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Marshall Madsen
Senior Brand Writer @ Yotpo
June 22nd, 2022

Q&A with Catarina Oliveira, Founder and CEO of Hey Harper

Building a global brand is no day at the beach, but this AWIE Honoree created an innovative product category that can withstand the sand and surf

Catarina Oliveira, Founder and CEO of Hey Harper and AWIE 2022 Honoree, has had an interesting journey to entrepreneurship, first punctuated by ups and downs and later an upward trajectory to a global brand with a devoted fan base. At our recent AWIE Online event, she sat down with Caroline Dau, Director of Product for eCommerce agency Verbal+Visual, for a candid discussion about Catarina’s journey.

Here are some of the highlights from their conversation. If you’d like to see the rest of the  interview, along with our panel discussion about marketing to Gen Z, you can watch the full video of the event here.

Caroline: Waterproof jewelry is a unique product category. I’d love to hear more about how you came up with the idea and found the need for that.

Catarina: I was looking for jewelry that wouldn’t look rusty and green after a few uses. I would buy something and after a few uses it would tarnish, and it was getting really frustrating. It was really hard to keep jewelry for a long time.

I did some research and found stainless steel, and then found a specific coating called PVD to make the jewelry waterproof. So, you will be able to buy jewelry for a much smaller amount of money, and still have it for a long, long time.

Caroline: How did you really narrow in on the right target audience for the brand?

Catarina: Actually, it was not really complicated. It was funny because I found out that a lot of people have this problem.

It’s really frustrating when you spend like $100 or something on jewelry that would get tarnished just in a few weeks. So you can’t go to the beach, you can’t take a shower, you can’t wash your hands — so it was actually really, really easy to find an audience that was eager for this kind of jewelry.

The difficult part was to prove that this actually is true.

Caroline: It is almost too good to be true, right? So how do you show them and prove to them? How do you present that information to eCommerce customers?

Catarina: In the beginning we were the first ones saying that our jewelry is waterproof, so we would just be straightforward.

We relied a lot on reviews to show people that there were a lot of people buying it, and actually saying it was waterproof. We have swimmers who wear our jewelry while they are training — we have sports people, sportswomen, a lot of people that actually use and share about it. And that’s how it started to grow.

Caroline: I’d love to hear about the journey from starting solo, and really building Hey Harper up over time.

Catarina: I started Hey Harper in my apartment in Lisbon. A few months after I left the company that I worked for previously, I was just kind of bored and looking for the next challenge. So I started making all the jewelry by myself. And that’s how it started.

I started taking pictures and publishing them on Instagram. I designed a really, really basic Shopify store, and with the help of my boyfriend, we started advertising on social media. We started with a basic website and grew from there. We really attracted a global audience, not only Portugal, but all over the world — the UK, US, Germany.

Caroline: So Hey Harper wasn’t your first foray into entrepreneurship – is that correct?

Catarina: Yeah! In the past I’ve designed and started several stores. On Shopify we did start several drop shipping businesses — and all of them failed miserably.

Caroline: What were some of the learnings you took away from some of those failed initial endeavors?

Catarina: In the beginning, I was super obsessed with the right product, and with the right image.

But with Hey Harper, it’s just “go with the flow.” I didn’t have much expectations with it. In the beginning, I knew all of my customers because all of them talked with me on Instagram. It was so organic in the beginning — but now we have a huge customer base, so now I don’t know them like I did when I used to talk to them.

So, I think the learning was just, “go with the flow.” Try to offer the best experience to your customers. Just try to be honest with your customers and cultivate a good relationship with them.

Caroline: You’re at 20 employees now, right? What are the top things you’re looking for in the people that you hire? As a growing brand, each hire must be so important!

Catarina: The reason Hey Harper has the size and success that we have right now is 100% correlated with the people that we hire.

 

We hire really, really good people. I’m not the person on the front line anymore, and that kind of connection has been really, really hard to scale, so it’s best for me to hire people that know more than us. We hire the best of the best, in terms of their background, in terms of their experience, of course — but in terms of soft skills, I’m always looking for people that are first, super resourceful. We’re a super small company, so we need people that don’t need to be told what to do.

The second most important thing is to be able to work in a company that is really small, with a small budget, but make something huge happen. So we have the kinds of people who say, “This is the budget we have, what is the best we can do around it?” Sometimes it’s hard to make miracles with the budget we have available.

And of course, the third thing, and I believe that this is what we have had since the beginning, is the freedom to dream, and to believe that nothing is really impossible. I know this is cliché, but we don’t have mental barriers on what we can achieve.

Caroline: What was the scariest thing for you as it relates to Hey Harper and kind of entrepreneurship more generally?

Catarina: I believe the hardest thing, and at the same time one of my favorite things, is that you are always doing things for the first time. You fail a lot, but you grow a lot, and you just move on. I always say that we need to fail fast to move on fast.

Caroline: What’s the most rewarding thing for you in regards to building Hey Harper?

Catarina: I think, at the end of the day, how far you’ve come as a person and as a company.

I’m very competitive, I’m never happy with what I have. So sometimes it’s hard to look back and say, “Okay, you actually have done an amazing job.” So to look back and see what we have accomplished with no funding, doing things for the first time, having just an amazing team, working together to pursue our dreams. I believe it’s looking back to see how far we’ve come.

Caroline: So what’s next for Hey Harper and for you personally?

Catarina: Oh! There is so much to do!

Hey Harper is going to launch new product categories at the end of the year, I think it’s going to be huge. Trying to test new products, and we are going to start with a physical presence. eCommerce is still our main channel, but we are testing the waters with the physical experience — we already have one showroom in Portugal. We have retail partners that sell our products physically, but we’re going to have a popup store near the end of the year.

For me personally? I’m starting to feel the need to teach my knowledge, especially to university students. Maybe teach some classes or something like that, teach the next generation what I’ve learned up until now.

Amazing Women in eCommerce Online is an event series that brings together the women who are shaping and disrupting the eCommerce industry, for inspirational conversations, tips, insights, and more. If you want to be the first to know about our upcoming events and connect with the AWIE Community, join us on Slack.

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