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“Starting up” a Startup: Swoptop

Published on October 23, 2019, at 6:42 p.m. by Ali Cushing.

The term “startup” has been bandied around at an increasing rate over the past few years describing young ventures taken by opportunists, such as the creation of hip new apps and small business proposals. According to Forbes “a startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed.”

Startup clothing rental company Swoptop, founded by Chase Healey, is a prime example of this definition ringing true. Swoptop is an online platform that aims to bring college women together to rent their clothes on campus.

Courtesy of Louise Margeson

One may ask, what problem is Swoptop solving? University of Alabama Campus Coordinator Louise Margeson stated, “In today’s world, women need last-minute outfit options for many different occasions. Swoptop aims to be the solution to this problem by creating a community for college women centered around renting clothes. We empower our users to build their own marketplace and provide our users with new options for getting dressed.”

The Swoptop marketplace allows for college women to view and potentially rent a wide variety of clothing from others. Swoptop launched at The University of Alabama on Oct. 1, and now has over 500 online users.

Any business or startup in its early stages inevitably has its ups and downs, and Swoptop is no exception. Healey explained that the first version of Swoptop was created in 2012. She attended Ohio State where she and her friend, who was a developer, combined forces to “create an app where girls could keep track of where their shared clothes were.”

Despite the initial launch’s failure, Healey hung on to the desire to come up with a solution to this problem. She worked for a startup company that focused on student travel to learn skills that would translate to Swoptop if she decided to pursue it again. After working for startup companies, talent agents and music managers she realized that if she didn’t revisit Swoptop she would “regret the opportunity to help young women, which is [her] true passion.” It is important for anyone running a new business venture to understand that the first swing may be a miss.

The Swoptop team made many essential branding, marketing and PR moves in order to create a worthwhile product for their target audience — tactics that any new business owner can benefit from using.

Courtesy of Swoptop

When establishing a business, you should understand that your brand is your everything. While deciding on Swoptop’s brand image, Healey said she “looked at the most successful apps on her phone — which at the time was SoundCloud whose color is bright orange, Snapchat’s bright yellow, Twitter’s bright blue and so on.” Following along with the bright color trend was a positive move for the startup, considering color has been known to have a powerful psychological impact on people’s behaviors and decisions. Research conducted by Small Business Trends found that “93% of buyers said they focus on visual appearance, and close to 85% claim color is a primary reason when they make a purchase.”

Another important branding move for all business owners to consider is creating an image or voice that will resonate with your potential consumers. When it came to making decisions that were deeper than colors and icons, Healey and Margeson branded Swoptop as a community for its users.

Courtesy of Greg McKillop

Margeson explained that “throughout the process of creating Swoptop’s brand, Chase and I really wanted to highlight the company’s values: authentic, bold and confident. Our biggest priority has been to maintain a brand image that feels honest and transparent with our users.”

Healey noted that the company has done little marketing, in light of wanting to grow with its users and really listen to their opinions. She stated, “I wanted to hear from the ‘first movers’ or the first users about things they wanted to improve on the platform first before really spreading the word with marketing initiatives.”

“To really emphasize our goal for Swoptop, we created three promotional videos explaining the how, why and what of the brand,” Margeson explained. “These allowed us to let our personalities shine through and make the brand feel personal and authentic. Also, digital media content is so important today — especially with our demographic.”

Research conducted by the Swoptop team found that the share-economy is on-trend. Swoptop capitalized on this trend while also adding a personalized touch, allowing the company to stand out amongst other clothing rental or resale sites. The research conducted also established the Swoptop target demographic to be Gen Z — the generation that grew up during a recession, focuses on saving money, are mobile natives and prefer brands that feel authentic. The most positive PR-driven step that Swoptop has taken is putting a large emphasis on building and maintaining relationships with its target audience.

Healey emphasized her strong belief that “this demographic has the highest need for this kind of business and is completely being ignored. A lot of peer-to-peer rental companies focus on luxury items in an older demographic, but this age demographic has more social events than any other age group, and they’re local, so their exchanges can happen more seamlessly.”

Margeson explained how Swoptop has “created a really strong network on campus of over 30 girls, which [she leads] on a day-to-day basis. The rep community is a great place for college women to explore their talents through real-world experience, outside of the classroom.”

Courtesy of Greg McKillop

In addition to creating the community aspect behind the site, Healey is hoping to “give girls tools that they can apply to the real world. In terms of if they want to start their own business or even just little financial tools that no one ever teaches you in school.”

Setting creative and monetary goals and preparing for the future is important in any business. In regard to the future of Swoptop, Healey stated, “Our focus is going toward getting more people to rent and be more comfortable with how renting works. … We plan on updating our platform in the next few weeks in order to make it an easier process, which was in response to feedback we received from our users.”

Healey added, “In terms of broader expansion, first and foremost the goal this year is really to make this the best possible platform for University of Alabama students. We have girls on the waitlist from 20 different schools who are already wanting it on their campuses; we just don’t believe in expanding until we nail down the business model. … Every girl deserves the opportunity to make money, look good and feel good.”

Swoptop is a prime example of how PR truly pays off when “starting up” a startup. Having the startup’s business model revolve around its target audience’s input and prosperity allows it to be profitable in many ways, for its users and founders alike.

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