They met. They danced. One thing led to another, and before long a relationship--and a business model--was born: Bobby Farahi, 41, and Shaudi "Shoddy" Lynn, 28, leveraged his business acumen and her fashion sense to design and import edgy, risqué outfits and sell them on a website called Dollskill.com ("Doll "for playing dress-up, "kill" to make "doll" sound edgy). They got married two years ago, and last year they rang up $7.6 million in sales, earning them the No. 33 spot on the Inc. 500, an annual list of the fastest-growing private companies in America.
Here, Farahi tells the story of how their relationship became so profitable:
She was a DJ. I was partying. We met at a rave in LA and started dating.
I had just sold my last business, Multivision (a broadcast monitoring service), and was looking for the next thing. She was traveling a ton, but wasn't really making much money off the DJ thing. Actually, she was making more money selling clothes on eBay. She had this incredible eye. She could buy something on eBay for $5, and turn around and sell it on the site for $100. I'd be like, "How the hell did you do that?" I realize now it's all about merchandizing.
Shaudi has great personal style. When she was DJ-ing, people from the audience would come up to her constantly, saying "Hey, where'd you get that from?" We used that feedback. She looked for items that were hard to find, that were viral in nature--items that made people say, hey, where did you get that? We decided we could start an online store based on that premise, tailored to the electronic dance music culture.
We started with one accessory--these foxtail keychains. We sourced them from a factory in Asia, made the site, and stocked the inventory in our apartment. Shaudi chose the name Dolls Kill because she liked the fact that it was two words, one very soft and one very hard. The brand is very feminine and girly--but these girls aren't taking shit from anybody. And the domain name was available.
Sales took off right away. Shaudi was still DJ-ing, and she'd tell fans about it. It was a social, viral brand. Our engagement on Instagram and Facebook was through the roof. Part of that had to do with how we presented the site. Originally, because we didn't want to pay a big fee to a modeling agency, we asked our customers to become models, and started a "Be a Doll" contest. Now, all the models on our sites are customers who submitted photos of themselves. They are just ecstatic, and they become evangelists. That authenticity is really important to us. That's more reflective of who we are than a studio shoot.
On the site today we have four looks, which we refer to as our dolls: Willow, who is festival wear; Mercy, who is more Goth; Darby, who is inspired by punk fashion; and Coco, a cute pop princess. It reflects the way people like to dress up, take on a persona. Our customers will say, "I'm Darby during the day, but Mercy by night. Or, on the weekends I'm Coco." We're also developing a fifth doll, a raver named Molly.
Shaudi and I have now been together seven years. She does most of sourcing and handles the creative direction of the site, and I manage operations. I went with her once to a merchandise and garment show in Las Vegas. Imagine going shopping for three days with your girlfriend. It's as brutal as it gets.
We got married last year. And this summer, we got a $5 million round of venture funding from Maveron Partners, the venture firm co-founded by Starbucks's Howard Schultz. Shaudi still DJs a little bit, but we're both too busy now that we're running a multimillion dollar company.