Woman in Tech: Iella KoblenzWritten by Hive Life
It is known to be a fact that the tech industry is heavily dominated by male developers. One of the few pioneers who is breaking this stereotype is Iella Koblenz.
It is known to be a fact that the tech industry is heavily dominated by male developers. One of the few pioneers who is breaking this stereotype is Iella Koblenz. Along with her husband and brother-in-law, they launched a one-stop app for booking beauty treatments- BloomMe.
Not only does this app help fitting in spa days to hectic schedules of users easily; but it also creates an online hub for salons to have a marketing opportunity. The Hive Life team chats to Iella about starting BloomMe.
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?
I studied Biology and Literature studies, so no, I’m not the stereotypical tech founder. The idea for BloomMe came to mind three and a half years ago when I was frequently travelling back and forth to Hong Kong with my husband.
There was no convenient way to book any beauty appointments and developing an app for this problem sounded like a cool idea. My husband is an entrepreneur so we thought we’d give it a try. We moved to Hong Kong and this project became our baby.
Did you have any background in tech before you launched your app?
To be honest, I learned technical-related topics through practice. My husband, brother-in-law and I formed the founding team of three. My husband is the CEO and takes care of our company’s vision, whilst I focus on executing them and channelling them into reality. Michael, my brother-in-law, lives in Tel Aviv which is also where our app development team is located. He has the connections we needed that enabled him to recruit our committed coding team.
How many people are in your team now?
There’s around 25 and most of the team are located here in Hong Kong – from marketing to finance to sales.
It’s rare to find women working in the tech industry in Hong Kong- how do you feel about that?
You often get underestimated so you always have to prove yourself. You need to prove that you have tractions and that your idea actually works. To be honest, when I’m talking about the app- sometimes it could be an advantage as other would think, “oh that’s interesting!’
What is biggest highlight with BloomMe?
It took us one year of development as we developed our own technology and we’re very proud of it. We launched the app in January 2015 and at that moment of launching, I could acknowledge that the app is finally happening.
Also reaching certain milestones, like the first 1000 bookings, and watching the app grow. We’ve managed to overcome all the challenges and became the market leader in Hong Kong.
What was your biggest hurdle to date?
When potential investors liked the idea but they would ask us to prove ourselves first with some tractions – this meant actual bookings and revenue.
Of course, that made sense because I would have said the same thing. So we really had to prove ourselves and that’s why we have the strength within us because we really did accomplish it ourselves.
We worked from our living room with nobody else helping us. When we got our first 10, 100 bookings and could show others that we were growing, and we finally got our first round of fundraising – everything before that was a tough time for us.
At first, we weren’t getting any salary from BloomMe, so we had side jobs as income. However, I have been full-time since the company started, and now all of us gradually switched to full time.
In what ways are Bloom Me’s interface unique and specialised to maximise the user’s experience?
Our main goal was to create a flawless user experience. In order to measure that goal, it meant achieving the shortest time possible for a user to install the app, make an appointment and pay. If you manage to create a convenient flow, only then will your customer use this app again.
BloomMe allows users to do all of this in under a minute and this is what we’ve always wanted to achieve. As the user of my own app, I want to be able to visit new spas and read the reviews.
Is BloomMe only available in Hong Kong right now?
Yes but we want to expand around the end of 2017. There are only 7 million people but the beauty industry is a billion dollar industry here so it is a huge market if you look at it from that perspective. Hong Kong is a good starting point to prove your business model and we’re ready to expand.
Are there any existing apps or rising competitors in the market which may threat BloomMe’s popularity?
I always say competition is a motivation to become better so I think it’s a good thing. We were pretty much the first developers in Hong Kong. We acknowledge our competitors but we are in the position of being the market leader. We have over 1300 spas which is more than anyone else and we still have a lot more space to acquire more partners.
How do you find out about new spas and gather all this information?
When we started, I was Googling and writing down spa names. I would walk around telling them about the app, which didn’t even exist back then. We showed them screenshots and told them, “It’s an amazing app, come join us.”
In the beginning, it was very small but now, spas get in touch with us. In Hong Kong, it’s quite easy to find spas. I was running all over the place and exploring the city. I enjoyed it very much because I just moved to Hong Kong.
Since Bloom Me has a blog focused on beauty and wellness, do you have any future plans for the app to also expand into fitness and health?
Fitness and health are fields that very much relates but we decided that we don’t want to do that. We want to be a platform for beauty, and for beauty only.
We just tapped into a new field of medical aesthetics and medical treatments by working with clinics who provide botox treatments. We deliberately stayed within beauty industry so that our customers know that we are specialised.
During the initial launch of Bloom Me, what tactics did you employ to drive more individuals to use the app?
Digital marketing was our main method so we used Facebook advertising. As a startup, you don’t have a huge budget- you need to be very aware of how much you spend and what your returns are. Facebook is a very valuable tool for us because you can target extremely specific audiences and advertise to them only. You can also track the result here – it is a good channel for marketing in the beginning stages of a startup.
It’s cost-effective and efficient method compared to traditional ways of advertising like newspapers. Facebook provides numbers and metrics that you can present to your investors to show your worth. We also use Instagram and our account has expanded over time.
To gain more customers, we partner with bars and Voltage PR hosted events such as ‘BloomMe’s Girls Night Out” which have been very effective, The number of people attending have increased from 50 to 300 after 2 years. We often provide free side treatments for our partners; they can also gain exposure through this.
Networking is very important because of a lot of times, you share the same audience with other companies so why not work together and let both parties gain from it. We like to be creative in terms of marketing and networking.