Fashion

MikMak Founder Brings Retailers into the World of Social Commerce

by Marley Kaplan
Contributing Writer

A leader in retail transformation, MikMak founder Rachel Tipograph shows how humorous videos can help shoppers find what they want from almost wherever they are online.

“And do the MikMak.”

One listen to MikMak’s catchy jingle and you can expect to be humming it all day. That’s by design. The brainchild of Rachel Tipograph, an experienced digital marketer-turned-entrepreneur, MikMak is a cross between video entertainment app and e-commerce platform.

The whole idea is to get you hooked.

What began in 2014 as Tipograph’s millennial answer to QVC — an app where users go to binge on original short videos promoting quirky and household items selling for under $100 — has grown to be the latest innovation in e-retail and digital commerce.

MikMak is an app where brands connect with shoppers via brief, entertaining videos. Tipograph believes MikMak will help Fortune 1000 companies navigate what she calls “this crazy new world of social commerce.”

Earning accolades such as “30 under 30 Who Are Changing The World” by Forbes and one of “The Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company, Tipograph, former global director of digital and social media at retailer GAP, is poised to lead the future of e-commerce and digital innovation.

Marketing to the Next Generation

Every single element of what we call “retail” is facing a transformation,” said Rachel Mushahar, general manager of Intel’s sales for retail, hospitality and consumer packaged goods in the Americas. She believes retailers must embrace digital to stay relevant.

Mushahwar points to a 2016 retail trends report that says video and visual search is dramatically on the rise.

Pinterest’s LENS feature, for example, can recognize a billion objects. Snapchat, the pillar of social interaction for millennials, uses video to keep audiences engaged.

Mushahwar said more Snapchat users watched college football and the MTV Music Awards on the app than on TV.

man with tablet

The digital commerce and content boom over the past five years inspired Tipograph’s evolving mission for MikMak and it taught her valuable business lessons.

“It’s very, very clear that Facebook and other platforms are about to become our generation’s and the younger generation’s cable providers,” said Tipograph.

She said millennial and Gen Z consumers engage with content on Facebook the way previous generations tuned into cable networks when they first hit the scene.

While at GAP, Tipograph witnessed the evolution of digital advertising and inspired her to meet consumers where they are rather than sticking to current marketing norms like email marketing and display advertising.

Traditionally, retailers buy display advertising on a site like Refinery 29 with the hopes that consumers will land there via a search in their web browser.  “We all know that is not how that works today,” she said. “You experience content in your social feed and maybe you end up on an article page.”

MikMak founder Rachel Tipograph
MikMak founder Rachel Tipograph says that by 2019, 80 percent of internet traffic will come from video.

She believes it’s only a matter of time before commerce becomes synonymous with video.

This led her to think about when and where to reach potential consumers, and selecting the right type of content to best engage a tuned-in audience. She fashioned MikMak as a place where commerce meets entertainment, but not necessarily in that order.

“We’re an entertainment company first,” said Tipograph. “All of our hosts have an improv comedy background. We created this environment where the twenty-something girl in Ohio will watch infomercials back to back without it coming off as advertising.”

MikMak has raised $3.2M in seed funding to date from high-profile investors such as VaynerMedia and United Talent Agency, pointing to a unique combination of interest from both the media world and entertainment industry.

Solve Problems, Create Opportunities

Tipograph sees MikMak solving pain points unique to women, similar to other women-led companies such as Birchbox and Rent the Runway.

“Only women would have known to reinvent the business model where women could rent dresses instead of buying them,” Tipograph said of Rent the Runway.

According to Tipograph, a key factor in her success was the relationship she created with GAP’s former CMO, Seth Farbman (now at Spotify). As a senior male in a female-dominated clientele market, Farbman recognized Tiopgraph’s fresh perspective to bring new energy and strategic thinking to his division.

“He understood the battle that he needed to fight in order for me to be successful,” said Tipograph.

At the time, GAP was experiencing a decade of declining sales. When Tipograph started, the average customer was a 47-year-old woman buying elastic jeans. Tipograph was hired to lower the average age of the customer and drive digital growth to connect with a younger generation.

During her time at GAP, Tipograph and her team had knocked a decade off the age of the average consumer and diversified their purchases.

Becoming a Risk-Taker

Tipograph’s advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs or women looking to join an early-stage tech startup is concise, yet takes on various meanings to the individual:  take risks.

“Changes in the landscape are allowing female entrepreneurs to rise and disrupt the ratio,” she said.

For those who don’t have a STEM background and are more business-minded like herself, Tipograph recommends the power of prototyping.

“Today there are plenty out-of-the-box solutions to allow you to get started and prototype your ideas,” she said. “I personally did that before I started my company. I took $5,000 from my pocket, and I built a prototype in 30 days.”

When hiring new talent for MikMak, Tipograph said that 80 percent of the candidates are male. She’d like to see more women step up and seize opportunities.

MikMak founder Rachel Tipograph
Tipograph encourages women to take risks — in retail or any business.

“I think the only way that we’re going to seriously change the ratio is if women can embrace an appetite for risk.”

Intel’s Mushahwar said women in top management positions remains at a paltry 9 percent, and retail is no exception.

“Although women make up almost half of our industry’s workforce — fewer than one in five executive officers and fewer than one in 50 CEOs in our business are women,” said Mushahwar, according to a report on women in retail.

“These numbers have barely budged in the past seven years. It’s time to re-examine the way we do business, because we can’t leverage the power of women’s leadership until we have more women leaders.”

Through her creation and leadership of MikMak, Tipograph is contributing to this shift in women influencers changing the face of technology on her own terms. She believes a confluence of technology innovation and a growing number of women empowered to bring their ideas to life will result in impactful new businesses.

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