From early Uber employee to raising $750k with a Bubble MVP
Carley Lake, co-founder of Lucky Sweater, transitioned from a successful six-year tenure at Uber to the entrepreneurial world by harnessing the power of no-code tools to build her MVP. Leveraging her experience and insights gained in Silicon Valley, Carley crafted the initial version of Lucky Sweater, an innovative app for community-based clothing swaps, using Bubble.
Hi! I’m Carley Lake, and I raised a $750k pre-seed and brought on my co-founders thanks to the MVP app I built on Bubble!
I’m the co-founder and CEO of Lucky Sweater. Lucky Sweater is the app that makes it easy and fun to trade inspiration, advice, and things with your favorite niche communities—a community clothing swap in your pocket!
I’m currently based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and have been here for more than three years. I was living in San Francisco before that and am originally from Los Angeles.
Before I started Lucky Sweater, where I built our initial MVP app with Bubble, I spent six+ years at Uber. I was one of the first 500 employees at Uber, co-launched Uber Eats, and led Uber’s global safety marketing and initiatives.
Describe your career journey prior to discovering no-code
I studied Journalism and International Studies at Northwestern University. After college, I started my career as a digital strategist at Ogilvy & Mather working with clients including SC Johnson, Ford, Kimberly Clark, and Jim Beam.
Soon after that, I joined Uber in the Los Angeles office in January 2014 as a community manager. In those days, we did a lot of customer-facing tasks including support, social media, sales, grassroots marketing, and city launches. I then became a marketing manager and launched a few cities in Southern California including the Inland Empire.
I also co-ran Uber Ice Cream in Southern California and soon after was asked to join a new project called “UberFRESH” which became Uber Eats! After launching Uber Eats, I led driver marketing programs on the West Coast and then moved to San Francisco to become one of the first product marketing managers focused on safety.
While on the Trust & Safety safety team, I developed Uber’s global Community Guidelines, co-launched Uber’s women’s safety program, worked on human trafficking prevention education, led product marketing for Uber’s Safety Report, and more!
How did you discover no-code?
I didn’t want to then pay thousands of dollars to bring on an engineer to start building out a full-blown marketplace without testing a prototype or MVP… but I also didn’t know where to go next to create something people could actually test and start to use.
While at Uber, I began a side project—my blog Thoughtful Flamingo—where I explored how people were cultivating their styles through secondhand and sustainable pieces. So many people I spoke to would tell me they found some of their favorite secondhand items in niche, brand, or style-based Facebook groups, Instagram pages, or Reddit communities.
They also loved talking to me about these communities, as if they were sharing a well-kept secret. It was clear to me that there was an unmet need. People were growing weary of the vast, fast-fashion-dominated resale platforms and yearned for both curation and a sense of community, connecting with like-minded people who loved the brands and styles they loved too.
I then interviewed and surveyed 1000s of members and moderators of these communities and learned a platform dedicated to these unique communities was much needed as these communities weren’t given the tools or care needed by their larger platforms. Their needs are also different than just a marketplace or just a social platform.
I started wireframing out some screens for a community-first secondhand experience. I also worked with a designer who helped me with some initial designs.
However, I didn’t want to then pay thousands of dollars to bring on an engineer to start building out a full-blown marketplace without testing a prototype or MVP… but I also didn’t know where to go next to create something people could actually test and start to use.
I can’t remember if my boyfriend originally mentioned prototyping options or if I just started googling but I started to see options to prototype or build MVP and the word “no code”.
I dug in and started to see there were a few different platforms and no code solutions I could learn. The landscape was not as massive as it is now, back in 2020. I realized for a marketplace I needed something with many options and read Bubble was a good place to build marketplace apps.
What made you decide to build it with no-code, and Bubble specifically?
Without no code, I doubt we would have managed a successful pre-seed round or met our $750k goal.
I dove headfirst into Bubble, due to seeing all of the case studies and that a lot of diverse types of tools were being built using the platform. There was a wealth of coaching and courses online, which was encouraging.
Starting from scratch, I immersed myself in Bubble community posts and signed up for the monthly Coaching No Code Apps subscription— their videos were incredibly insightful and kickstarted my journey.
Midway through my app development, I joined the Air Dev No-Code Bootcamp. It was a weekly Zoom class, now available as a free online course. There are also so many other great resources now like NoCodeLife right here (!), No Code MBA, WeAreNoCode, and more.
I devoted hours daily to building the app, navigating through mistakes, and repeatedly consulting videos. Progress was evident, albeit slow. For complex app features like chat, I collaborated with Zeroqode’s team to help expedite the process.
There were aspects of the app and learning curves that were too time-consuming, so their assistance was invaluable for parts I struggled with or didn't want to spend endless hours perfecting.
Once the MVP's core experiences—chat, item listings, communities—were operational, and even Stripe was integrated, I presented it to a few of the moderators I had interviewed. At one point, more than 200 people were testing the app!
Simultaneously, while building and testing the Bubble app, I was on the lookout for a technical co-founder. Having a functional app with active users was instrumental in finding a co-founder.
It showcased my ability to transform my idea into reality through rapid learning and emphasized my commitment to my vision.
Tanya Dastyar, a former Microsoft product management lead, who became my co-founder, was particularly struck by my ability to construct a comprehensive app without any technical background. It highlighted my drive and played a significant role in her decision to join forces with me. We've been co-founding partners since early 2021!
The Bubble app also played a pivotal role in our pre-seed fundraising, helping us secure $750K from investors.
Although we hadn't recruited an engineer yet, we had an MVP with users and a clear demonstration of our vision.
Without no code, I doubt we would have managed a successful pre-seed round or met our $750k goal.
Tell us about your product’s journey so far.
Shortly after our fundraising success, Tanya and I brought Anthony Nadaletti on board as our full-time founding engineer. Given that we were crafting a community-first marketplace complete with chat, item listings, discussion boards, photo inspiration, moderation, AI-item approvals, and more, it became clear that Bubble wouldn't suffice for scalable mobile app growth. Had we been web rather than mobile-first, perhaps it might have been a different story.
Once Anthony joined, he began coding the app from scratch, and we've been on an upward trajectory ever since. We've established curated communities centered around slow fashion, handmade goods, and vintage finds, with plans to branch out into more style and interest-based groups.
This year, our app experienced an average monthly growth of 21.8% in items traded, accumulating over 17,000 transactions and facilitating more than 30,000 pieces of style advice. Furthermore, with an average of 2.8 sessions per Daily Active User (DAU), the data underscores the app's remarkable stickiness.
We're demonstrating that a platform that prioritizes curation and community over mere transactions is exactly what's needed to innovate and expand within the $119 billion secondhand market.
What made you decide to switch to code and how has the experience been?
I do miss building and developing my skills in Bubble, but as the CEO/Co-founder, I realized I couldn't possibly have the bandwidth to oversee marketing, operations, growth, fundraising, community engagement, and more, and continue building myself! Having Anthony build the entire app has been incredible and company-changing.
I've learned an immense amount from both him and Tanya about product development cycles, testing, bug reporting, and essentially, how to build and scale applications that continue to address our members' needs and solve their core problems.
Bubble was instrumental in getting us from 0 to 1. But now Lucky Sweater continues to grow due to the expertise in development, product, and design that Anthony and Tanya bring to the table.
One person can’t do it all if you're aiming to scale a business, particularly one that’s a global community/social-powered marketplace!
What were your biggest lessons learned?
Reflecting on my No Code journey, I realize I was quite a perfectionist. I found myself continually adding features, striving for perfection when all I really needed was a functional MVP for user testing and to showcase the vision.
In hindsight, I spent too much time secluded in my room, trying to master every Bubble nuance and setup. The app could have been simpler, and leaner.
When diving into No Code, clarity about your objectives is crucial so you don’t overbuild. What are you aiming to achieve? My targets were securing a co-founder, gathering initial user feedback, and creating a tangible prototype to support our fundraising efforts.
However, back then, I was fixated on crafting the ultimate app—something that doesn't truly exist, and that pursuit led to some wasted time that could have been spent more on user testing and fundraising.
What’s your plan for the next 5 years?
Lucky Sweater was born out of a desire to help anyone rediscover and reconnect with the niche and unique items and passions they love, and to connect them with others who share those passions.
We're on a mission to create communities for every interest and need, whether it's kids' clothing, outdoor gear, books, pottery, plus-size slow fashion, or men's slow fashion – you name it, we're planning it!
Brands, too, are poised to play a more significant role on our platform.
At the core of our vision is the aspiration to foster a global movement that rekindles connections with our communities and reignites a love for our belongings. We envision a world where we turn to our friends' and communities' closets before considering a new purchase.
Imagine transforming the default “I’ll just Prime it” mentality to “Let’s check my Lucky Sweater community first!” or better yet, “I’ll explore my Lucky Sweater community for something unique, something I didn't even know I wanted!”
What advice would you give to others hoping to launch a marketplace with no-code?
I'd suggest beginning with a lean MVP approach. Moreover, it's a great idea to read "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries before you dive into the world of no-code.
Focus on building just enough to test your biggest risk assumption. You could even start with a pre-existing no-code template or create a basic landing page.
Remember, it doesn't need to be a flawless, fully-developed car when a simple skateboard will suffice at the start to see if your idea/tool can solve a true need (check out this link—I love this analogy!).
Also, there's a wealth of learning to be done before you even set out to build an MVP. Run surveys (I've posted plenty in Facebook groups and on Reddit), hold Zoom interviews, and take folks out for coffee chats. "The Mom Test" by Rob Fitzpatrick is an invaluable resource for learning how to interview effectively!
Above all, make sure you're solving an actual problem, not just creating a solution in search of one.
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