The Duke MBA Behind Ecommerce Hit Hukkster

Katie Finnegan, left, and Erica Bell are former J.Crew merchandisers who wanted to bring insider insights to customers

Katie Finnegan, left, and Erica Bell are former J.Crew merchandisers who wanted to bring insider insights to customers

In the midst of the flash sale craze and a booming $200 billion ecommerce industry, Hukkster co-founders Katie Finnegan and Erica Bell are putting the power back into consumers’ hands. Instead of relying on retailers to push blanket, store-wide sales out to customers, the startup lets shoppers track sales on items they actually want to buy. Users “hukk” (site speak for save) the item to their virtual list and receive an alert once the price drops.

It’s a sensible shopping experience that clearly resonates with consumers. In just one year, Hukkster has attracted 115,000 users and more than 500 retailers nationwide — not too bad for two former J. Crew merchandisers who never dreamed of launching a startup. Luckily, Finnegan says the idea found them nearly two years after she graduated with her MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in 2010.
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“We weren’t looking to start the company,” Finnegan says. “It really did make it a true passion project because the idea came from our personal experience and our mutual frustration with shopping online and having to sort through millions and millions of emails to feel informed … When we were in retail, we didn’t have to do that because we were insiders. So we really wanted to start something where you basically have the benefits of being an industry insider as a normal consumer.”

Finnegan and Bell, who again shared the same employer, left their full-time jobs at management consultant firm A.T. Kearney, so they could move ahead with their startup at a rapid pace. They broke the launch process down into manageable goals and did what they could on their own — this included waking up in the middle of the night to check price points for their first pool of users before they had a fully functioning website. But Bell says they are proof that you don’t need to have it all together to kick-start a company.

“The biggest stumbling block I see for new entrepreneurs is that they think they need to have it all figured out up front,” she says. “They don’t see it as broken down into tangible, achievable goals. You don’t need a technical co-founder to launch day one. We didn’t have one when our beta [site] went up. So there are a lot of little steps you can take that will ultimately lead you to that end goal. But I think a lot of entrepreneurs kind of ditch the dream day one because it seems so insurmountable.”

Using this step-by-step approach, Finnegan and Bell got Hukkster off the ground in just six months. Finnegan says that people came out of the woodwork to help the two female entrepreneurs launch the New York-based startup. Currently, they’ve raised more than $5 million in funding, and they’re planning for rapid growth next year. They’ve lined up a holiday campaign allowing users to share their wishlists with friends and family and a spring promotion encouraging female graduates to save on their professional wardrobes. As Hukkster continues to grow, Finnegan reminds herself of their initial goals to keep perspective.

“Our original core value is to enhance people’s lives,” she says. “We really set out to create a tool to help people shop smarter and buy the right things at the right time, whether that’s price, whether that’s organization, or whatever it is that makes sense to them. So for us, we really look at that as our core value — if we’re not making someone’s life easier, then we’re not really doing our job.”

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