Tessa Horovitz – Co-founder and CEO of Ametti

Episode 63

While Tessa was regularly traveling for business with her previous job, she realized that her life would be easier if she had the perfect travel-wear. Tessa teamed up with Ametti's co-founder, who has a background in fashion, and together they created practical, durable, and fashionable travel accessories. On today's show, Tessa talks about how she created Ametti and the amazing accessories that Ametti has created for women who travel often. She also talks about her experience fundraising, tips to growing and scaling, and much more.

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Kara Goldin: Okay, I turn that one on and that one is already on. Okay, perfect. All right, here we go.

Hi, everybody. It’s Kara with Unstoppable and I’m so excited to be here with Tessa Horovitz who is the co-founder of Ametti, and Ametti is a beautiful luggage and travel, I want to say travel accessory, company that is so awesome and beautiful. So we’re so excited to have her here. The brand is centered around the executive fashion forward woman and plans on traveling to reach working women around the world are really in the works.

Tessa’s actually based out of Los Angeles, but she’s in Switzerland right now because everybody knows we’re dealing with a unique time in history where everybody is sheltering in place and so she was out there when all of this happened. So we’re so fortunate that we were able to get her to come on the podcast. So welcome, Tessa.

Tessa Horovitz: Thank you so much for having me and hi, everyone. I’m so happy to have this conversation with Kara today and very excited to get to tell you more about Ametti and what we do.

Kara Goldin: Yay. So before we jump in and hear a little bit more about your background, so how did this whole idea start for Ametti? Can you tell us a little bit?

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, absolutely. Well, actually it kind of is in link directly to my background. So I used to be a C level hospitality group before and my previous life took me on average on travel five days a week. And I had a lot of challenges, and I’m sure a lot of women who do a work, travel business travel can relate.

And when I finally exited the company and sold, I realized that when I was traveling so much for six years, I could have done this so much better to balance my life, my mental health, my physical health, and also to feel more happy in that business travel life.

So a lot of this led me to team up with my co-founder who comes from fashion to really think about what could be to solution for business women travelers to travel better, and how could we bring both products and community into the mix to make this happen basically?

Kara Goldin: So how did you find your co-founder?

Tessa Horovitz: So we actually met 13 years ago. My first love in life before hospitality was already fashion. So I guess I just got back to it and we both worked together back then at Massimo Dutti, which is part of the Inditex group, our group, and we met back then working together and we became very good friends and we stayed in touch over the years. And we kind of, when I sold my previous company and she actually decided to take on a new challenge, we were perfect timing and we were just like, “Okay, let’s team up together and do this.” So this is kind of how friendship and business got linked together.

Kara Goldin: I always tell people that, in the case of Hint, I mean we have a huge percentage of our business, 40% of our business is direct to consumer, and it all kind of started on Amazon and the Amazon relationship ended up starting because I had worked with somebody almost 20 years ago in publishing. Totally different industry, like yours, but I think the key thing that of course I wouldn’t have known 20 years ago, but I always think that it’s almost even more important to really cultivate those relationships with your coworkers, right?

Tessa Horovitz: Absolutely.

Kara Goldin: And because you just never know where people are going to land, if they’re going to help you find a job, if they’re going to be your co-founder, if they’re going to help you get funding, whatever.

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, that’s true.

Kara: Or distribution or what have you. So I think that that is such a critical, such a critical piece. So you mentioned your other company. Tell everybody what you were doing before.

Tessa Horovitz: So before, I was basically a C level also board member of a hospitality group that was, it’s still existing obviously, but I’m not part of it anymore, that is dedicated to B2B events and meetings and seminar venue. And my role before was more into everything that was more like brand strategy, business development, and marketing.

So I was very lucky because I learned a lot from this company. I think a lot of my leadership and management skills today comes from there. I grew from the ground up with them. So it was great for me to start by being more into the new development team to then moving to the marketing, to then moving to the board and the management. And they gave me a lot of great opportunities to grow. And actually, one of the reason was that I was really part of the shareholders from the beginning and I had amazing people around me to teach me a lot of things.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. That’s so great. So, Ametti, what does that stand for or what does it mean?

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, so Ametti is actually Italian, and it’s my grandmother’s maiden name.

Kara Goldin: Oh, wow.

Tessa Horovitz: So actually the reason why we picked this name was because we are both extremely attached to Italy in terms of a craftsmanships and known how in the world of a specifically, whether it’s real letter or canvas letter or making amazing handbags. And when we started imagining the collections and the products, we can see another way, then going to Italy to get the best quality, durability, and also sense of style.

And so it just made so much sense to have a an Italian inspired name, and we had this in my family, so we kind of really liked it from the beginning.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. So tell us a little bit about the hosting. You’re hosting virtual events and travels. So tell us a little bit about that and where do people find that?

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, so basically, so going back even to the beginning, so when we were imagining what the brand was going to be about, we thought, okay, we want to get a solution out there for the woman who travels a lot, and we thought there is no way we can actually offer a good enough solution by just going with products. And we feel like, of course, we’ve put a lot of details and attention towards our products and we really thought them through.

But we also thought, okay, there’s more than this to it. Women who travel a lot for business, they feel lonely, they feel unbalanced, they feel like they don’t know where to go when they need advice, they feel like they’re lacking a community, they feel like … So they’re liking a lot of a place where they can trust. And so we thought, well, we’re going to offer a two sided solution.

And so the second side of the solution apart from products is a community that’s called The Ametti Society. And the essence of this society started just before COVID-19 happened, and we were working on the essence of it and how we were going to build it up. And we realized that when COVID-19 hit hard on all of us, that it was time to even just give a little bit of a taste of what the community would stand for down the line right now. We felt like this is a right moment to help our consumers and our ladies and our fans to actually escape the everyday work life that they have with exciting little virtual events.

And so we created two types of events. The first one is, as you said, a virtual travel campfire. So you have guest experts of the destinations who come in and make you travel for an hour through either a beauty insight from the country or food or a scent or even just their knowledge about the culture or art.

And the other side of the virtual event is called encounters. And this is more a good way for women that are experts and authorities on subjects that we don’t know as much as travel to come and talk about wellness, skin rejuvenation, how to ally philanthropy and travel. And kind of like really pushing you out of your shell and coming in and spend an hour with us and just get a little inspired, feel something different.

And really, this is life so there’s a lot of interaction. We ask a lot of participation if you want to participate, of course. And the goal is really to start the little things that’s going to build this community basically.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. So are you actually doing trips? Where have you partnered yet with travel groups to kind of create these trips?

Tessa Horovitz: Well, actually, it’s funny you mention this because we are working right now with a charity that we really liked that’s called WG Fund, and we are planning for next year a trip with them to Uganda for our community members who could join in and experience the whole philanthropy mixing with travel mixing with culture and still in an Ametti lifestyle environment, if that makes sense.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Yeah, I feel like there’s so many women that I know that say to me, because I travel a lot and mostly for business but also when I get a few weeks break and especially with my family, we’ll go off. Last year we were in South Korea at this time and we were in Tokyo and we just explore and go see lots of great stuff.

And so people are like, “Oh, I’d love to go and do that.” And I’m like, “You should go.”

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: “Go and experience it.” And a lot of people that I know are maybe they’re single, maybe they would go if they had somebody to go with.

And so I feel like there’s this huge need. I know there are groups out there, but I think that there’s kind of this need for somebody curating, that kind of has like, okay, we’re going to bring, whatever, entrepreneurs together or we’re going to bring people that haven’t been to Asia ever, like have sort of like a theme to it where people would be like, “Oh, that’s me. That’s something that I want to do.”

Friend of mine just went to Antarctica and she ended up going down there with National Geographic because she knew that there was going to be some pretty well known photographers on the boat and they said, “We’ll give you tools on how to photograph exactly.” And she thought, “I’m going to learn while I’m seeing this amazing, amazing thing.”

So I think that that’s like something that could be really, really cool for you guys as well to explore.

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, absolutely. And down the line, obviously, we want to be the the travel companion for the business woman, too, like on your business trips, how to make the most out of it and still feel you’re kind of traveling in a positive environment. And how can you find trustworthy curated service, hotel, places to go to as a woman on a business trip?

Because a lot of the time when you’re on a business trip or work trip, you’re kind of sacrificing everything around the idea that this is work. And we kind of have this philosophy that is like, yes, it’s work, but you can still do an hour of something special for yourself. You can still go to a good place on your own for dinner that feels comfortable for women to go on their own. You can still feel safe also when you’re going and arriving to a hotel because it’s great and it’s secure and everything.

You can still balance your life a little bit during those moments, too. So kind of like bringing that, too. I remember, for me, it was so hard to find the right things. But if you have a companion like Ametti who creates those lifestyle for you, who finds all of those addresses for you, it’s like that one stop shop, right? Because if you have to spend five hours researching before you going to every business trip to know where you’re going to eat and this and that, it’s almost counterproductive for you and you probably don’t have the time to be fair.

Kara Goldin: That’s so true. That’s incredibly true. So other entrepreneurs listening to the podcast, so you talked a little bit about finding a founder and somebody that you had been with before. So fundraising. So you got your initial funding, you guys use personal savings.

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, exactly. Well, we were very lucky and I would not say that everybody has this chance, but we were lucky, both of us, to have enough funding to start this company, also because we are in the fashion business and it’s kind of very well known that the fashion brands take way longer to take off because they need brand awareness and they need to make sure that people actually trust them and love their product. And it takes a while between the moment you learned about a new brand and you actually start trusting this brand.

So we were really lucky because we had funds. Now we are raising our first round seed, and it’s been a great challenge, actually, because as much as the world previous to COVID-19 was really pro start up. It’s like the main numbers there always looked at our traction, traction, and traction.

And it’s a, when you are building a company and a brand and you are learning as you go, you kind of have sometimes more of a brand building, let’s say priority, for your customers to become fan or for your women to know exactly what you stand for and all of this.

So I would say fund raising for us is just starting now, but it has been a bit of a challenge to start with. I also think we started in a difficult time, but I think I think it’s about perseverance and making sure, don’t let it go.

I remember I spoke to a founder last year who was reaching out to me with her pitch and she just wanted another set of eyes. And I always give my honest opinion because of my background before and I always take the time to ease every founder or every small business pitch and give any sets of eyes that I have. Because I, myself, I’m an angel investor and basically she couldn’t find her funding for the initial start, and the end, she said, “I’m going to do self funding as I go, little by little. I’m not going to stop there. I’m going to continue.”

And I think this is already showing strength and leadership and what she’s going to be able to achieve in the future, whether she finds funding right now or later.

Kara Goldin: I remember when we were first starting Hint. I mean Hint started almost 15 years ago now, but I remember there were so many people in the beverage industry, which is a crazy competitive industry in and of itself. But I remember everybody was telling us, “You’ve got to get the product out there across the U.S. You’ve got to first of all focus on are you only going to be in the U.S.? Are you going to go outside of the U.S. and go into different countries?”

We had made the decision that we were just going to be focusing on the U.S., but I remember, we’re based in San Francisco, we started in San Francisco, and sort of grew it there and it was doing well. Then we decided to go to New York. And I had lived in New York for awhile and married a New Yorker, and actually his philosophy was we should launch it in New York to figure out whether or not New Yorkers …

Because beverage is a little bit different than a lot of other industries. There’s a lot of up and down the street where people are going into stores and buying the product. And at that time, e-commerce wasn’t even happening on something like a case of water or there was an Amazon grocery or whatever.

And so I remember we had gone into New York and done really well, and then everybody’s like, “You have to go out and raise a pile of money and then go and get it all throughout the U.S. And you have to have plenty of money to do marketing or else just throw the towel in now. Don’t even bother.”

And I was like, “Why?” And I kept asking why. And people are like, “That’s just the way it’s done.” And I was like, “Well, but why? I mean, can’t we just sit here and build in San Francisco and build in New York with the money that we’ve got right now?”

And I remember very well, it was like 2008, and not a great time in the world. Then 2009 rolled around and people were still saying like, “Oh, you guys should have done that.” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I mean, if somebody looks at our two markets, we’re doing super, super well, and I’m doing something totally different in a category which is unsweetened flavored water, and there’s nobody out there.” And I said, “I’m doing it and I’m going to build at my own pace.”

And it’s funny because the same people who were beverage industry people who told me that you should just throw in the towel and just don’t even bother, their companies went out of business by going broad fast and just spending just a lot of money in order to get it out there.

And so I look back on that all the time, that there’s no rule book. People will tell you all the time that this is the way it is, but you have to like trust your gut and do what’s right for you. Because I think there’s plenty of people who just went out fast and got it out there, their product no matter what category. But do you have a ton of debt? Did you burn through too much cash too fast? All of those kinds of things I think are things that everybody has to figure out what’s right for them and what’s right for their business.

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: But part of the reason why I love doing Unstoppable is, I think, my hope is that people will see that there is no right answer. There’s a lot of different stories that people have on how they found it.

I also heard from plenty of people that you can’t do a company with your husband, and I kept asking people, “Why?” And they’re like, “Oh, it’ll fail for sure.” And I was like, “Oh, name a company that launched with a husband and wife team that failed.”

And people were actually really having a hard time answering that question. They just sort of had this philosophy that this is what it is. And again, it may like end up to be a disaster for some people, but it doesn’t mean that just because … So I think it’s a key thing that you just have to stay focused and just keep figuring out how do you keep your business growing?

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, what’s right for you at this moment should be what you do, basically, regardless. You have to take on advice and other people’s opinion and being able to re-question yourself constantly when you’re building a company.

But you also have to trust your gut feeling. It’s not for nothing that you are an entrepreneur right now. It’s because you trust and what you envision, too.

And I also think a lot of the time you only hear the stories very often of the big, big business, the ones that are over a billion and they’re about this and they’re gigantic, and it’s as if like everybody’s running after unicorns.

But there are many amazing companies, and the one I used to direct before was a $300 million company. It’s big enough. It was like 5,000 employees. It was working really well. And also you don’t have to grow exponentially, in five years you need to be a unicorn. You also have to take it to the pace that you feel right for your own company and what you have planned for it.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Well, and I think that that’s another point. There’s plenty of unicorn companies that are out there that actually took money from the wrong people and the devil’s in the details, right? And I know there’s plenty of unicorn companies that end up sort of quietly getting shut down or the founder and/or CEO is bounced out of the company.

Tessa Horovitz: Absolutely.

Kara Goldin: And there’s a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot. So I think you just have to grow it the right way, and even if you slow down growth, it’s sort of the tortoise and the hare analogy. I just don’t think that it’s necessarily, I don’t think people can say hard and fast that that’s the wrong thing to do.

So looking back, when did Ametti actually start?

Tessa Horovitz: So Jesse and I, we came together a year and a half ago, but we really started a company a year ago.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, not very long.

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. What do you think is the key thing that you’ve learned in a year that you wish you would have known? Or what do you think is the toughest thing?

Tessa Horovitz: Well, actually one of the things that I’ve learned a lot is that sometimes, well, in our case, we had a kind of an aggressive growth plan in terms of let’s say scaling marketing fast, and really kind of feeling like fitting in the fashion industry as much as we could from the beginning.

And I think this is something I’ve learned, that you can look at the other brands around you or the other companies that do like a similar type of a business, but you might need to remind yourself that you are not at that stage yet and it’s okay to spend less than what you planned originally on some little things that you’re not so sure how much it’s going to work.

And the other second thing that I’ve learned a lot, and it’s something that I was really pro to push in innovation in general in my previous role is that everything should be a test first. Meaning don’t bother growing, scaling, and gigantic thing straight away. Start by testing all the little things at a time so you can see whether your consumer or who you think your consumer is is actually liking it, appreciating it, and also really showing you they’re ready to pay for something like this.

And I think a lot of the time people have a big idea and they want to roll it out straight all the full idea all at once, and you need to take the time to test it step-by-step and have mini proof of concept each step of the way.

And a lot of the things, for example, personally we tested one big influencer partnership, and it’s something done not a lot of people talk about out there, I think. And we were extremely disappointed. And thank God it was just a test and we did not invest thousands and thousands-

Kara Goldin: Lots of money, yeah.

Tessa Horovitz: -On it, but it really didn’t work for us. And we’re a fashion brand, and you would think, well, fashion, perfect, let’s do influencer marketing. Well, for us, this never came through at all.

So very interestingly things like that and you have to learn as you go testing basically.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Would you ever do a partnership with a fashion brand? What do you think about that?

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, actually funny that you share this because following actually our tests with several types of partnerships, we have started thinking, well, actually probably partnering with other brands is more valuable. Cross synergies of other brands that have a different type of product but the same lifestyle level, talking to the same women, we might actually come stronger out of it.

And I think the future of what used to be influencer marketing or celebrity posting or things like that is more going to be cross synergies between brands that believe in the same things and that also speak to the same people.

So yeah, absolutely. This is something that we’re considering. We’re talking with several brands little by little. We’re still small, so we’re trying to see which one we fit perfectly with. And also it’s very important that we’re all like understanding the same things when we’re doing a partnership like this. But, yeah.

Kara Goldin: Yeah, I have lots of ideas. It seems like it’s a great company with a great product and you’re building community. Your social is really, really great. Where do people find you on Instagram?

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, so our Instagram is #Ametti.Official.

Kara Goldin: It’s really nice.

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, we put a lot of thought behind it and we try to keep it as real as possible, even though we need to have the very strong fashion aspect to it. But it’s a good challenge to bring both, right? Realness, honesty, and at the same time, fashion and the aesthetics.

Kara Goldin: I love it. It’s so, so great. So I always ask people about, well, I ask people two questions. First of all, Hint, what’s your favorite flavor? I have the lemon here

Tessa Horovitz: Well, yeah, actually, very funny you were going to say. I was like, oh, my God, that one of my favorite thing is lemon in the whole world. I actually drink lemon water every morning. It’s one of my favorite things. So this would definitely be my top choice. Absolutely.

Kara Goldin: Awesome. That’s great. And what makes you unstoppable?

Tessa Horovitz: Well, I think that’s a very good question. I think, for me, what makes me unstoppable is that I feel that I owe to myself to do the things that I want the most during my lifetime, let’s say. And so I think that I don’t want anything to stop me from doing those things because I want to make sure that, when I am a grandmother, which is going to sound really funny, but when I’m a grandmother, I want to tell amazing stories to my grandkids, and I want to be able to be so proud of the life that I lived. So I think this is really one of the main reason why I would be unstoppable.

Kara Goldin: Well, it seems like you’re on a great journey and you are learning tons, and that’s amazing. That’s super, super great.

So where do people find you as well?

Tessa Horovitz: So I have on social media, I have an Instagram account, Tessa Horovitz. You can find me there. H-O-R-O-V-I-T-Z. I know everybody says W but it’s a V, in my case.

I also have a Twitter account that you can find me, too, there, TessaHorovitz all together. And I use LinkedIn a lot, actually, to connect with people. So for networking or just chatting or just first introduction or anything such as partnership or if you want to come and be a speaker at one of the events, you can reach out to me on LinkedIn and I always respond. I’m always there.

Kara Goldin: What kind of speakers are you looking for?

Tessa Horovitz: So we’re looking for some travel expert that want to share something special about the destination that they love. For example, if you are in love was Big Sur maybe you go there and do yoga or meditation on a yearly basis and you want to share something about this.

We are also looking for women that are specialize in a subject that can really help women how to navigate their lifestyle today and curate something special, such as we’re looking for wellness and skin and also mental health. And so yeah, a lot of subjects.

And for partnerships, we’re more focusing on fashion and other products that can be teamed up really well with our products. So we have loads of products that we’re really happy to team up with other brands and kind of mix and match the things that work well together.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Well, and of course to get to Ametti and see everything that you offer it’s AMETTI.us, correct?

Tessa Horovitz: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, totally.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Well, thank you so much, Tessa, for [crosstalk 00:00:32:00].

Tessa Horovitz: Well, thanks to you, Kara. It was great speaking with you.

Kara Goldin: This was terrific. So safe travels back when you get back to the U.S., and we’ll be very, very excited to hear how things are going.

Tessa Horovitz: Yeah, great. Thank you so much for having me and thank you, everybody, for listening.

Kara Goldin: Thank you.