“People didn’t take me seriously at first. And even still, start-up and tech is dominated by mostly men. I think it’s great when a woman comes along and does it and I’d love to see more.”
Online virtuoso Joanna Track reveals the fight and glory behind launching two of Canada’s homegrown, consumer-loving, web-based brands.
BY ANUPA MISTRY | PHOTOGRAPHY BY RAINA+WILSON
In less than 10 years since her start, Joanna Track is poised to become the face behind two of Canada’s most revolutionary and successful digital brands for women. Best known as the brains behind lifestyle hub SweetSpot.ca, Toronto native Track, 40, recently left her helm to try and fill another gaping hole in Canadian women’s web space: digital retail. In May 2011, Track and her growing team of 14 launched Dealuxe.ca, a Canadian-based online shopping destination for contemporary brands, members-only deals and exclusive sales.
Planting the seed for Canada’s expanding online shopping hub seems almost second nature to Track. “There’s a huge gap in the Canadian market for online retail,” she explains, in an airy top and summery espadrilles, from her Adelaide St. office in downtown Toronto. “I’d always be frustrated logging on to sites like ShopBop and Net-A-Porter. Once you factor in the duty, extra shipping and all the hassles…As a consumer, it used to drive me crazy.”
And so, Dealuxe was born, providing Canadian fashionistas a space to covet and purchase online. Offering clothing, shoes and accessories from modern, trendy brands such as Pink Tartan, House of Harlow and Smythe — some of Track’s favourites – Dealuxe utilizes the current allure of U.S.-based private sales sites as a marketing tool, offering deals every Thursday. “There was nowhere for women in Canada to shop at all, forget about sales!” she maintains, dismissing the need to follow digital trends.
“From a very early age, I had this drive for independence.”
Just two years after launching SweetSpot in 2004, Track was thrilled to meet her initial goal of being acquired by a major investor: Rogers Publishing. “I’m happy to say, in the early days nothing changed. They looked at it as an investment,” explains Track, who says SweetSpot’s laidback, independent vibe is what kept readers coming back. The publishing behemoth continued to invest in the company, until it eventually incorporated full operations in late 2010. It was at this point that Track left her helm, and her staff, to work on Dealuxe. “Now that Rogers has taken over and folded a lot of the behind-the-scenes processes in, it has become less entrepreneurial and more corporate,” she says. “If I could do something differently, I’d try to get some assurances that that wouldn’t change as much.”
Track, who takes style and confidence cues from her “shopaholic, never conservative” grandmother, has always been ahead of the pack. When she launched SweetSpot — inspired by then New York City-based lifestyle guide DailyCandy — it wasn’t just because she was the self-described “go-to person” for shopping and restaurant suggestions amongst her friends. (The name is a nod to its go-to purpose, geared to be both feminine and direct.) “I’ve always had that ambition to work and make money,” she says, recalling her first
job at a bakery as a 14-year-old. “From a very early age, I had this drive for independence.”
“It shaped my thinking on how to build one-on-one relationships with customers and strong branding…It’s a look into people’s lives.”
That, plus an aptitude for numbers led her to pursue a math degree at the University of Western Ontario, an MBA at York University’s business school and various positions at Merrill Lynch, The Loyalty Group and Ogilvy & Mather. It was at the latter company, working on the American Express account, that Track discovered her analytical passion could merge with the creativity of direct marketing. “Working on AmEx had a big impact on me,” she says. “It shaped my thinking on how to build one-on-one relationships with customers and strong branding…and understanding the mechanics, like when and why people use credit cards. It’s a look into people’s lives.”
While straddling part-time work at Ogilvy & Mather, Track took steps toward launching SweetSpot, reaching out to technically proficient friends to work on the back end and living off her RRSP and family-loaned funds before she began to turn enough profit. Not without struggle, from legal issues with a former partner to financial hardship, what began as a rudimentary mailing list and blog-like archive of posts, turned into a multi-city, multi-portal website.
Today SweetSpot, SweetLife, SweetMama and SweetHome service Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Calgary. “Right around when I started SweetSpot, DailyCandy had just sold a portion of their company to a big investor and I remember thinking I would love, five years from now, to sell SweetSpot and do really well,” says Track. “Rogers ended up coming to me after two years.” Brand credibility and SweetSpot’s “best friend” feel was something Rogers, despite its publishing forte, couldn’t replicate, she says.
“If someone can benefit from anything that I’ve learned…that’s the best lasting effect.”
Achieving her goals earlier than expected and successfully launching two business and consumer savvy brands still hasn’t guaranteed her equal appreciation as a woman in the digital realm. “People didn’t take me seriously at first,” Track reflects. “And even still, start-up and tech is dominated by mostly men, so I think it’s great when a woman comes along and does it and I’d love to see more.” She suggests tech-heavy fields do attract more men, but asserts there’s no reason women can’t “do what I did, and work with and employ savvy programmers.”
Her hard-gleaned insights into how people live online are especially valuable: she’s pleasantly surprised at how engaged people have become with a brand, “especially online, where you can’t walk into a store and touch anything.” She points to Indigo CEO Heather Reisman as a direct influence, “She’s created a really honest, Canadian brand.” Track says she hopes her own learning experiences can prove as influential. “If someone can benefit from anything that I’ve learned…that’s the best lasting effect.”