April 1, 2015 Peyman Moghaddam

An Interview with Alangoo.com Founder Golshid Mola

Alangoo.com Is An Online Iranian Authority Market Place Focusing On Accessories And Jewellery That Come From An Iranian Heritage. Going from strength to strength with no signs of slowing down, the site captures a niche collection from the most high octane, off the wall jewellery to simpler, more elegant and timely pieces. Now gearing up and getting ready for further expansion into the unknown territories of mass market adoption, Golshid Mola, founder and president of Alangoo has set a quality bar which runs through her entire company. Golshid downloads what is inside her business and artistic hats into ours.

– What does Alangoo.com stand for and what is it against?

Golshid Mola (G.M):    As you see in the tagline, Alangoo stands for bringing underground fashion online and making it accessible for shoppers globally. At Alangoo we strongly encourage everyone who shows support for independent artists and designers who create ‘art to wear’ which is a piece of wearable art that has a story behind its creation and a meaning behind its design. Therefore we are very much against wearing head to toe labels. We are against commercialism, blindly following celebrities to come up with what to wear and what brands to buy. I personally think nothing is more lame than that.

Alangoo stands for bringing underground fashion online and making it accessible for shoppers globally!
Golshid Mola – Alangoo.com

– Is there any reason to believe the opposite of my current belief, that Alangoo is the market dominator for Iranian online accessory shops?

G.M:    No, Alangoo.com is the ‘Go-to’ market place to check out and find Persian inspired designs with a modern twist. There are a couple of other smaller gift shops that were created online after our launch. Alangoo is not a store nor a gift shop. Alangoo is a platform/market place! Sellers come to Alangoo, they create and manage their own account, they upload their photos, price their items and describe them. So it’s very different, there isn’t another market place or platform doing what we do for them.

– What is your multi-level vision of the future for Alangoo and what is your strategy for shaping this future?

G.M:    For future I don’t want to be limited to only Iranians, I think there are a lot of other exotic cultures to cover as well. That was one of the original plans for Alangoo but it then suddenly got very popular amongst the Persian community so we decided to focus on Persians. The focus was first on wearable art and not jewellery but it just so happened to emerge that people showed more interest in jewellery and loved Persian inspired jewellery in particular. People do already look at us a brand that has a meaning and a style of its own. In the end, I would like Alangoo to be a ‘lifestyle’. So I can see someone wearing something specific and interesting, and say ‘Oh did you get that from Alangoo, that is the Alangoo style!’ That is one of the goals I’d like to maintain. And the longer term goal is to attract more non-Iranians.

The good thing was this movement never stopped, it became more and more sophisticated every day.
Golshid Mola – Alangoo.com

– Why did you decide to start up Alangoo.com?

G.M:    I decided to start Alangoo because I felt underground and independently made fashion is the least recognised amongst other forms of Iranian underground art. For example compared to the music scene. When I was in school, back In Tehran with a group of friends, we used to create handmade wearable pieces and set up popular shows and exhibitions in the city which would attract a lot of kids and became a hang out spot. I personally did 12 shows and exhibitions show casing mine and other peoples work. Like an ‘offline’ version of Alangoo.com 17 years ago. When I left Tehran, the good thing was this movement never stopped, it became more and more sophisticated every day. Now when I go to Tehran I get really impressed. I see all these amazing show rooms and beautiful works of designers. So I think it was about time someone recognised this and created a platform for the Iranian diaspora to let them learn more about what’s out there and give them access to the designs.

– What is the selection criteria for designers to be featured on your store? How do you organise or determine merit to a particular designer?

G.M. It is really important that the piece has a story and a meaning behind it’s creation and the design has something to say! It has to be a statement piece! We have to deny a lot of applications because the design is something you would see in every store. They may not be bad designs but they do not represent us. The mission is to present some creativity in the design. It should have something to say. If the item is hand made, the craftsmanship is really important. In fact when we first launched, all items had to be hand-made. Then a change occurred and now they don’t have to be hand-made, they can just be independently designed by the designer.

– Start Ups are the single most dangerous/ultra high risk asset class there is. What entrepreneurial hacks have you developed to stay focused and productive in your day-to-day?

G.M:   I think the most important thing for any entrepreneur is to be able to manage his or her time. Time management is really important. Don’t waste it on projects that are not really helping you reach your goal, because I see a lot of entrepreneurs just wasting time. As far as staying motivated, I read a lot about other successful entrepreneurs. It’s really important to be around other entrepreneurs who are more knowledgeable, especially for me because I don’t have any business background. I try to stay in the know of things and that really helps. You need to have very thick skin and just stick to it and just be super persistent and just don’t give up. Don’t give up, don’t give up!  If you just don’t give up, it’s going to work. I think a lot of entrepreneurs lose their motivation and they give up too fast. They think, oh, ‘this is not working’ and that’s it. But by sticking to it and just not giving up and  by just being persistent, it definitely works. 

You need to have very thick skin and just stick to it and just be super persistent and just don’t give up. Don’t give up, don’t give up!

– Describe the culture you are building in your organisation?

G.M:    It is really important to me for everyone to have a strong passion for what we do. I try to have a diverse team and I work with non Iranians as well specifically because I wouldn’t want to overwhelm our non Iranian audience with too much Persian influence. The pieces are very Persian inspired but we want all the cultures to connect with the market place. Even though a lot of the team members aren’t even Iranian they have to be super passionate about what we do and what we represent. Creativity is really important with a relaxed culture. What matters is that the job is done on time. I don’t care if it’s done working from home or from the office. The goal is to promote Iranian culture. That is my passion. That is never going to change. Promoting Persian culture, globally!


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– How do you structure your business model and generate revenues?

G.M:    Alangoo takes out 15% commission from 90% of designers versus 25-30% commission that other platforms are taking right now. Alangoo designers manage their own accounts, they sell, they ship etc. We manage some of the designers accounts for them on their behalf and we edit their accounts, descriptions and conduct photo shoots for them, ship for them etc. For those accounts the commission is 20-25%. We direct the designers, so they know what is working and what is not. Some of the designers are exclusive to Alangoo and feature pieces different to what they are selling elsewhere.

– Who are three designers whose careers you’ve enhanced?

G.M:    I think there are a lot of them actually that we helped. Nuvano by Niloo Haddad. She managed to get some bulk order deals and we were able to connect her with a fashion designer for New York Fashion Week. She made 12 pieces for the fashion show and in general we were able to provide some nice exposure. Shadras and Nazz Gallery are others. Shadras is based in Dubai and is one of our best sellers. Alangoo was able to showcase Shadras and Nazz Gallery pieces at the Asia Society Museum Store in NYC which gave them great exposure. MKhazali is well known within her own community and especially in Iran. Alangoo helped her brand to make a name in the US and Canada. Iranians in US and Canada can now easily recognise her brand and style.

– What is your own personal favourite item that’s been sold or featured on Alangoo and do you wear any pieces yourself?

G.M:    I have many. Actually almost everything that I wear is from Alangoo. Just like a regular shopper, I go to alangoo.com, I select the piece that I like and I purchase it. I love wearing the designs and I’ve learned a lot myself. I have a few favourite designers that I normally wear like Diba. She makes interesting designs. When it comes to jewellery, I wear a lot of Farish Alborzkouh. She’s a genius. Also Moein Shashaei of Zangar. He moved from Iran two weeks ago, so we can actually work with him right now. It’s not illegal or against the sanctions. He is amazing. I like edgy stuff. You know, rough designs. Large, rustic, you know things like that.

These are some of my favorites:

 
Zangaar by Moein Shashaei
 
 
Inca By Azadeh Sadeghzadeh
 
Lililama  (Lili Farhat)
 
Nazz Gallery  By Nazanin Alaeinia

 

– What is the trade off between profitability and art? I.e. How do you decide to ‘draw the line’ of adding pieces which will sell well versus pieces which are difficult to sell but are aesthetically stronger or have more originality?

G.M:    I don’t really focus on the number of sales. I care way more about the aesthetics of the design but that is the nature of Alangoo. That is what Alangoo is known for so we can’t really jeopardise that. It’s the sellers account. They decide how much they want to sell their pieces for. They know their margin, I don’t know their margin. They can do whatever they want and we don’t know their strategies and or their breakeven.

– When do you decide and make the difficult decision that a designer or a piece’s time has come to an end and it’s time to retire it from the site?

G.M:    It depends what the reason is for the piece not being sold. If the piece is super creative and edgy, it normally doesn’t sell easily because the item is unique for a regular customer of alangoo.com. It requires a specific person with a specific taste to like the piece, but a piece like that, I let it be. I’m not going to take it out. If the piece is amazing, but it’s just not selling it has to stay on the website until the appropriate customers show. But if the piece is not selling because the piece is just not interesting, then I always email the designer and I explain. I tell them, “You know what… the design just doesn’t work for alangoo.com. Maybe you can just showcase it on another platform, but Alangoo’s visitors are after a certain design. And you’re more than welcome to continue to design for Alangoo. Just take this one out.”

– There’s definitely some mistrust in general with shopping online, within Iran especially. How do you handle returns or difficult customers?

G.M:    Obviously, customer service is most important. Around 50 per cent of Alangoo shoppers are returning customers and there is a reason for that. Although the designers are in charge of their own account and they manage their own accounts, they have their own return policy. A lot of them don’t accept returns. A lot of them only accept returns within five days. It’s designer by designer. They make the decisions. But at the end of the day, when a customer is not happy even if the designer doesn’t accept the return and the customer is right or they’re not happy with the design, you know, we jump in.

– Bottica.com, also run by an Iranian (Kiyan Forroughi and co founded by Avid Larizadeh) often states that one of the keys to selling is to understand and sell the designers journey/story/vision. Does this hold true with you as well or is this of little importance?

But Alangoo, the story behind the piece and the creation and the meaning of the piece are more important than the story behind the designer’s journey.

G.M:   It’s interesting because at the beginning when I was creating Alangoo I thought that this was really important to the shopper, so I really focused on it. I talked about the designer and her journey, why she became a designer and all the back story. But you know, it didn’t really matter to the shoppers. What matters the most when it comes to Alangoo is the story behind the piece! Not really about the designer. I think the reason for that is, Alangoo shoppers are 80 per cent Iranian. The story of another Iranian designer is not really that exotic to them. They already know what’s going on. So, when a shopper is not Iranian and is reading about an Iranian designer, she gets more excited, because she doesn’t know. She learns. But Alangoo, the story behind the piece and the creation and the meaning of the piece are more important than the story behind the designer’s journey.

– What are the potential mega-trends coming in the future?

G.M:   Combining fashion and technology is a trendy thing right now and I’m actually a big fan myself. I think it’s really exciting. Combining politics and fashion. Creativity, creativity is the key. Having something to say is key. But, I think an ‘expiration’ date is hard to see with some things. Like Persian calligraphy sells very quickly and it’s been like this for like three years now since we started. I mean it doesn’t have any expiration date, apparently. So I don’t know, like my  guess was that all Persian inspired jewellery, would not be trendy anymore and I didn’t expect it to still sell. So, you just never know…

– I remember seeing Vogue fashion spreads that were shot in Iran (Shiraz, Isfahan etc) in the 70’s. Do you think we will ever see these kinds of shoots again in Iran?

G.M:   I mean, it’s Iran. I don’t know. That’s a really tough question. I hope so. Sometimes I get really hopeful. Sometimes, you know, I lose all the hope that I have for… you know, for Iran and the little freedom when it comes to stuff like this, but I’m definitely more hopeful.

– Tech Wearables (iWatch, Google Glass) are rapidly becoming a thing of the present. What’s your take on it and are their any Alangoo designers already in this space and if not would they enter it today? In other words, can you be more high-tech but still be high touch?

G.M:   They’re not really artistic, but fashionable, yes. I would totally wear them. I like to wear like things that are kinda strange looking. But, I don’t think there is a place for them at alangoo.com because Alangoo is more focused on art.  So I don’t see it for Alangoo at all, but I think it could get actually trendy and fashionable. I don’t see why not, because I think it’s different and cool. It’s cool. I like them.

– You currently take payments via PayPal. What do you think of Bitcoin and other alt’ coins/crypto-currency technology emerging as new methods of online payment?

G.M:   I don’t think it’s good timing for Alangoo to work with any new technology at this point, because we don’t want to confuse Alangoo customers. We are doing research and we are thinking of taking advantage of one of these new technologies in the future. But Alangoo shoppers are comfortable with PayPal. For another six, seven months, it’s going to be PayPal, but we are definitely looking to take advantage.

The goal is to promote Iranian culture. That is my passion. That is never going to change. Promoting Persian culture, globally!

– Do you have any sort of relationships/direct crossover promotions that you do with other designers, or with other individuals to spread the word?

G.M:    Yeah, we do cross promotions with a few designers and organisations. There is Edinburgh Iranian Festival in February. That’s going to be one of the biggest sponsorships because they’re going to have a fashion show for the first time and are collaborating with us. This is going to be the first fashion show introducing independent Iranian fashion designers. We selected five of them. So, I think that’s going to be really exciting. Recently, the San Francisco Iranian Film Festival ended. We were sponsoring that festival!

– What about in terms of bloggers, journalists and people who write about the fashion industry in general?  Do you have any symbiotic relationships with them?

G.M:    Actually, non-Iranian bloggers find us interesting and write about us, which is cool. You know, fashion is very chall… it’s tough. It’s not easy. You know, music is much easier, because with music you know it relates to everybody; women, men, any age. But when it comes to fashion it gets very challenging. I mean The Tehran Times I can understand, because for people and the Iranian diaspora it is really interesting to see and to learn more about street fashion in Tehran. They really really love it when they see all the photos.

– The Iranian market is certainly a lucrative market given it was the 21st largest economy in the world before it was inhibited by specific sanctions. November 24th is the (current) sanctions deadline. What else is  currently holding back businesses?

G.M:   I think Iranians for generations need to be more educated. They need to learn more about international business and they need to learn about different cultures and learn how to deal with different cultures business wise. Each country has its own business culture and I think they need to have more education in that regard. And you know, there are so many opportunities in Iran it’s not even funny. I know that there is a lot that they can do, but the sanctions again are not helping. I don’t know how the schools are working right now, but they need to create entrepreneurs, business-minded people who can deal with different cultures in a professional way. I don’t see any way… I think that’s really lacking in Iran. I get passionate and excited about projects and initiatives that help promote the Persian culture.

And you know, there are so many opportunities in Iran it’s not even funny…. they need to create entrepreneurs, business-minded people who can deal with different cultures in a professional way. I think that’s really lacking in Iran.

– Name one thing that you believe to be true, which no one else or very few other people, believe is true?

G.M:   I can say that working with the Iranian community for the past three years, was not really hard at all. I think that’s the one thing that I can say that nobody believes. It so was not challenging and I was really scared to get into this area but it was just okay. I don’t know why we don’t give each other that much credit and we see ourselves, Iranians, like something else. They’re just fine. I never had any problems with any of my sellers or shoppers. They’re very understanding. They’re very supportive and they’re just good people.

I can say that working with the Iranian community for the past three years was not really hard at all. I think that’s one thing that I can say that nobody believes.

Since this section is called Industry Insiders, what is the 1 Industry Secret you can reveal?

G.M:   I can say Pinterest is the way to go for marketing rather than Facebook and it’s absolutely free. Start-ups don’t pay attention to Pinterest at all as an effective marketing tool. Also an Iranian related secret: Iranian shoppers would like to be directed to what piece to pick and wear! What I recommend to them really matters! They are also very lazy to browse and find stuff. They always want me to email them or call them with a few recommendations to select from.

– If you had to choose one thing, what do you think you’re the best Iranian in the world at?

G.M:   I think that Alangoo is the ambassador of independent fashion designers. I don’t think anyone else is doing this right now. That’s the only thing I can think of. And we are really, really truly supportive of this movement and I think I’m the biggest fan. And nobody in the world cares as much as I do.

– How would you like to be remembered in the future?

G.M:  The same.  The only person who really, really cared.

https://www.alangoo.com/
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