Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hip + Urban Girl of The Week: Frances Ho

In 2009, Frances created an online site called CardSwap that solves a common problem and lets you put money back into your pocket. She recently appeared on the Dragons' Den to pitch it. We talk to her about the Dragons, life in a startup and what to do with our stack of unwanted and unused gift cards...
We're big fans of Dragons' Den and think you delivered a fantastic presentation! What was your experience like?
Being on Dragon's Den has always been a goal of mine so I was thrilled when I found out that out of 250 pitches, only 50% get aired and CardSwap was one of them!
On the day of filming, I was the last person to pitch so I waited 6 hours for my turn. When I finally walked into the Den, Kevin O'Leary made a negative comment that completely threw me off even before I said anything so it was a pretty nerve-racking experience. (HUG: Yes, I saw that and was like "oh no" but at the end, you handled yourself very professionally and made a strong comeback!)
It surprised me that the filming took 1.5 hours but I was really only pitching for 10 minutes. As well, the Dragons' film for 20 days straight to complete a season so they basically have to wear the same clothes to make editing easier. And despite the tough exterior, Kevin is actually really nice and approachable! Overall my experience was great! (Note: Frances is still working with Bruce Croxon but on a different capacity than where the show left off.)

What is a typical day in the life of Frances Ho?
I'm in the office by 9:30am every morning. Mondays we have our status meetings and rest of the week I'm managing operations so that means everything from pitching new products, getting users engaged through social media, advertising and customer service.
We just launched our holiday contest -- submit a photo of you in your ugly Christmas sweater and you could win $1000 worth of gift cards. ENTER HERE!
CardSwap also has their own hockey team so twice a week we get together for some friendly competition and to let off steam. It's both fun and a great bonding experience for the company.

Tell us more about CardSwap!
I came up with the idea of CardSwap over a year ago when I realized my wallet was stuffed with gift cards that I couldn't use. So I built a website that allows users to buy discounted gift cards for up to 35% off or sell us their unused gift cards for up to 92% off the face value and we pay them in cash. Right now you can also sell your gift cards to us and we will turn it into a charitable donation for you. With a lot of hard work and dedication, we are now Canada's #1 site to buy and sell gift cards!

What did you study in University?
I attended the Schulich School of Business at York University and grew up in an entrepreneurial family so business is in my blood. I wouldn't have done anything differently.
Favourite places to shop?
I'm a jeans girl and like to pair it up with a nice top from Girl Friday on Queen Street West. For me it's all about comfort so I love Lululemon as well.
What advice do you have for hip + urban girls who want to start their own online business?
Always get feedback both before and after launching a product. Constantly evaluate what you are doing and be open to change.
Follow Frances on Twitter @CardSwap
Photo #1 courtesy of Tim Fraser for National Post.

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