March 23, 2023

Testing Pre-orders and growing a fashion e-commerce brand to $1M in 4 years with Raluca Haulica

Testing Pre-orders and growing a fashion e-commerce brand to $1M in 4 years with Raluca Haulica
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Romanian startup founder Raluca Haulica has grown her fashion ecommerce brand Alura to $500k in just three years. In our chat, we discuss:

  • How she started the business utilizing her father’s network
  • The various marketing strategies she’s using such as influencer marketing and PPC
  • How testing a pre-order strategy paid off
  • How sharing videos from the factory with her customers has created loyalty
  • The unique experience her brand provides that no other ecommerce companies are currently doing


-   1:08 – dinner with Sara Blakely or $25k in cash?

-   2:54 – ever given a presentation that rocked the house?

-   5:18 – a shallow reason you rejected a potential suitor?

-   6:55 – how did you get started in fashion/ecommerce?

-   9:08 – the aha moment Raluca got the idea of creating her own shoe

-   10:02 – how are your shoes different than other shoes?

-   12:50 – how did you achieve so much success in a short time?

-   14:44 – what channels are working well for you?

-   16:25 – what do new customers like about your shoes?

-   17:50 – a piece of advice your parents gave you?

-   20:20 – how women are willing to wait for quality products

-   22:55 – how has this entrepreneurial journey changed you?

-   25:10 – build a brand that is online, but it feels like its offline

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Past Guests:
Past guests on Innovators Can Laugh include Yannik Veys, Ovi Negrean, Arnaud Belinga, Csaba Zajdó, Dagobert Renouf, Andrei Zinkevich, Viktorija Cijunskyte, Lukas Kaminskis, Pija Indriunaite, Monika Paule, PhD, Vytautas Zabulis, Leon van der Laan, Ieva Vaitkevičiūtė.
Additional episodes you might enjoy:
#55 Yannik Veys - From creating the Uber for service professionals to growing Hypefury
#53 Tzvete Doncheva - Overcoming barriers to get into a VC with Tzvete Doncheva
#50 V...


Hi. If you're wondering how the concept of an exciting fashion e-commerce brand is, This is the episode for you. My guest today is Romanian startup founder Roka Haka. Roka is fairly new to the world of fashion, but within the span of three years, her brand Allura has already generated $500,000 in revenue and has over 9,000 customers.

Roka has worked for brands such as Samsung and is a member of Rotary International. Join us as we dive into the world of fashion and e-commerce. Roka, welcome to innovators. Hello. Nice to meet you. Yeah, pleasure meeting you. So, so let's get started with some quick questions here just to kind of get to know you.

First question is, would you rather have dinner with Sarah Blakely or receive $25,000 in cash with Tara Blakely?

Okay. Next question. What was one of the. That you played with as a child? Bargo. Okay. question. What was a favorite TV show that you used to watch and you still remember? The, the, the, the jingle. The song of, of the TV, commercial Game of Throne.

So you kind of like the killing and the gruesome kind of shows, huh? Yes. I, I'm kind that, that kind of girl. . Okay. . You know, most female startup founders I have on here usually say friends. And so this is unusual for women, not me to say Game of Thrones. Okay. Okay, next question. Have you ever had a quirky or insane teacher, whether that was in high school or university?

Yes I did. How are they? How are they? Insane. . Well, they did something called the Russian Roulette and they stood everyone up. And if you didn't know the word in English that you're supposed to know, then you took a four, like a very low grade. But this was happening really fast. , okay, . So you are, you are actually shooting you, you were shot, you know?

So if you didn't know the word in English, you were shot and you got a bad. Okay. Did he actually with like a rub with like a rubber band or something on clean throat? No. Only the pen . Yes. Okay. All right. Have you ever, have you ever given a presentation that rocked the house that you know you got an A standing ovation or an applause, or maybe it was an online presentation?

Yes, I got that kind of present. Actually recently I was in my, my program, my foster pastor mba, and we had to present in like 30 minutes, something very personal about us, but that demonstrates the motivation that you were there. And I gave a very personal presentation and everyone was really impressed and they were.

Not crying, but always helps . Okay. So it was very emotional when I do presentations, cuz I have a experience with presentation, I tend to make them real personal. Okay, cool. We're gonna come back to that presentation later during the the chat here. So be ready to, okay. That was all about, okay, next question here.

What is something that really annoys you? Maybe it's something that somebody does or something that you just kind of see in your day-to-day. , what is that? Yes. When someone changes the plans last minute, that's really annoying me. Like when we are supposed to meet at six and then at five 30 you say, okay, let's post for, you know that we annoy

You know what's funny is that you, you really thought of that very quick. I mean, you didn't even have to think about it. You're like, yes, , something tells me that happened to you recently. Somebody did that. Well, not recently, but you know, it's like the, the Balkan area. But we don't, we are not very precise as like Germans, cuz I worked a lot with them.

Yes. And I It seems like you actually experienced that . Hey, since moving to Romania, I, yes, I have experienced that. And I understand there's a big cultural, well, it's kinda like the Latin culture because I lived in Mexico for a little bit. . And so when people say, yeah, at three o'clock, they kind of mean maybe closer to four.

So I do understand, you know what that means here. And I've worked with Germans too, and they're a little bit more punctuate and organized than Americans, I would say . Okay. Okay. So yeah, it's a culture thing. Definitely. Definitely. Okay. A couple other quick questions here. What is a shallow or a silly reason you rejected a suitor or a potential?

Not, they weren't on time.

Yo, that stuff. Cause I didn't line the way they drenched . That's in about, that's about for, yeah. No, yeah, absolutely. That's silly. But that happened in high school. Yeah, no, no, I'm with you. I'm with you on that. I mean, you, the, you, the person you're walking with or being with, I mean, they gotta, you know, they gotta kind of match your, your, your lifestyle and your clothing style and your choices and things like that.

Of course, that, that they were like, right now that's not even a priority. Your top 10, but back then was really important in high. You know what? I'm not a fan of Roka. Women who wear like the entire outfit of like leopard, like a leopard pattern. They got the shoes. Oh, animal drink jacket. . They got, they got the pur.

It's like they got like three or four things going on that are like all animal print. I don't understand that that's, that's something that I probably, I'm married, I'm happily married, but I probably wouldn't go out with somebody if they're wearing like a lot of. US . Well, very, really quick. Something surprising about we that I have a fashion bike fashion startup on e-commerce in fashion, but I was never, and I, I am not even not right now, passionate about fashion, so, Yeah, I'm not a fashion addict.

Okay. Well let's go ahead and jump into there. So how did you get started in fashion and specifically shoes and leather goods? So I wanted to have a startup, like a business of my own. No, no matter the the subject, like I really wanted to build something. The connection with SHU is that my father has been in the industry for 30 years.

So he started in the nineties, which, but with a different kind of business. He was doing commerce between factories in Romania, be between shoe factories in Romania and they, he supplied the leather and other materials. And then he opened a few shops or shops, but in my hometown in VA, Louis. So then I moved to Bucharest.

I'm here for eight years. I got jobs and so on. And when I decided to start the startup, I picked up the, the idea of, okay, let's build. On, on a network that my father already has. So I used the network and then I had, I built my own network that is like very, very different from what he's doing. But help me with the knowledge of production cuz very, very few people that have eCommerce city.

Sure. Shoes cause shoes are extremely different from clouds now, the production and the factory. So that was really, I. Yeah. So these, I guess these manufacturers that your father was working with, they, were they making shoes for like other brands, like other brands outside of Romania as well? No, they were only, no, that they were only producing and they are producing right now locally.

So it's not a fashion pink or a brand thing. They are only producers like mass production, the need of shoes, not for the fashion of shoes, you know, so it's not on the focus of the. But are just plain industrial factories that are producing shoes because you need, not because you , I don't know. They're pretty, or, yeah.

So it's very diff different, but it helped me with the knowledge of supply and chain then of production. Okay. But what was the aha moment that you said, Hey, wait a minute, I can, I can come up with a brand and I can put something out there. And do this, like was there a specific moment in time? Yes. Yes. It was in my corporate day and before corporate.

I always had this issue. I never found shoes that big and that are comfortable, so I always. I was always in pain no matter what. I were still the boots, whatever. It caused me a lot of pain and I was spending high amounts of money from well known brands, and still they were very, very painful. For me and I thought, okay, if they are for me, they have to be for all the other women that are buying them.

So my primary focus was, okay, I'm gonna build something that is both paper and craft concord so you don't have to choose anymore. So you have the boat. Okay. So how are you getting rid of this pain point or pain pressure in your shoes? Like what, what is specifically, how are you making them different than some of the other shoes that you.

So specifically I chose, I selected factories that make very comfortable shoes. So I only work with two, three factories from Spain, 30 Romania. So I have like on around, I try like I grow myself in the factory and try the shoes and give specifications if they are not sufficiently comfort. So it's not like a magic, like I, I did something to them.

Just, I curate all the process and I try them myself. And along with the owners of the factories, we find solutions to specific problems of the ship. . Okay. And the quality assurance that's done, like when there's a new batch that that comes out? Yeah. Do you have people testing those that you know? Yes. This person knows what to look for.

Okay. So E, every time you we produce Like the flow is very long. It's six months. It takes six months from the drawing until the shoes to actually leave the factory. So in that moment, we select the samples, we test them, we do the fittings. Of course we try them and I wear them on a daily basis. And I have, for example, in Turk, in Istan have someone who goes there before delivery.

Checks every shoes, every pair of shoes to make sure they are not faulty. And they, they are like, the quality is there. How are you coming up with the designs? Zuka for the shoes. So that's interesting because my main product was the e-commerce. So I built the, the website, I built the experience, the packaging, and all the logistic processes.

So my focus wasn't, my focus wasn't on design. I met the factories. Designs that they are producing and they are good at producing. And I selected the designs that already exist on their side because when I come with a new design, it takes very long for them to actually produce it cuz they need new, new things, new processes in their factory.

So I said, okay, you are good at. , and I'm good at e-commerce, so I need to produce the design that you like, and I am taking care of the selling and of the brand and of promoting them. So that is what happened. But of course, I, I selected factories that produced designs that are aligned with my vision, so, okay.

Were they happy to, were they happy to hear that proposal? ? Assuming Yes. , what were, yes. Yes. They. Okay, so you're, you're working on this website, you're getting it off the ground. How in the heck did you have so much success within. Within less than three years to generate this kind of this revenue that's coming in.

What did you, yeah, so how did you work? One, one thing. This revenue is only for this year. So it's for the current year. It's not for the whole three years. Second, correct. Second thing, . Yes. Second thing, I started with an offline shop. in the pandemic when the pandemic started. That didn't work. And I swear I wasn't going to open another difficult shop like ever , cause it's not my thing.

And I, I think it, it takes a lot of effort and energy for the outcome. So there, I started with the, with the website and I. Read a lot about user of experience. I learned everything from the bottom to the top. I am myself taking care of the email, marketing of the design, graphic design. I, I work in pig, so that's the things I do.

Yes. Really. Like really, of course, I had someone with me that's very good at it. Thank Nicole Guy in my team. We generated this revenue and the website and the product. Only three. We have three person in the team. Three guys. We have four starting last month, so being so, so few since it a startup, I was like pushed to, to learn a lot from graphing design to humane marketing to product to you name it like I link PPP C and so on.

So yes, like learning and learning a lot every day, listening to podcasts, having friends in my, in my friend circle that they, they have little other ecommerces and so on. So when I am being always aware, like every day what I can learn more from other people or myself. , what channels have worked well for you and channels?

Like, is it like pay Google ads, Facebook ads, Instagram ads? What, what's doing, what's working well for you right now? We started with Google, with, sorry, with Facebook, so paid ads. But then as we, as we innovated our brand, our brand image, now we are raising a little bit the prices cause the quantity is better, and then the public.

We're also more in the professional area now, so now it's like a fair battle between Google and Facebook ads. Mm-hmm. , then very close comes the email marketing. It works very, very good with us. Also, because I make personalized emails that are coming from my side, like from our, the founder and I write them to, to my clients.

So these, these are the main, we also tried with influencers, a few work, a few didn't, but very few actually worked. Also, Ukraine influencers and big influencers. He did YouTube call the YouTube ads. And also it's important to say that we like, the best thing that works in the data ads for us is the video.

Video materials. Okay? Videos on Facebook and YouTube. Yes. And that are also produced by US . Okay. And we, in the last one, we presented the story, it was the best. We presented a story about women empowerment, and our women who never stop and who are always on the board deserve high quality and highly comfortable shoulds.

And that worked the best. Mm-hmm. . Okay. So when a new customer discovers your shoe and it went for the first time, I'm assuming you're collect, you're trying to collect some feedback. I'm asking what, what is it that they really like about your shoes? Oh, so the first thing, surprisingly, that they write about in the packaging, we for every, for every, yes, for every box.

Someone in our warehouse makes a manual. Like cut the ize it and so on manually for every package. And this little, little thing is doing like a lot for the client cause they are stealing very cared of, and no one does it in eCommerce area when you want to save the costs and you want to save the time and so on.

So that is the first thing they, they realize, they write about. Then in the packaging, we have a thank you card and we have another voucher for them. So we have some promotional stuff. And then it comes the, the quantity of the product. So the quality, the quality and the, the fund that they're highly comfortable.

And the last thing, but at least is the customer service. They can always call us, ask for assistance. The exchange is very easily done and the transportation takes one or two days to arrive. Really just one or two days. Yeah. Okay. Okay. Are you using like a variety of services like fan courier to, to get the quick delivery or?

Yes. We are not one courier, but we are working with the guard from Free Ball, so we have an fulfillment platform cuz we are three people in the team. But we have in the warehouse and other find four, four or five guys that are doing the, you know, taking care of the deliver. So yes, we are using multiple couriers, depending, depending on, on many things.

If you want to get it in your, in the box, like in the locker, if you want to get it at home. It depends. Okay. What advice that any, any of your partners or maybe investors or maybe even your appearance gave you that you either followed or you just di you just ignored it. Well, I'm . I'm better at ignoring rather than at following

That's good. Cuz if you, if you do everything everybody tells you, you're not gonna get anywhere. You just, you just, yeah. Yes. Like my magic trick is to always do the AB testing and my favorite business book is the growth book. The Growth Mindset. Yes. What my father, like, an advice that I ignored was, you have two, you have, your prices are too high, you will never sell with this price in the Romania.

And I put them anyway because I also rose the quality of the product and the quality of our presentation. And I think that women are willing to pay if the quality is good and if they can. For many seasons, the shoe is that I buy the shoes this season, I throw it, then the next season library, another pay, I throw it and so on.

That's one thing that I ignored. So I dunno, perhaps an advice for anyone who starts a startup. You, you don't sell. Like you shouldn't be afraid to put the, the right price for your product if you know it's. with accent on being fair. You know, so you, if it's fair, you put it, put it like that. Then an advice that I shallowed would be on testing the pre-orders.

How do you orders this is we, we had a small batch that we could, that we could do that last September. So the products weren't in production yet. In September, I talked to the guys on factory and said, okay, wait for us like one month before actually starting producing them. Of course we had the models and we had everything set, but let me just test the pre-orders, please.

So I finished it and it was the best campaign, like with the best. Like, it was amazing to find out that women are willing to wait for the product that they want. Yes. Because, you know, it's always fast. I can't wait. I have to go to the boat to buy it. I need right now, so this campaign's. Yes, , she placed me the order.

She's already tracking. Like where the package, yes. You know, and she knows like I'm supposed to get it, you know, Thursday morning around this time me, I can place an order and I could care less. In fact, I may never even get the order and I just forgot all about it cuz I just, you know, I just don't care.

But yeah, I think. , when you say most women are really concerned about the delivery time, I, I agree with you, . Yes, but in a word of, of past moving goods and like this mad me madness as I gave the order. Now I want to have the order, like last hour. Why, why isn't the order here? Like being in a, in a contrast.

And that is a thing I learned that ProTrac can behave by marketing course. That was a very good advice. You watch your competition and you do the other way around . So , yes. Okay. That is one thing that worked and that we, we will push next season, starting week January. We will launch the spring, summer collect.

And we'll be on the basis of pre-orders. And of course, I want to show all my clients, all my customers, why. , is it worth the weight? And I will present the videos from the factory. The fact that there's, that they're handmade, that is a factory with tradition and it's made by father and Asal. And so this kind of story that are authentic and are traditional products and they deserve to be waited for.

And also they deserve to be warned for, to to be warned for three, four seasons, not just one month. And then you throw them away. So I believe. a long, a long value compared to the first fashion brands Yeah. That are now on the market. Yep. There's been a lot of car brands that have success with this. If you think of like Tesla and some other brands, people will wait yes.

Months, you know, for something. So why wouldn't they do it in fashion if it's a brand that they like, they truly, truly liked. I'd probably do the same thing myself. If there was something I saw, I knew the brand had good quality. I enjoyed the last product I purchas. Yeah, why not? Okay, so a few other questions before we wrap it up.

Question is, how has this journey of, of having success with Allure has it, how has it changed you and impacted you, Roy Luca? Well, so personally I think it gave me a lot of personal confidence, like trust myself and confidence in. I very much lack before though in corporation, I like train from VPs to presidents to, like I, I had a very good environment, professional environment, but I think it's very empowering to see.

that you can write the, the name of your brand on a notebook, and then in one to three years it's for real. And you see on the street people wearing your product randomly. Oh, you know , there must be so before. Yeah, yeah. Yes, yes. I think that's very empowering. And then it gave me a sense of purpose. because I can get in touch with so many people and have an impact.

That is what I like. For example, in the corporation, I didn't see how my work is impactful and how my work is useful for someone. Mm-hmm. and now like having a startup, you get to feel that really real, and I get to, to have the chance to see a client that bought, like I don. , four or five pairs of boots from us and it's like they, they trusted us and I get the, the phone, my hand on the phone and call them and say, Hey, , I'm the founder.

Things that I wanted to thank you. You know, . Yeah. That's very cool. Yeah. And cool. Are you delivering internationally? For the moment, yes, but we didn't have the chance to promote it. We will work starting with January for a duplicate of the website. We'll be called Mayan dot. And we will promote heavily promoted internationally perhaps, or I will choose a country first, perhaps Germany.

I don't know. We are still discussing about it, but for now, everyone who stays abroad, abroad can order, but the website is Romania, so usually still Romanians order for us that are staying in other countries. But for other international customers, it'll be available starting. Okay. What advice would you give to inspiring e-commerce or fashion entrepreneurs?

Uca build a brand that it's online, but feels like it's offline. , like people are really hungry for the human touch, so may keep as personal as possible, giving them. all the experience that they could have in a, in an offline store. Love it. I love it. Yes. Okay. Okay, . All right. Last question for you, and this is just a fun question.

Instead of flowers for Valentine's Day Luca, you would rather receive blank books, books. Books? Yeah. Okay. I don't, I'll rather receive books. . You know, for Christmas, I always give my sister a book and she hates it. Really? ? Yeah. She's like, please don't send me more books for Christmas, you know, as a present, send them to me.

But I think it's one of the best things that you can do is give somebody, you know, something that that could really impact their life in a positive way. Yeah. It's thres and it's valuable and be perhaps a little bit biased. Cause I graduated literature, so literature has always been my passion. Okay.

Having chatted with me and what book would you give to me as a gift? Oh, . Well, I would give you something locally. And I would recommend you the diaries of Queen Mary of Romania, the diaries during, during First World War. I think that would be very interesting for you. I saw a show on the History Channel about her, and she was a very strong woman.

Very. She was a yes, very yes woman. And she wants British, for example. Yeah. Yeah, she was queen Elizabeth, if I remember. I think. Yes. And the, the, how do you say it, the, the relative of the Queen Victoria. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. All right. Well listen, Roka, thank you so much for being on Innovators to Laugh. Where can people learn about you?

I'm gonna put a link to your website on the car, on the, on the, on the website notes here. is your, any other place where people can find you on Instagram, Lura still, and on Instagram. You're mostly only in English are posting on in English, so you can see their reels and other backstage videos and photos that are on the website.