AURate: Sophie Kahn & Bouchra Ezzahraoui
Thrive Global Interview
Hailing from the Netherlands and Morocco, Sophie and Bouchra are the two female founders behind New York City’s chicest and trendiest jewelry brand – AURate. Sophie and Bouchra met in 2010 when they were studying at Princeton. Little they did know that four years later, they would start New York City’s chicest jewelry brand – AURate.
While Sophie and Bouchra enjoyed their corporate jobs at BCG, Marc Jacobs, and Goldman, they were seeking something more. Their entrepreneurial spirits longed to put their judgement and creativity to use. That’s when they decided to build AURate: a brand of their own.
AURATE’s Profile: AURate sells stylish and affordable jewelry made with real gold.
Sophie’s Profile: Grad school at Princeton; worked at BCG and Marc Jacobs before starting AURate
Bouchra’s Profile: Grad school at Princeton; worked at Goldman Sachs before starting AURate
1. What does AURate stand for?
AU = chemical symbol for gold: all of our products are made with real gold.
Rate = quality: we make sure our products are of the highest quality.
AURate = orate: when you put “AU” and “Rate” together, you get “AURate”, which sounds like the word “orate”. To orate is to tell stories, and for us, we want to tell stories through out jewelry. Every woman has her own story, and we are here to tell it. We are brand built for women and by women.
2. Did you always know you want to be an entrepreneur or did you foster that entrepreneurial spirit along the way?
Sophie: I always wanted to something big with my life. I wanted to build things, see things, and I’m never satisfied with the status quo. I like to push myself and see where I go. That’s why I came to Princeton from the Netherlands in the first place. My grandfather was an entrepreneur, but my parents were both doctors. So that’s why it took me a while before I started taking all these risks. You don’t know if you can be an entrepreneur if you try it: if you like it, you’ll stick with it. If you don’t, you’ll quit.
Bouchra: I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I know very well what entrepreneurship entails. However, out of college, I wanted nothing but to work in a structured, corporate environment so that I could equip myself with all the skills I would need down the line. However, I always knew that I will start my company one day, whether that’s 5, 7, or 10 years down the line.
3. Both of you worked the corporate life before AURate, working at BCG and Goldman. What did you gain from your experience?
Sophie: For me, BCG was a super good learning ground. You learn a basic toolkit to analyze any problems that come your way, from Excel to Powerpoint. No matter what client or industry came my way, BCG gave me the tools and framework to answer any question for my client.
What I was missing, though, was the space to be really creative, innovative, and the freedom to make decisions. I like making decisions, but I don’t get to decide as a consultant.
Bouchra: In college, I was a math major. I became a trader at Goldman, and I was managing and looking at risks all the time. For me, that was really interesting, because it was a male dominated environment. It made me tougher but I also fostered my entrepreneurial skills during my time at Goldman.
I was there for close to 7 years and got to hire, nurture and build teams. That risk-taking culture and environment is easily transferable to a startup because when you are building a start-up, you are constantly weighing the risks between different options.
4. For Sophie: How did you leave BCG to work for Marc Jacobs, before starting AURate?
Sophie: My mentor at BCG was working with Marc Jacobs, and he made that connection for me. I wasn’t part of that case with Marc Jacobs, so I took a lot of extra initiative. I told him that I really liked his project, and would knock on his door everyday and ask him, “Can I please help with your project?” I worked extra hours at nights and on weekends to help, in order to get the externship.
Instead of waiting to potentially be on the project, it’s important to make it happen yourself. You can’t wait for the project to come to you.
5. A lot of college students today are also hoping to work in finance or consulting for a few years before starting their own companies. Would you recommend that path?
Sophie: Honestly, yes, I would. Obviously, there are people like Mark Zuckerberg who knew what he wanted, dropped out and started their own companies. If you are one of them, great. But for student who are not sure what they want to do and still want to learn, it is very valuable.
It doesn’t have to be finance or consulting, it can be joining a startup too. For me, I gained a background in consulting with BCG and a fashion background from Marc Jacobs, but what I lacked was the experience of working in a startup. If I was 18 again, I would do a year or two in consulting and a year or two with a startup, before starting my own company.
6. How did the idea of AURate come about?
Sophie: So I was actually having with my co-founder Bouchra, and she saw the green mark left on my finger from an overpriced ring I had purchased, not even made from real gold. We started saying how we couldn’t afford real gold, and even if we did, the styles were outdated. There’s no brand out there that is ethical, stylish, and affordable.
So we started taking design classes at Parsons ourselves, and until today I still design all the pieces myself. My friends liked our pieces, and from there we started growing organically.
7. What were the most difficult parts of scaling the company up?
I think it’s the team. It’s difficult to convince really talented people to leave their jobs for this risky idea we have. Even today, we are constantly trying to find talent that is a good fit for us.
Fundraising is also challenging. Unlike at BCG and Marc Jacobs where each day was more or less structured, here at AURate, each day is a new adventure. Often you know what you need to do, but what you end up doing is different from what you have in mind. It’s insane and non-stop all the time.
8. Personally, AURate is my favorite jewelry brand. It’s a lot more chic than competitors like Tiffany & Co. or Pandora. I’d like to think that your company are doing very well with devoted customers like me. But every company has its challenge – what are some challenges that AURate is facing?
We’ve been growing 400% a year and we’ve seen strong growth. The question now is how we can grow a company in a sustainable way. At first, the team is very small. But as we scale, we need to make sure everyone is on the sage page to create the best experience for our customers.
9. How big are you hoping to grow your company?
In terms of size, we want to be the next Tiffany. Similar to the old school brands, but we will be the modern version for it, specifically tailoring the modern, millennial women.
10. What’s one piece of advice that you would give to your 18-year-old self?
Sophie: Believe that you can do what you love. For me, it took me a while to have the confidence to believe that I can do what I love. A lot of people are insecure overachievers: they stay in these jobs that do not necessarily fulfill them even though it’s not really their passion. Think about what you really want to do it, and try it. If you fail, you can always go back to that corporate job. You only have one life, and you should do what makes you happy.
Bouchra: Never say never. Don’t wait until everything is perfect – if it feels right, just do it. If you will regret not taking that risk, do it. It’s also important to take justified, calculated risks. For me, it’s never say never, but also taking calculated risks.