business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

Nice piece this morning in the Wall Street Journal about Shilpa Yarlagadda, who as a Harvard freshman envisioned starting a company that could fund other startups led by women. She fixed on the fine jewelry business because she read that it “is typically marked up several times the cost of production.” It was, the story says, “her light-bulb moment; if she went direct-to-consumer, she reasoned, she could take half the profits to fund other companies.”

So that’s what she did. The Journal writes:

“Today the company she launched, Shiffon, sells a single piece, the Duet Pinky Ring, in seven varieties and three price points: $90 for sterling silver, $375 for 14K gold, $640 for 18K gold. The Duet is a one-size adjustable ring that circles twice around the wearer’s littlest finger, topped off with a sapphire or diamond alongside a minuscule, barely visible diamond.

“The two stones represent a ‘pinky promise’ for women to support one another. Half of the profits from each ring go to the company’s non-profit venture capital arm, the Startup Girl Foundation, which has provided funding to six young companies so far. Startup Girl Foundation holds equity in every company they invest in; the returns from these investments go back into the nonprofit, where they are used to fund more companies.”

The story points out that “Yarlagadda is tapping into a popular new market … Minimalist, ‘everyday’ fine jewelry with relatively affordable price tags is being marketed to millennials and Gen-Z.” And she’s doing it consumer-direct - selling online, circumventing the traditional jewelry store business.

The Shiffon story, of course, has been helped by the fact that its profile has been raised by a number of celebrities - people like Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Nicole Kidman, Emma Watson and Shailene Woodley all have been seen wearing it. (Yarlagadda emphasizes that she’s never paid anyone to wear the ring, and that these ‘endorsements’ have come about because these folks support her women-centric mission.)

Great story, I think … about innovative thinking, ambitious implementation, and looking for holes in existing markets that allow for an entrepreneur to make a move.

Oh, and here’s the real Eye-Opener.

Yarlagadda started the business, in essence, from her Harvard dorm room. She’s still in school - next year, she’ll be a senior.
KC's View: