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In this interview series, we are talking to founders, CEOs, and ecommerce business leaders about how to choose the best platform for ecommerce. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Kaylee Astle.

Kaylee Astle

Kaylee is a start-up fanatic, company-builder, ex-management consultant, and tech entrepreneur. She started her career at Deloitte Consulting, where she advised some of the fastest-growing start-ups as well as governments and large-scale public organizations. Following her time at Deloitte, Kaylee co-founded MobSquad, a disruptive tech-talent company. Currently, she is Founder & CEO at Blanka, where she helps entrepreneurs launch their beauty businesses through an automated platform. Previously, Kaylee has been recognized as one of the Top 30 Under 30 and Top Female Founders to Watch in 2022.

Can you tell us a bit about your backstory and how you grew up?

Thanks for having me! A bit about my background, I was born in Saskatoon, a city in the middle of Canada. By the time I was in grade school, my parents had moved our family down to Mexico, where I was homeschooled. When I started university, I moved back to Canada and attended the University of British Columbia, where I studied business. 

I loved the business program that I was in, and I tried every type of internship: marketing, accounting, and sales. I eventually landed at Deloitte Consulting after university, and that is where I fell in love with the way technology can transform an organization.  

What led you to this specific career path?

Growing up, my parents were both entrepreneurs, so I was always immersed in entrepreneurial thinking. After a few years at Deloitte, I wanted to move into the start-up space. I joined a small PropTech company and learned everything I could about operating a start-up. 

Eventually, I went on to co-found a company called MobSquad and was also an executive at a fast-growing ecommerce marketplace company. At the same time as building these companies, I attempted to launch my own DTC beauty brand. I’ve done a lot in my career, but trying to build a brand was definitely the hardest! I had to source suppliers, invest in inventory and deal with order fulfillment. My DTC brand didn’t do so well. 

However, it opened my eyes to a big gap in the market, and that’s how Blanka was born. Blanka is a platform that enables everyone to create a branded beauty line in less than five minutes and with no minimums.

Can you share the most exciting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?

There are so many! Any entrepreneur would agree that building a company is such a rollercoaster of emotions. One day, things can go really well, and then all of a sudden, there is a huge fire that you need to put out.

One of the most memorable moments for me was when we onboarded our first customer. At the time, we were still building Blanka’s app, and we only had a marketing website. Someone found us and reached out asking to create an account (before we even had a functioning platform!) This was when I realized we were on to something. 

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people? 

We are beyond excited to launch new product lines this year. Currently, Blanka has a catalog of hundreds of cosmetics, skincare, and makeup accessories, all manufactured in North America. 

As Blanka has grown and onboarded more customers, we get countless requests for other product types. In the next year, we are really excited to launch a men’s line, a hair line, and a nail care line. As we expand our product offering, we are enabling more and more entrepreneurs to launch their beauty brands!

What are three traits about yourself that you feel helped fuel your success?

I think the first trait is that I am empathetic. I really try and put myself in someone else’s shoes. In my career, I, unfortunately, have worked with a number of leaders that lacked empathy, and it resulted in really toxic workplaces.

My focus is to create a culture at Blanka where we care about each other at the human level. It’s crazy how rare that is these days. In addition to that, I would say that I’m a very critical thinker. Having started my career in consulting, we went through intensive training that taught us how to think and break down problems. That training has enabled me to be both a big-picture thinker, as well as someone who can get into the nitty-gritty details. 

Finally, I’d say the third trait that has helped make me a successful business leader is that I’m very passionate. When I’m part of a team or a company, I give it everything that I have. This passion, paired with persistence, has helped us grow Blanka in a very short period of time.

What was the original vision for your ecommerce business? What pain point(s) were you trying to solve for your customers?

Well, when I was trying to launch my own DTC beauty line, I hit so many roadblocks. 

I started looking for suppliers, but it was so overwhelming because there are more than 13,000 beauty manufacturers globally. Then, when I did find the right supplier, I needed to make sure their products met FDA regulations. Then, I had to make a huge investment in inventory to meet the minimums that the manufacturer had set. Then I had to find somewhere to store all of the inventory, and at the time, I was living in a small Vancouver apartment.

Finally, when I did get my brand up and running, I had to deal with order fulfillment every time someone made a purchase. Every step of the way was challenging, and it made me realize that there has to be an easier way to support these up-and-coming independent brands. 

photo of Kaylee Astle

What ecommerce platform does your business use, and what key features were you looking for when you selected it? Was it your first choice, or did you switch from a previous one?

Blanka is an app that can be installed onto an ecommerce store. When we initially launched Blanka, the first app we built was for Shopify. Shortly after that, we built WooCommerce (WordPress), and recently we launched Wix. 

In the next year or two, we’d also like to launch apps with BigCommerce and Squarespace. 

For new entrepreneurs trying to choose between these various ecommerce platforms, here is what I would consider:

  • Shopify is perfect for up-and-coming entrepreneurs and has a huge suite of apps to choose from to customize a store. The downside is that it can get overwhelming to decide which apps you actually need.
  • Wix is perfect for merchants who don’t want to spend a lot on the startup costs of their ecommerce store because Wix is very low-cost to use.
  • WooCommerce/WordPress is perfect for merchants who have some technical experience because it requires some development skills.
  • BigCommerce tends to have merchants who are selling large volumes, so usually, a merchant would migrate to BigCommerce once they have seen success on Shopify or Wix.
  • SquareSpace is perfect for the entrepreneur who has a strong design aesthetic. Squarespace websites are always so beautiful.

When should an ecommerce business consider switching platforms? Which factors should drive a decision to make a change or upgrade?

In my experience, I have seen businesses switch ecommerce platforms for two main reasons:

  • Scalability
  • Cost

Usually, a newer business will start with Shopify or Wix because they are super easy to get started with.

As they grow and scale, I’ve seen businesses switch platforms to WooCommerce or BigCommerce, because of the added customizations that these platforms offer. Of course, cost plays a huge role in these decisions. 

For example, WordPress is free because it’s open source. However, the development work that needs to happen on a WordPress site is a lot more intensive than on Wix or Shopify.

The good thing is that most platforms offer a free trial, so you can try them out before committing! 

Given the number of ecommerce platform options available, what are your top five questions you need to ask to choose the best platform for ecommerce?

1. What is my budget?

Things to consider are the monthly ecommerce platform cost, the transaction fees, the app fees, and the labor for a developer to customize the website. You’ll also want to decide on whether or not to use a third-party agency to help design, code, and launch your store. 

2. How quickly do I want to get up and running?

This is a really big consideration. This will also factor into whether or not you use an agency.

3. What is the aesthetic/look that I’m going for? 

Create a Pinterest mood board of all the websites you like and want to embody. This may also help you decide on an ecommerce platform because sometimes the look and feel of a theme are specific to one platform.

4. What do I need my website to do? 

Are you just selling products, or do you have a specific functionality you use? For example, I used to consult for a grocery and meal-delivery company, so we had to build a very custom solution in order to allow meal selection. 

5. What is my marketing and sales strategy? 

For example, if you have a brick-and-mortar store, then you might want to get a platform that has point-of-sale (POS) functionality (Shopify!), or you might want to use a specific email marketing platform that integrates right into your online store.

Is there a specific feature or functionality you haven’t found in any platform that you would love to have? What is it, and why? 

I love how ecommerce platforms like Shopify and Wix make it super easy to design and launch a website, but sometimes for new entrepreneurs, the experience can be so overwhelming.

What theme should I choose? What apps do I need? What copy should I include on my website? 

I’d love to see an AI-driven website builder where you can describe the exact website you want (e.g., I want a tropical-themed website that sells powdered SPF), and it’s built for you in a matter of seconds! 

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most people, what would that be?

As a female in a highly male-dominated industry, I’m really focused on enabling more women in technology. Unfortunately, I have experienced gender-discriminatory comments before. 

However, these types of experiences have inspired me to act as an advocate for women in technology. I have played a leadership role in countless community organizations, including the YWCA, Young Women in Business, and Telus World of Science Millennial Advisory Committee. 

I started my career in technology over 10 years ago, and it’s amazing to see how many more women have been in the field since then. However, it’s still not enough!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way to keep up with me is on my LinkedIn and Twitter. To keep up with Blanka’s exciting updates, we have a beauty blog, a growing Instagram account, and, of course, a very fun TikTok account.

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By Francois Marchand

Francois Marchand is passionate about helping and educating business leaders, ecommerce professionals, and digital marketers grow their skill sets to stay ahead of the competition. Francois holds a BA Specialization in Communication Studies & Journalism from Concordia University (Montreal, QC) and 20+ years of experience in ecommerce, marketing, traditional and digital media, and public relations, including The Vancouver Sun, National Post, CBC/Radio-Canada, Unbounce, and Vancouver Film School.