Every so often a company comes along which truly fills a gap in the market – online wholesale marketplace JOOR is one of them.
In 2011, founder and CEO Mona Bijoor decided to streamline the predominantly offline business processes of brands and retailers, and developed a way to allow them to interact simply and effectively. The system previously operated through trade shows and showroom environments, and Bijoor, having formerly worked on the brand side of fashion, knew the pain of this inefficiency all too well.
“I was a seller and then a buyer before JOOR, and all of my buying and selling happened on the phone, via e-mail, or even fax,” she explains with a laugh. “It involved a lot of manual administrative work and communication issues, and made it difficult to make sense of what was working and what wasn’t from a product perspective.”
As a seller, Bijoor worked for big names in the luxury fashion sector such as Chanel and Elie Tahari, then moving on to Ann Taylor and Destination Maternity as a buyer. “This business,” she explains, “really personifies the personal pain I experienced in those roles. The real reason why brands and retailers join JOOR is because they get a lot of analytics and real-time reporting on what are the best sellers and worst sellers, and that is the real value-add.”
As JOOR is the manifestation of everything Bijoor wanted and needed in previous job roles, she and her team have worked – and continue to work – hard on the development of the app. Usability and simplicity are top priority for JOOR, as well as an unparalleled level of customer personalization. Bijoor puts herself in her clients’ shoes to work out what would frustrate her as a user, and focuses on making the app as intuitive as possible.
“We’re getting better and better at ease of use all the time,” she explains. “This is a challenging business because in wholesale, there’s a lot of back and forth in orders where styles get cancelled or prices change, so making sure the app is instinctual is really important.
“Essentially it’s a virtuous cycle. We spent a lot of time in the beginning years focused on signing high-quality brands, which forced retailers to join because brands wanted to flow all their volume through the system. Then we hit critical mass around key brands, and now retailers are the ones forcing brands to join because we offer them software which helps them fulfil their needs. So we just continue on that virtuous cycle through offering really good products which make them smarter and faster around their business.”
What differentiates JOOR from potential competitors is that the company focusses on driving the fashion ecosystem, rather than simply making the ordering process easier. JOOR intends to own the luxury space before entering a new vertical, at which point it will chase the appropriate brands and corresponding retailers, with the experience and client base behind it to hold a great deal of sway.
With regard to future planning, JOOR maintains a 24-month roadmap with a dedicated product team which looks at the roadmap and ensures everything is prioritized, whether it drives transaction volume to the system or the ability to take on new verticals. It ensures JOOR has a consistently clear vision of what it wants to achieve over the next two-to-three years.
“Priorities change all the time,” Bijoor says. “We ask ‘is this feature universal? Will it benefit the majority of our brands? Will it drive transaction volume through the system? Will it drive revenue to the business?’ At that point we have the ability to roll out a feature to a certain set of clients, then we can make the right decision.”
To track the success of its technology, JOOR puts a lot of metrics in place in order to analyze usage and adoption rates of the app, ensuring it can always test, tweak, and modify features to suit the user. Bijoor’s goal on the product side is to achieve at least a 60-70 percent adoption rate across brands and retailers. On the customer satisfaction side, JOOR meets with brands quarterly for check-ins, and releases surveys to the brands and retailers requesting feedback on clients’ service, product performance, and JOOR’s support. “Across the board we ask for feedback so we can always improve,” says Bijoor.
It’s irresistible to conclude by asking somebody like JOOR’s founder how – if at all – being a female CEO in the technological sector has impacted her and the business, and she responds by being pleasingly unconcerned about the potentially inflammatory subject.
“There are a lot of biases in the world and you can’t spend your time focused on why something didn’t happen,” she explains. “You don’t know what peoples’ biases are, so I don’t think about them. I don’t feel like I’ve had any barriers to building the business because I’m a woman. I don’t deny there are issues there, but I choose not to pay homage to it.”
Whether or not this subject has affected Bijoor personally, she did make the conscious decision to send her two young daughters to a STEM—based school. It is a proven fact that girls veer from the technology and science sectors at around the fourth grade, when they become insecure in their interests and are discouraged from pursuing male-dominated subjects, and Bijoor does not want her children to follow this trend.
“I go out of my way to remind them that girls are smart and hard-working, and now my kids see no difference between genders,” says Bijoor. “They believe that anybody can be smart if they study, and that’s how I see it too – if I do my duty, and work hard, then results will come.”
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Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.