In Conversation with Madeline Fraser of Gemist
Can you describe Gemist in a few words?
Sure! We are the first platform that lets you design jewelry for every occasion and even lets you try on designs on at home before you buy.
What made you take the leap to start Gemist?
I always like to say that for better or worse, when I find a problem I have to love it! I experienced a big problem firsthand when it came to creating custom jewelry. I quickly realized I was not alone in that pain point and that most people experienced a similar issue. As I started to dive into understanding the jewelry market as a whole I learned how traditional and fragmented it really was. That was why there was no way to easily custom design jewelry online.
My background is not jewelry, it’s technology. I think it took my experience and way of thinking to clearly see what needed to be done to create a solution. That’s what we have built with Gemist!
Gemist is not your first business! Can you share a little more about your background prior to launching Gemist?
I sort of stumbled into creating companies. It wasn’t one of those things where I always knew would be my career path. I’m definitely someone who dives into everything head first and I’m always coming up with crazy ideas – the creativity never ends.
I studied interior architecture in college and during my second year I found a problem and guess what… I had to solve it! Ha! This was in 2012 and at the time shopping for furniture online was just getting off the ground. My co-founders and I were all design students and so when our friends moved out of their dorms and into their first apartments, they asked for our help in furnishing them quickly and on a budget. We quickly realized there was a huge need for a scaleable digital design platform for the millennial demographic, so that’s what we created. It grew quickly and we were able to get it on Shark Tank!
From there we noticed that consumer behavior was shifting and that what they really wanted was instant gratification — the ability to design spaces without a designer. They wanted the tools to design on their own. That evolved into our next company which was the first mobile app where you could fully design interiors and see them come to life in your own space before purchasing the furniture.
Gemist was my next adventure! I took all I had learned from my first two companies to get Gemist off the ground quickly, and we have been successful ever since!
How was Gemist first received by the public? How did you get the word out?
I’m a big believer that our consumers are the ones who will shape our product to make it right for them. There is no such thing as perfect when it comes to building start-ups, so it’s incredibly important to get something out to consumers quickly so they can take it the rest of the way.
That’s what we did with Gemist. We built what we thought was about 80% of the way there and then started beta testing. Man, we learned so much! First of all when we launched into beta, Gemist actually had a completely different name AND it was only focused on engagement rings.
We quickly realized that our consumers loved the product but wanted more. Many said, “well I’m single” or “I’m married… but I LOVE this. Where are the rings for everyday or where are the earrings?!”
We knew we were onto something, we just had to expand our offerings. Now, we focus on all kinds of jewelry for every occasion. Our goal during beta was to get our first 1,000 die-hard consumers — consumers that would spread the word about what we had created and give us feedback to make it the best platform possible. That’s how we started to get off the ground!
How has your industry evolved since launching Gemist?
Jewelry has been very much the same for a long time. It’s an industry that’s rooted in jewelry companies. I always like to say that Gemist is a tech company that just happens to sell jewelry. I think our platform has been a fantastic addition to the jewelry industry as a whole and I hope that we continue to see the industry grow in a more tech-focused direction.
Since starting your career, what are some of the biggest lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur?
There are many! As an entrepreneur you are always pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and when you do that often, you learn a lot. I have two core mantras that I’ve developed over the last eight or so years that I’ve been an entrepreneur.
#1: Do One Thing Each Day That Scares You
If you are afraid to do things that scare you, that’s okay BUT if you are unable to push past that fear and execute on what you have to do, you have a problem. This quote is actually one by Eleanor Roosevelt. When I was growing up my mom had a magnet of it on our refrigerator. She lived by this quote and I have also learned to do the same. It reminds me that I can do anything – fear can’t stop me. So many things in life are scary and putting yourself and your ideas on the line are on the top of that list most days. When you can learn to push through the scary things, it’s an incredible feeling. Slowly, you get less scared, and then you grow more and have to face a new list of things that feel terrifying. The thing is you have to try, you have to push, you have to fight for what you want and what you believe. At the end of the day, the worst someone can say is no, and then you are right back where you started.
#2: Stay in the Middle
Highs and lows are the name of the game in the world of growing start-ups. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions and stress. For years I let those emotions get to me, really get to me. I would either drive home on cloud nine thinking everything was amazing OR drive home crying as if the world was crumbling around me. I needed to feel those feelings to then understand why they weren’t serving me. I started to notice a pattern. Most of the time, the amazing things a few days later always ended up being just fine or okay and those terrible things that meant the company was over ended up resolving themselves. I learned that nothing is ever as good or as bad as you think it’s going to be, so you may as well stay in the middle and enjoy the journey.
What is the biggest challenge you have encountered along the way and what did you learn?
Fail Fast. Fix Fast. Learn Fast.
Face failure head on and learn to understand that it will happen again and again and again — that is if you are doing things right. When growing a company you are innovating and building something that’s new, that possibly has never been done before. That means there is no rule book, no guidelines. YOU and your team have to navigate the unknown together.
It’s a rocky road but if you can learn to embrace the fact that failure is normal and not horrible, to move quickly and to learn from that failure to do your best to never fail that same way twice, you will succeed.
It took me a long time to learn this. I felt like everything we did wrong was the end of the world. Then I started realizing that we needed to fail and make those mistakes to get to a version of success that felt incredible.
If I can do it, you certainly can!
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I’m most proud of what I have been able to create with Gemist in just over one year. It’s been one of the most challenging years of my life, I don’t think I’ve ever worked this hard (which is crazy because I work really hard ha!).
This is the first company that I decided to start on my own, I don’t have any co-founders. I felt it was important for me to create this business on my own and made that decision with much clarity when I got it off the ground.
It’s empowering and I feel I’m at the place in my career to be able to do that. I don’t recommend this for first-time founders. I also have no idea if the right person will come along because if they do, I would be more than happy to bring on a co-founder.
For now, I have my team and my investors and advisors who all support the growth and vision of Gemist. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by so many people who are far smarter and more talented than myself. They help me innovate, help me dream big and execute each and every day.
I’m proud of us and this company for everything we have been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. I’m excited for the future of what I know we will continue to build together because it’s going to be spectacular.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
I’d say the biggest impact for jewelry has been for companies focused primarily on in-person retail. We are very fortunate to be a platform that merges the world of digital and reality — bringing the design experience online while also bringing the retail store to the consumer through our home “Try-On” program.
Jewelry is something that consumers value and will always be purchasing – with or without a pandemic.
Where do you see Gemist 5 or 10 years into the future?
I see Gemist expanding beyond D2C and growing into other channels and revenue streams. We have a larger vision for the business to transform the jewelry industry to make it much more tech-forward with continued innovation across digital and retail channels.
What advice can you offer to budding entrepreneurs/female founders who are trying to launch their own business?
Remember that this is about the journey, not only the end result. If you are someone starting a business, it’s an uphill battle that you can 100% conquer and tackle. Make sure to pause and give yourself credit for your hard work and please remember to laugh a lot and enjoy this journey. You may have many iterations of the same journey like I’ve had. You learn so much from each one and grow immensely as a person. Be kind and treat everyone as you would want to be treated. Find team members who are smarter and have different skill sets than you. It’s all about your team, you can’t do this alone. Ditch ego at the door and be humble on this journey. It’s one that’s amazing, rare and completely unpredictable. DIVE IN HEAD FIRST!
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
I AM POWERFUL.
This is another one of my mantras that feels incredibly connected to my inner female founder. As a woman in this industry we need more power than men. That’s just the truth. We have to work harder, sell better, grow faster. Owning your power and believing in your strength as a woman and as a founder is what I feel it means to be an Entreprenista!