For Splashup co-founders and this year’s Xccelerate21 winners, Nathalie Rafeh and Vivek Bharadwaj, disrupting the ecommerce retail space to create an effortless customer shopping experience is the ultimate goal.

And thanks to the various prizes that came with being crowned this year’s Xccelerate21 winners – including a $150,000 SAFE note, exclusive mentoring from Non-Executive Director at Zip Co John Batish, and liberal access to the CBA network – the pair are certainly on the right path to achieving this.  

Ms Rafeh and Mr Bharadwaj’s winning startup, Splashup, was officially born just over 12 months ago. But, the idea behind the business was formed some time ago.  

Moving to Australia at 18 to study commerce, Ms Rafeh had always been drawn to the dynamic nature of startups where creative minds come together to tackle complex problems. This passion saw her become heavily involved in the startup community, advising and mentoring over 300 startups at UNSW and helping to scale Mad Paws, a company that IPOed in March this year.  

Having also run her own fashion ecommerce store for years, Ms Rafeh had a unique insight into the pain points for small retailers, particularly the difficulty in converting ‘clicks to sale’ – that is, ensuring an interested customer not only clicks on an item they like, but actually goes through with the sale.

In parallel, Mr Bharadwaj had 15 years’ experience in advertising, marketing and large ecommerce fashion sites like THE ICONIC, where he built and optimised conversion funnel algorithms to turn website traffic into final sales – addressing the very problem small retailers like Ms Rafeh faced. Experienced in data science and machine learning, and also having studied an MBA, Mr Bharadwaj had the technical and business expertise to help back an innovative product.

So it’s probably unsurprising to hear that when Ms Rafeh and Mr Bharadwaj first met at an accelerator event in 2020, the duo instantly clicked. Quickly they realised how their complementary work experience and perspectives could be leveraged to make a real change in the retail space. 

“The more we chatted, the more we realised that too much money – over $650 billion – is being spent by ecommerce retailers to acquire shoppers who invariably end up bouncing (97 per cent exit rate), and not enough effort is being made to give shoppers an awesome experience to retain them on site,” Mr Bharadwaj said.

“So that's how Splashup was born late last year - as a way to help ecommerce retailers give their customers a seamless shopping experience by helping them discover what they're looking for in a personalised and intuitive way.”

Put simply, Splashup’s proposition is to integrate with ecommerce websites and be a product discovery experience layer on top.

The business uses Artificial Intelligence to help customers tailor their specific results until they find the product they love, like finding a ‘similar dress but with different sleeves’ or a ‘similar dress but on sale.’

Not only does Splashup help customers save time and money finding the perfect item, but it allows retailers to improve conversion rates and gather more specific data on customer preferences.

Once Splashup was officially in the ‘development phase’, the pair began the demanding process of securing capital from potential investors. Through their network, they learnt of the Xccelerate program, whose theme this year asked founders to reimagine how customers, shop, pay and are rewarded through their retail experience.

“The start-up ecosystem in Australia is incredibly generous and helpful and we are quite invested in it. It is through our friends in this network that we were referred to Xccelerate21 as they thought Splashup was a perfect fit for what the program was looking for,” Ms Rafeh said. 

Out of more than 80 experienced founders and entrepreneurs who applied for the program – organised by CBA’s venture scaling entity x15 and Australia’s leading Impact Network for emerging startups, Stone & Chalk – only 10 were invited to the Community Day, with five selected to pitch to x15 at its Pitch Day event.

“The whole process of joining the program happened with a series of events and luck! Getting into the program was such a relief. Everyone was incredibly engaging and switched on. They understood our vision and the challenges that we face as an early startup. I remember calling Vivek to tell him that we made it to the top five and even that was just an incredible feeling for us,” Ms Rafeh said.

“We made some incredible connections thanks to Xccelerate21. The x15 team were so welcoming to us, we felt very much at ease and knew we were in the right place. We gained some incredible perspectives from many experts during the Community Day, especially on some of the challenges we are stuck on,” Mr Bharadwaj added.  

In particular, the program allowed the duo to meet and learn from like-minded entrepreneurs.

“Working heads down in our own startup can become a bit lonely at times. So we're grateful to Xccelerate21 for giving us a chance to form a kinship with passionate founders who have accomplished so much and will continue to thrive,” continued Mr Bharadwaj.

Given state-wide lockdowns and restrictions, the Pitch Day was held completely virtually, which in itself posed an interesting challenge for the team.

“Pitching remotely at a public event was not something we have done before and so knowing that it was public and watched by many people we couldn't see was a bit stressful, and we wanted to put our best foot forward. But as humans, you always wonder if you did your best, or could have done better,” Ms Rafeh reflected.  

For upcoming entrepreneurs who may also be nervous about pitching to investors or attending accelerator events, Ms Rafeh’s advice is that there isn’t a perfect pitch, just one that is a constant work in progress.

“I think it's crucial to know your audience and pitch to them personally, keeping it simple, clear and short. I've also learnt that a successful pitch is one that articulates the problem, solution, the business, and team to the right audience well. Not only should the problem be big and painful enough but our approach to solving it should be compelling enough. We've been learning that a good pitch is one that establishes trust, interest and credibility.”

“I would say be curious, be open-minded, and be willing to learn. Make sure that you bring to light your business' achievements and your vision for the company and the scale of the problem at hand. It's ok if things aren't perfect, we're constantly learning and evolving. Lastly, don't be afraid to show your passion for the problem,” said Ms Rafeh.

Looking forward, Mr Bharadwaj said the pair’s focus is to build Splashup and get it into the hands of their customers - paving the way for a new era of ecommerce.

“We're becoming more and more confident based on the strong interest we've been receiving, not just from shoppers but also retailers and marketplaces. Our vision is to become the powerhouse for every customer shopping experience. We're not limited by geography or industry, making our long term plans even more exciting,” he said.

Ms Rafeh continued: “What excites us the most is seeing a world where the possibility of what Splashup can do exists, because it will truly make a difference to the way people use online shopping as we know it. We are very motivated to be the ones bringing this tech and experience to life. We have the vision in mind, we just have the long road ahead to tackle it.”

With the ongoing support of x15ventures, along with mentoring of John Batistich, Ms Rafeh and Mr Bharadwaj are in good hands to help navigate the road ahead.

“John is incredibly experienced in the space we are in, having spent years working with a range of organisations like Zip, Scentre, Westfield, General Pants and Pepsico. Better yet, we know he is excited to bring Splashup's vision to life. To know that we have John as our mentor in our early days to guide us through the challenges and complexities is something we are truly thankful for and very, very excited about,” said Ms Rafeh.