Having recently graduated after completing the two-year Executive MBA course at Cass Business School, Isabella Aberle is already putting her new and developed skills into action by improving the experiences of both consumers and online companies. Isabella’s new venture Xarista – which has just successfully secured a spot on City Launch Lab – will support businesses with personalising their websites based on who is visiting them, making the user experience much more relevant and enjoyable.
We caught up with Isabella to find out more about her time at Cass Business School and how Xarista came about.
Can you tell me about your time at Cass?
Having heard great stories from friends advocating for an MBA, it definitely weighed in on my decision to study the programme. Now with the studies behind me, I feel fortunate that I shared a similarly fantastic experience and learning journey. My time at Cass Business School was one of a kind!
It was challenging at times to manage time and energy, especially during year one of the two-year Executive MBA programme. But with the breadth of subjects and assignments, there was a constant sense of achievement. I equally enjoyed learning about new disciplines, and more about those I was already familiar with, either as part of my first studies or professional life.
Also, I cannot overemphasise the importance of my cohort and other Cass and City, University of London members. I’ve met amazing people from all types of backgrounds who I now call my friends.
What happened after you graduated?
I used my thesis to look into a specific business idea – a new form of web personalisation on users’ terms. With the learnings from the MBA and previous roles in strategy and product management, I had a solid tool kit to analyse the market, shape the core proposition and assess the potential of different routes to market.
By the time we finished our last lectures, I was confident in the business idea and dedicated most of my time to it. While we reached the next milestones over the following months, for example market validation with our prototype, I phased out other work commitments. Now, just after graduation, we are a small and growing team gearing up to launch our service Xarista.
With Xarista, third-party online companies can personalise their websites based on who is visiting them. Online companies in fashion, travel or groceries can tailor their products and content to suit each visitor’s preferences, and thus drive conversion and sales. Xarista users, individuals browsing the web, save time and enjoy relevant experiences online, while they are in control of their data.
Xarista offers true 1:1 web personalisation from the first second, and is a great step towards responsible marketing practises online.
How was Xarista born?
I spend a lot of time online and was frustrated by the time spent unnecessarily. Personalisation has been a ‘hot topic’ in marketing and consumer services for many years. However, when I go to a retail website, it takes time and effort to narrow down the product range to what I like – although a large part of my preferences and requirements (e.g. shoe size, holiday preferences) are consistent over time or across shopping sites. The cookie approach just doesn’t help much.
Moreover, I strongly believe it is the right time for the retail industry to take the next step in building out their web experiences via personalisation. There are regulatory pressures (GDPR), commercial pressures (it’s an Amazon world), and users are increasingly sensitive about their data and its value.
It was almost an obvious choice to combine my experience in marketing automation, transactional digital products and blockchain, and team up with other subject matter experts to create a service that meets the needs of both individuals and online companies.
Sounds great! Congratulations on Xarista securing a spot on City Launch Lab. Can you tell us a bit more about how that happened?
We learned about the City Launch Lab in the Entrepreneurship elective of my MBA. The City Launch Lab is the first of a series of steps CityVentures have taken to support student and alumni entrepreneurs with learning and support infrastructure.
We’re thrilled that Xarista got selected as one of the most promising ventures for the next intake this February. We look forward to the programme, especially the initial accelerator phase and the opportunity to share office space with some of the brightest entrepreneurs and most successful ventures that will grow at City over the next 12 months. This will definitely help boost Xarista and facilitate faster progression on our journey.
What have been the biggest challenges with setting up your own business?
Starting a company is a constant struggle of resources – time, human capital and financial capital. However, a successful entrepreneur is someone who thinks beyond current limitations. This meant for us two things. One, to be creative and always look out for a better way to spend our time, skills and funds to progress Xarista. And two, to balance dependencies between these resource pools carefully.
This was sometimes counterintuitive. We have, for instance, turned down an investment package including development resources, when we were looking for funding as well as development capacity. It was a tough call. Fewer dependencies – hence better optionality – helped us move faster and more confidently eventually.
What has been the most rewarding experience?
Unlocking the various pieces of building a company, step by step, was a most rewarding experience – and it still is!
Among the top things about entrepreneurial life I cherish, are the sense of purpose and how feedback from users or the businesses we speak to keeps the team and myself going the extra mile.
It’s true that every single conversation or meeting can bring up new ideas, new partnership opportunities and even more audacious goals. You never know what’s next. But we do know we’re onto something and wouldn’t want to miss it for the world!
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to follow in your footsteps?
I genuinely enjoyed that my MBA journey took me to a very different place than I imagined at the outset. Hence, my advice for anyone considering an MBA or secondary studies is to keep an open mind. To embrace the challenge – and the change! To gauge if an unforeseen opportunity is the right one to go for – and if it is, to do so decisively.
Is there anything the City community could help you with at this point?
Yes, indeed – I wouldn’t be a true start-up entrepreneur without asking for help!
Fellow students and alumni, do you have experience in online retail or know someone who is an expert in the field? I would love to hear your thoughts on Xarista and its impact on online retail/eCommerce as we know it today. Please email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reaching out!
Do you spend a lot of time online and would like to own your experience with online retailers? Learn more about how Xarista can help you and sign up today at: https://xarista.io/ to start building your profile.
Now for some quick fire questions:
Where is your favourite place in London?
What is your favourite holiday destination (that you’ve travelled to)?
Which website do you check every day?
What is your dream travel destination?
I’d be suspicious of myself if I had only one! Cuba has been high up on my list for a while.
Do you prefer cheese or chocolate?
To find out more, visit: xarista.io.