is exhausting.
What would you advise fellow entrepreneurs?
I personally enjoy 80% of my work, and for the remaining 20% I hire professionals. For example, an accountant. However, you should try out every role in the company before you hire for it. Only then do you know what each position consists of. And also, be prepared that start-ups are a lot of hard work at the beginning (and also later on ;-).
‘Don’t be afraid to contact people you don’t know. What is the worst that can happen?’
How did you manage to build the team at Genster?
I made tons of mistakes, but what I think I do know how to do is to choose the right people. Also, having had a negative experience with two employees, I learned to listen to my gut and dismiss quicker if I feel it is necessary.
When establishing Genster, I attracted a lot of like-minded people who enjoyed energy around Genster and were interested in the product. And because we work at a co-working space, it is easy to get to know people and hire more easily. You mention that you are looking for someone, somebody recommends someone and then the ball keeps rolling.
What was your greatest learning from running a start-up?
Don’t be shy to address anyone, be it an investor or someone from Forbes. I heard Michelle Obama talk about sending letters to people she did not know, so why couldn’t you?. Don’t be afraid to contact people you don’t know. What is the worst that can happen?
I think that our Czech mentality, which is deeply impacted by the Communist era, tells us to never look different and always follow the crowd. But that is wrong and luckily the new generation is changing that and calling for action.
And to finish on a positive note, what are you most proud of at Genster?
That is a beautiful point to end on. Genster, just like Femme Palette, has successfully created a unique community of people who believe in and also contribute to creating a great product. Community is key, regardless of the type of the brand. Michaela is a living proof that without the right people, running a business can be unnecessarily complicated. It is not a loss to admit that you cannot do something. Actually, it might be one of the greatest wins in your life!