Lucy Danziger, Hinted CEO

An interview with Lucy Danziger, the Editor-in-Chief of SELF turned startup CEO of Hinted, the social shopping app.

After 12 years as the Editor-in-Chief SELF magazine and successfully growing readership to 12 million unique monthly active users and readers, Harvard alum Lucy Danziger felt a sense of ownership that was false. At the end of the day, she didn’t own the magazine - Conde Nast did. So she left and decided to pursue her own idea: the social shopping app Hinted.

Read on below to learn about how Danziger thinks about the future of retail, her advice for young women looking to found their own companies, and how to get involved with Hinted as a Campus Ambassador.

HC: Give us the elevator pitch for Hinted. What is it, and how did you get started?

LD: Hinted is a social shopping platform and app where users can keep track of what items they want to buy or try, so they can discover, collect and shop all in one place. You can create lists for specific occasions - such as “Going Abroad”, “Job Interview”, “Rush”, “Winter Formal”, etc - and Hinted helps you keep track of your browsing instead of having an endless number of open tabs.

I started Hinted with the realization that shopping isn't just about buying things, it's about creating a vision of yourself that you're willing to invest time and money in. Spending is a way of expressing your values. Do you spend to reward yourself for reaching a goal? Would you rather spend on a trip, a bag, or a fitness experience? Hinted represents a vision of the life you want to create. If Instagram is the baked cake, Hinted is the ingredients list. And the more you add to your list, the more curated your discover feed is. So, Hinted is the only shoppable social platform I know of that is part curated and part user generated. I find that very exciting.

HC: You’ve spent the past few years obsessively iterating on your product. Now that you’re getting ready to monetize, what do the next 6 months look like?

LD: We’re getting ready to raise an official seed round. With raising money, I've heard that women and men approach it differently. Men will go out and raise money first, and then build a company. More often than not, women will first create a product and then raise money. I did the latter, and it's akin to jumping in the water and asking people to throw you wooden planks so you can build a boat. If I had to do it over again I'd build the boat before jumping in the water, but I felt that I needed to prove the concept by creating a beta version. As we kept growing and getting bigger and bigger, I raised a small round from friends and family investors and bootstrapped it from there.

Now, I need more capital to increase marketing spend and build out our team, but raising money has never been comfortable for me. Investors often ask: How do I know it's going to grow? And I answer, you never actually know, you just have to believe in the vision and the future of this platform and the team. So I don't BS them. I just say, I'm seeing growth, because I'm building what our users want.

HC: What about the next 5 years? What do you hope to have accomplished?

LD: Ultimately, the goal for Hinted is to help women create the life they desire. Blueprint what you want, then work for it. Shop on your own terms, instead of being pummeled by marketing messages telling you to buy now.

In the next 5 years, we expect Hinted to become a digital publisher and shoppable content platform in verticals that include Fashion & Beauty, Fitness & Wellbeing, Menswear & Grooming, Travel & Tech. The long-term goal to be successful enough (through a sale or IPO) that will allow us to support other women and fund their ventures.

HC: Why is it important to help other women start their own companies?

LD: Starting a company is something more women should do, to create equity in the economy, and I would encourage anyone with a desire to launch a company to do it, even if it's a side gig while you make the rent.

The advice I would give to college women thinking about starting their own companies is “Just do it”. Take that alternative path. Don't worry about losing time on the schedule that someone else created. If you believe in your idea, yourself and your business plan, spending time pursuing it is not a waste of time. It's a valuable experience, no matter what happens - you’ll gain so much more than you know. There are no mistakes. There are only alternative paths to different types of success.

HC: Shifting gears a little, let’s talk about the future of retail. What’s going on right now?

LD: Retail isn't dead, it's just moving online, like everything else. People still enjoy the experience of browsing and shopping and buying, but like in media, magazines and newspapers, there has been a tectonic shift in the way consumers like to take in information.

HC: So what key trends will shape the economy and consumer culture?

LD: Customization and personalization are key to future success in retail - I want to see things I like and don't waste my time on things I will never wear or use. We need to put the consumer back in the driver's seat by allowing her to give meaningful feedback and say "show me more like this" so her relationship with what she sees is more meaningful. Paradoxically, there is another important factor. We also love to discover and find things we would never have predicted we would like. Discoverability is a delight for the curious, and at Hinted we try to also delight the user with new ideas. If retailers take that approach - consumer first thinking - they will be rewarded.

HC: Circling back to Hinted, you mentioned that you have Campus Ambassadors. What does it mean to be an ambassador, and how can women at college campuses get involved?

LD:  Our Campus Ambassadors our some of our most dedicated users. They help us promote the app and our partner, and build out the Hinted user community" should be "Our Campus Ambassadors are some of our most dedicated users. They help us promote the app and our partners, and build out the Hinted user community.

We want to work with friendly & creative students to grow Hinted any way they want on their campus. There is no one-size-fits-all way to do this. Some ambassadors want to work in groups, and host shopping events at their campuses. Others want to have one-on-one conversations to show their 5 best pals how to use Hinted.

College women can apply by emailing me directly: [email protected].  Our most active and dedicated ambassadors have also become our summer interns, a paid position based in New York City.

HC: You now have over 100 campus ambassadors, who also look to you as a role model. How do you think about mentoring the next generation?

LD: Everyone is so ambitious for their future to begin, and so after graduation, it's very easy to seek out the next step and the next and the next. But here is the truth: there are no "right" next steps. That's the exciting thing. As long as you are learning and being productive and challenging yourself, you're in the right place. So you have to create your own path, choose mentors who will give you opportunities and learn. Don't judge or get caught up in comparisons with your peers. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon, and no is taking split times.

Hopefully, if we're lucky, life is long, and when I talk to Ambassadors I try to help them figure out what they want to do. Any job is a chance to start and learn. You have to see each experience as a wholistic learning opportunity.

I love encouraging others to reach a goal and feel accomplished. Sometimes that's more fun than reaching your own goal. Ultimately, Hinted is about that: helping others reach for their dreams.

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