Our Start-up of the Week is Thriftify, an Irish platform that wants to help bring charity retail online.
A few years ago, Rónán Ó’Dálaigh, Rahil Nazir and Timur Negru had an idea. They realised that there although there were plenty of charity shops on the streets of towns and cities across Ireland, there were very few of these shops operating online, and so set about developing Thriftify.
“We want to take one of the last legacy bricks-and-mortar retail sectors online and, in doing so, connect charity shops and other ethical retailers with conscious consumers,” Emily Beere, chief strategy officer of Thriftify, told Siliconrepublic.com.
Prior to joining Thriftify, Beere worked in PR, marketing and sales in Ireland, as well as San Francisco, Austin and New York. In these roles, she was responsible for finding suitable start-ups for investment for a tech fund, which gave her an “invaluable insight” into the world of entrepreneurship.
Beere said that there is a growing market for sustainable, second-hand clothing products. In 2018, that market was valued at $24bn in the US by retail analytics firm GlobalData.
“The largest source of used fashion is charity retail – each year, 12,000 charity shops in the UK and Ireland receive over 150m individual donations, including books, clothing, furniture, CDs, DVDs and more,” Beere said. “Charities are restricted in their sales channels to effectively commercialise this volume of donations. Because of this, they end up paying for the disposal of valuable items.”
Thriftify wants to help charity retailers tap into an online sales channel. Its platform allows retailers to upload items from their stores, which can then be valued using a pricing algorithm and presented to e-commerce customers.
“Our CEO, Rónán Ó’Dálaigh, is the brains behind the venture,” Beere added. “He’s already a successful entrepreneur, having established an event management business previously. The original idea for Thriftify actually came from a project he did in university.
“He managed to find a book he needed for €1 in a charity shop, instead of €60, and it got him thinking about the arbitrage that exists in the charity retail sector. He took 1,000 books from NCBI and manually searched Amazon to see what they would have made online – the results are why we are here today.”
The Dublin-based social enterprise was launched in 2018. Along with Ó’Dálaigh, Beere said the company’s COO, Negru, is the “guy who keeps everything running”, while the man behind Thriftify’s e-commerce platform is CTO Nazir.
The platform users a variety of e-commerce tools on top of the intelligent pricing algorithm, including inventory management, integrated fulfilment and analytics, and reporting features.
“I’m not the tech wizard so I won’t get into any specifics, but the key to why we have been successful so far is that all the features are hidden behind an extremely easy-to-use and intuitive dashboard that even the most inexperienced volunteers are able to pick up and use in minutes,” Beere said.
‘We’re delighted to be able to support charities during this difficult time and give them access to the income they rely on’
– EMILY BEERE
She explained that there are three steps to Thriftify’s platform: scanning, shelving and shipping. Each charity receives a laptop, barcode scanner and laser printer. Any donation in the shop with a barcode can be scanned and valued by Thriftify’s technology.
If the item is profitable to sell online, the user is given the option to assign the item a shelf number. It is then automatically pushed online to Thriftify’s consumer-facing site, as well as other channels including Amazon, and shipping can be organised once the product is sold.
So far, the start-up has worked with National Council for the Blind Ireland (NCBI), the Dublin Simon Community, the Irish Cancer Society and Oxfam, selling products such as books, CDs, DVDs and games.
“Our focus now is streamlining the non-barcoded items solution which, when finished, will utilise image recognition software to reduce the input required by clients,” Beere added. “We’re constantly working on improving both our client-facing and customer-facing sites.”
Retail during the Covid-19 crisis
In April, Thriftify helped NCBI to launch its first online clothing store through the platform, to help the charity raise money through fashion sales while non-essential shops are closed and customers remain at home.
Beere said that business has been “exceptionally busy” in the last few weeks, as the start-up has had to accelerate its efforts to create a barcode-free solution for items such as clothing.
“When charity shops faced closures due to Covid-19, we threw our focus behind it and launched fashion officially with NCBI. We’re delighted to be able to support charities during this difficult time and give them access to the income they rely on to help fund their vital services to at-risk groups,” Beere said.
While helping charity shops pivot online during the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions has been a priority, she added that the start-up is focused on expanding into the UK and the rest of Europe as soon as possible.
However, there are obstacles to expansion. “Lobbying for investment as a social enterprise has presented its own challenges, as investors can become wary when your number-one priority isn’t just profits alone,” Beere said.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have a very strong business model with great potential. That’s how we have attracted investors to date. But we are equally focused on our social impact and sometimes it’s a tough balancing act. But we are really delighted to have the momentum we have now and excited to land and expand in the UK.”
The Irish start-up scene
Having worked in the US and Ireland, Beere believes it is “much more challenging” to be an entrepreneur on this side of the Atlantic.
“Funding is quite limited, meaning the environment is much more competitive than in the likes of San Francisco. Truly mind-bending amounts of money were available if you knew where to look,” she said.
“But, from my experience, this limitation has resulted in a much higher quality of start-ups here in Ireland. Many teams we’ve come across are also very supportive and keen to collaborate, despite the competition for funding.”
Thriftify has raised €50,000 from Enterprise Ireland’s Competitive Start Fund, and won a prize of €20,000 at the Dublin regional final of the annual Seedcorn competition last year.
Looking ahead, Beere said that the company is actively seeking funding at the moment and plans to close its seed round once the current uncertainty has settled.
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