Deena Varshavskaya is the founder and CEO of Wanelo, an online database where individuals can shop from a variety of stores, much like a virtual shopping mall. The idea was birthed in 2006, after Varshavskaya realized that something was lacking for consumers who preferred to shop online. She saw the need for a new type of online shopping experience, where users could buy from several different stores, all in one place.
What sets Wanelo apart from other online shopping experiences is that it’s not just a single store, but rather 550,000 stores. Users can make purchases from multiple retailers in one session without leaving the Wanelo website. The name of the company is a combination of the words, “Want, Need, Love,” which speaks to the ease of online shopping. You see something you want, decide you need it, and after adding it to your cart, it’ll soon be yours to love.
But Wanelo is more than an online mall, it’s a place for users to share what they love. “Wanelo was born as a platform for friends to share products they like,” Varshavskaya wrote on Women 2.0. After reading that people preferred to learn about new products from their friends rather than from advertisers, she set out to make Wanelo the interactive and innovative platform that it is today.
Varshavskaya was born in Yakutia, Eastern Siberia. She was just 16 years old when her family moved to the United States, following her parents’ divorce. Years later, Varshavskaya attended Cornell University, where she studied psychology, computer science, and film before dropping out with only two credits left to graduate. This didn’t stop her from striving for success, though; after leaving Cornell, she moved to New York City and created her first startup, ReelACT, an online directory of actors to help producers during the casting process. She also founded a design agency called Dynamik Interactive, where she worked with several large-scale consumers as a user experience designer.
After developing the idea for Wanelo, Varshavskaya spent two years – and her own money – getting her idea off the ground. In 2011, she received 40 rejections from potential investors, but refused to let it discourage her. A year later, the Wanelo app took off and made its way onto the App Store’s free lifestyle apps list, eventually landing in the top 10.
By 2013, Wanelo was building a following and gained lasting popularity amongst online shoppers. Vanity Fair named Varshavskaya one of their 15 “up-and-comers to keep an eye on” in 2013, and she was featured as one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs in 2013 and 2014 by Goldman Sachs. Fast Company dubbed her one of the Most Creative People in Business in 2014, and she was recognized by Glamour magazine as one of “35 Women Under 35 Who Are Changing the Tech Industry.”
Today, Wanelo remains extremely successful, with millions of users frequenting the site. On her journey to success, Varshavskaya certainly faced challenges, but she didn’t let any setbacks stop her. She always believed that learning from failure is part of what leads to success.
“As an entrepreneur you absolutely have to make your own mistakes and reading is a far slower way of learning than doing.”
Taylor Charendoff | Contributing Writer