Posted on October 6, 2021 by KAUST Innovation
Shahad Geoffrey has been on a unique entrepreneurial journey since she was a child.
“My father is a tech entrepreneur, so I’ve always been very familiar with what it takes to build a business, all the ups and downs,” says Shahad. “I knew one day I was going to start something, too, but I didn’t know exactly what. The current ecosystem is really motivating female entrepreneurs. To be honest, I believe being a woman was an advantage for me. It’s a privilege to be female and run a startup at this time.”
Initially, Shahad’s professional journey was more corporate-facing. She began her career majoring in finance and international business, earning a degree from INSEEC Business School in Paris, France. Upon graduating, Shahad landed her first full-time job at a cosmetics startup as a second employee in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, before transferring to London. Soon afterward, she headed back to Saudi Arabia, where she worked for several companies in direct-to-consumer brands, managing their digital operations and marketing.
Within three years, however, everything shifted. Shahad applied—and was accepted—to a blue-chip program at Draper University in the U.S. One week later, she headed to San Francisco to complete the program. Soon thereafter, she joined the venture capitalist firm Tim Draper.
“That’s actually when Taffi first started,” Shahad says, “at least the concept.”
While planning to meet her family in Hawaii, Shahad realized she had nothing to wear. “It was my first time in Hawaii, and I had a lot of doubts. So I started searching for a personal styling service. I couldn’t find a service that fit my specific needs—where I could actually work with a stylist for a specific occasion. There were no really collaborative styling services. That’s where the idea for Taffi started.”
Identifying a marketplace gap
After researching style subscription programs in the U.S., Shahad recognized an even greater gap in the Middle East market.
“The U.S. options weren’t what I wanted—they felt generic,” she explains. “But there was nothing even like that in Saudi Arabia. I saw the opportunity to build out a very personalized service tied to the customer and her specific needs—moments in time, whether it’s starting a new job, getting married, having a baby, or other occasions, when she would need styling help.
“Now is a very good time for women to prosper and to start their own careers,” she added. “But they need someone to help them present the right image – someone to help research fashion styles, find the right items and buy those items. At the same time, there are a lot of women, housewives, who would love to work remotely. They simply need a way to leverage their skills. With our products, they can leverage their passion for fashion, using their phones to make money as stylists.”
As the Taffi concept evolved, Shahad began to build out the workflows, processes, and technologies to realize her vision: a 100% personalized, AI-driven approach to personal styling.
Today, visitors to the Taffi website (www.taffi.co) begin their journey by completing an online style quiz that records information such as their sizes, fashion preferences and budgets. Using this data, the AI matches them with a personal stylist who researches, assembles, and presents wardrobe suggestions via a Preview. From there, the customer chooses the items she likes; her selections are placed in a single cart; and everything is shipped directly from the brands themselves.
“With a data-driven business, we increase the stylist’s productivity by eight times—and we leverage technology to ensure a personalized, convenient experience,” Shahad says. Returns, she adds, are just 1%, proving the value and accuracy of this approach.
Taffi gets a TAQADAM boost
With the co-founders in place, Shahad began building out Taffi’s MVP model and cultivating a massive waitlist of Saudi women ready to dive into this unique styling experience.
By May 2020, Shahad was working on Taffi full-time, and by August, she had joined TAQADAM’s Startup Accelerator cohort. For her, the big draw of the TAQADAM program was the mentoring and expert guidance she could tap into.
“In the Middle East, you would hear that all the accelerator programs were very short, but here was this six-month program—and it’s really intensive, not just a one-and-done thing,” says Shahad. “You get the benefits of developing a network. And creating a network before you launch a startup is very important. You learn a lot of things, including how to avoid mistakes, by tapping into that network. You also connect to potential customers, partners, and investors—and you’ll need them throughout the journey. Being part of this accelerator helped me create a community—an ecosystem that’s helped Taffi achieve this level of success.”
Early in, Shahad recalls, her TAQADAM mentor pushed her to talk to 50 customers over a one-week period.
“It was just me and my co-founder at the time,” she says. “Through TAQADAM we always had someone taking us through the processes step by step. We had a solid team and a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve. With those added resources and insights, we were able to get there.
The next phase in Taffi’s journey
After graduating TAQADAM, Shahad focused on accelerating growth even more, as well as refining their digital and styling experiences. Soon, the brand was experiencing 110% growth month after month—and, leveraging that success, securing significant first-round funding. Now, they’re looking ahead to an additional $1.7 million round.
“We’re eager to grow,” Shahad says. “Not just our customer base, but our network of stylists. So many women are joining our stylist team—some who are joining the fashion industry for the first time, which is empowering. At the same time, many other women—our customers—are getting the help they need. They’re also saving time. We want to continue building this out, serving this untapped and underserved market. This is just the start.”