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MBA Entrepreneur Launches E-Commerce Startup After Amazon Inspiration

E-commerce is a booming online industry worth $1 trillion in sales. MIP entrepreneur Faviola Palomino is running an online fashion and lifestyle startup, after winning innovation competition Wayra!

By  Seb Murray

Tue Oct 15 2013

It is not surprising to hear that Amazon was the inspiration behind Faviola Palomino’s start-up venture. The international, multibillion dollar online supermarket is at the forefront of one of the most rapidly growing industries in the online world.

E-commerce is considered one of the most effective ways of conducting business, and Faviola was keen to take a slice out of the industry after studying an MBA at MIP Politecnico di Milano.

While many MBAs that want to start up their own business shun the traditional summer internship in favour of entrepreneurial initiatives, Faviola took up a position with e-commerce kings Amazon as a Business Intelligence Analyst in their BuyVIP business.

Faviola knew she wanted to become an entrepreneur, but MIP helped her decide which route to take. She knew that she wanted to work in the fashion industry and chose to specialise in MIP's unique Luxury and Design Management elective - one of the Top Business Schools for the subject. 

But it was while working with Amazon BuyVIP that e-commerce became the platform for Faviola’s business, VIP SOUL, an online fashion and lifestyle market.

The business plan was so attractive that Faviola won the Wayra competition in 2012: an unprecedented initiative in the Latin American and European innovation scene that helps start-ups compete on a global stage. The company is backing 287 start-ups and Faviola’s VIP SOUL was accelerated for six months in Peru.

"From my work experience with Amazon, I had the opportunity to see that the e-commerce business is a very good opportunity here because there are lots of digital business ideas that are using e-commerce," she said.

"E-commerce is growing here in Peru, although compared to Europe or the US it’s a very small business. But it’s still growing very fast so with that opportunity I came up with this idea."

VIP SOUL works with over 100 suppliers, including Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, to sell fashion and lifestyle brands on a private web platform. It's free to use and once you sign up with your email address, you will receive daily offers and discounts on items by as much as 70 per cent. The business works on a flash-sale model: you have a limited inventory and limited time to buy the products.

Faviola thinks there is potential in the Peruvian region. "I think there is a lot of potential here," she said. "The e-commerce business has not exploded like in other continents but I think it will soon, and there's a lot of potential for e-fashion. People are getting more interested in buying fashion products and more brands are coming here to set up their stores."

Faviola runs the business with her sister and a third partner, whom is experienced in the world of retail. While Faviola worked in finance and consulting before studying an MBA, her business partner brings experience in retail and commercial sales.

E-commerce is a popular industry, and thus a competitive one, too. While Amazon is worth over $700 million on the stock market, e-commerce start-ups fight for a space in a world where business is booming.

ASOS, the online fashion retailer, saw sales jump 40 per cent to £754 million this year. When Faviola founded her business in 2011, consumers spent more than £1000 per person on internet shopping in the UK. eMarketer predicts that e-commerce sales passed $1 trillion globally for the first time in 2012.

But she thinks that VIP SOUL is different because it has a community built into the platform. It is not just for sales, it is for networking. "Here in this region, people are more social so we want to adopt this kind of approach," she said. "You can interact with other customers that love the same brands or who have a similar search preference.

"We want the community functionality to connect, share and inspire the other members. The goal is to engage and build loyalty with the brand sources through gamification. I think there is a crisis of brand loyalty and gamification is a powerful approach."

The company currently has around 5,000 organic users and Faviola is hoping to tap into the strong sense of community in Latin America. They are best known among the residents of Lima, Peru's capital, but Faviola wants to be more aggressive in targeting other cities in the country and eventually, the whole of Latin America. She is looking for international investors to help expand the business.

Faviola thinks that studying an MBA at MIP was crucial to get an understanding of the industry after a background in the finance sector - packed with ever popular MBA Jobs. MIP gave her the entrepreneurial mind-set and innovation strategy to launch an e-commerce business. She learnt how to become more differentiated, a key component in the digital business world.

The Luxury and Design Management specialization was important for Faviola to diversify from finance. "I think that an MBA is very important," she said. "I know a lot of entrepreneurs that have no MBA, but I think that it gives you a mix of everything. The contacts you develop are really helpful and the concentration on entrepreneurship and innovation was good too."

E-commerce is a booming, competitive industry that has boundless opportunity for growth. Faviola wouldn't have sided so easily into an entrepreneurial mind-set had she not studied at MIP, and two years after graduation, her start-up has swelled to 5,000 members and over 100 suppliers.

An MBA isn't essential to become an entrepreneur, but it gave this MIP grad the inspiration and mind-set to delve into e-commerce.

Faviola will hope the industry only grows stronger. Watch this space.