Interview With Diego Abba
Describe your product or service:
“Shop the best luxury brands in the world — from Bottega Veneta to Versace — and save up to 40% even before seasonal markdowns. Since 2014, italist has connected thousands of global shoppers to a curated selection of over 250,000 goods at the best pricing in the market. With free express shipping on every order, it’s like shopping the streets of Italy from wherever you are.”
Describe your company values and mission:
“We strive for excellence every day to bring you the world’s best designer and luxury fashion at amazing prices, guarantee your purchase’s authenticity and quality, and provide a platform for you to discover new brands and designer talent. From customer care to social media, this is our promise.”
How are you funded?
“Both! [Angel Investors and Venture Capital]”
How big is your team? Tell us a little about them (I.e. co-founders, freelancers, etc.)
“Italist has approximately 70 employees between full-time and part-time (or outsourced support).”
Did you always want to start your own business? What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
“I have been in and out of the fashion industry for the past 20 years, starting from my time at Bain and Company. I have always enjoyed working in this industry, particularly when I was on the board of a world-leading luxury knitwear company that had business relations with several of the most relevant luxury fashion houses.
When I was not working in fashion, I was focused on technology and media, as recently as my previous role as CEO of a technology company in Newport Beach that provided back-end solutions for some of the largest franchises in the video game industry and produced mobile games as well.
Hence, it was an easy decision to bridge these two worlds with italist.”
How did you come up with your startup idea? How did you decide to actually act on the idea? What gave you confidence that you were on the right track?
“We came up with the idea while observing the queues of tourists outside some of the main luxury boutiques in Italy. The reason was the combination of products [was] hard to find outside Italy and lower prices at full retail vs. other countries - what we refer to as the “Italian retail price” in our storytelling.
Hence, we decided to provide this buying experience “as if on the streets of Italy” to all our customers, leveraging the internet that has been historically fairly distant from luxury.
While we’re bridging these two worlds, we’re creating an innovative value proposition for the consumer in terms of product selection, price, and convenience of ordering. This is confirmed by the customers who regularly come back to buy on italist.com over and over.”
How did you come up with your company name? Did you have other names you considered?
“Italist is the result of Italian+list=italist. The brand name is the best summary possible of our business model. Italist is the essence of what we do: bringing online the experience of shopping from the streets of Italy. We are our name, and our name is our business since the inception of the idea behind the company.
To build a successful company, you need to create value for your customers every day. Brand names have become very important, but it is just a step further. We can’t imagine using a name that is not the perfect synthesis of our values and our position in the media. Italist.com is perfect for that!”
What is the greatest challenge you faced in starting your business, and how did you overcome it?
“Keeping things simple while focusing on the key strategy and building the needed processes. This is an ongoing effort, but one that I think requires regular revisiting and reassessment.”
Who is your product or service made for? Who is your target market?
“We want to ensure that more people have access to luxury goods at the price they’re looking for — that is, below the local list price. The internet has become a wonderful tool for intelligent luxury shopping, allowing savvy consumers to compare pricing from retailers across the world. In the past, shoppers were confined to their geographic locations.
Today, however, customers can quickly and efficiently find the best price for any product with just the click of a button, often receiving their purchases within a couple of days.
Through a combination of smart online and offline shopping, in addition to investing in garments and accessories that have a decent resale value, I hope that more consumers will have the opportunity to enjoy luxury and designer fashion through italist.”
What's your marketing strategy?
“We have worked very hard since inception in 2014 to ensure that we can deliver on what we promise — i.e., that our innovative business model functions as it should between our boutique partners in Italy and our shoppers all over the world.
I am also a big believer in engaging in a two-way conversation with our customers through storytelling that is compelling and able to incorporate reactions, ideas, and feedback. By the way, I do read every single [piece of] feedback from our customers.
Storytelling also works to engage and motivate internally the organization and externally the customers. As such, I think the best ‘growth hack’ is to honestly deliver the value you advertise to consumers, and work diligently every day, week, month, and year, to improve, refine, and do so in a thoughtful manner.
Obviously, we also attract customers in a number of other ways, from word of mouth and paid digital advertising to ambassadors.”
How did you acquire your first 100 customers?
“Since the beginning, we have used a combination of online marketing channels alongside a two-way communication strategy with our audience. Through social media interactions, site SEO, and work with affiliate networks, we were able to grow from 0 to 100 customers very quickly.
Since then, we’ve made a point to stick to our promise and mission — to provide the best luxury brands in the world at a better price, with shipping to 150 countries.”
What are the key customer metrics / unit economics / KPIs you pay attention to to monitor the health of your business?
“We monitor many metrics on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, but the main indicators are: revenue growth year-over-year, overall growth in our customer base, customer satisfaction, average order value, and the conversion rate on each of our marketing channels.”
What's your favorite entrepreneurial book and podcast?
“I do love to read, but I am not particularly focused on management or business books. On these subjects I prefer articles and discussions with other executives in this industry or others.”
What is the biggest lesson you learned during your journey?
“(1) Be unique—offer something that puts you in your own niche. (2) Invest in long-term relationships with your customers by engaging them in authentic conversations and acting on feedback. (3) Be consistent in your messaging about what makes you unique, what makes your value proposition compelling, and why consumers should value what you are offering. Then, and most importantly, execute better than your competition.”
How do you stay motivated?
“I take time for myself and for my family, enjoy my weekends, and approach every day with new enthusiasm.”
Did you have to develop any habits that helped lead you to success? If so, what are they?
“It is key for a successful venture to minimize failures and even more importantly to be able to tackle them immediately and solve them. Personally, the major lesson I have learned is to be zen while working to solve them, regardless of who made them.”
What are you most proud of as an entrepreneur?
“The way my team works and interacts together.”
More on Italist
Diego Abba, founder of luxury ecommerce startup Italist, shared valuable insights during our interview that will inspire and motivate aspiring entrepreneurs.
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