As CEO and Founder of Style Lend, I got my start in fashion at the age of 16 modeling in Albania for companies like GUESS and Versace. In 2013, I decided to combine my love for fashion and entrepreneurship and I launched my company while traveling the world.
The premise was simple.
I wanted to create a platform to borrow clothes from stylish women all over the world. Enter Style Lend, a peer-to-peer marketplace based in NYC that provides a website and app for lending and renting designer dresses. It's like your best friend's closet, but better.
Although it may seem simple, fashion is a complex industry and navigating it is no easy feat. Here, five things I learned in my first year in the fashion business.
It’s harder than you think, but even more worth it.
Although I don’t yet have kids, starting a business from scratch is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life - particularly because it was a venture business requiring seed capital to be raised. Building my business from zero made prior challenging experiences I’ve had in my life look simpler and more straightforward – those being: moving to a new country, learning several new languages, changing entire careers, and finishing my MBA at the top of my class.
I have a thirst for growth, problem solving, and variety, so starting a business let’s me experience all of this on a daily basis. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and continually inspired by others who have started businesses of their own.
People will let you down.
When starting a business, be prepared that anyone from co-founders, to partners, to contractors, and employees can disappoint you. I went through so many different engineers in the first year of my business that we doubted we would ever get the website off the ground. This can be quite frustrating because you are giving all that you have for a chance at success with your startup and you hope that you choose the right people for the job. I’ve realized it takes a very strong person to continue after so many let downs and disappointments. You have to be extremely dedicated to your cause and excited about the problem you are solving, otherwise you and your company have little chance at success. The importance of finding trusted partners and suppliers at the early stages of your business cannot be overstated.
It takes twice as long to get anything done.
Let’s say, you’ve just quit your job and you’ve given yourself three months to build the prototype for your web-based business. Newsflash! Everything takes longer than you think. The first time I realized this was after I hired a contractor to build my website and they continued to tell me that everything was on time, but instead they kept missing agreed deadlines and came up with all kinds of excuses. Before I knew it, three months had passed and there was nothing to show for it. I quickly had to fire them and hire a team in Poland, thanks to a recommendation from a business school friend. Although it took a further three months, they got the job done and delivered a superb website experience. When putting together a business plan, allow for contingency on the overall timelines and be prepared to adapt the plan if it is not taking you to a successful outcome.
Prepare for things to cost a lot more than you think.
So, you’ve secured a seemingly generous budget to build your app/website. Enough that you believe would surely get you some kind of a prototype to test with beta customers. Right? Wrong! From my experience if you don’t know exactly what you are building, it can be very hard to estimate the cost. For us, we were exploring uncharted territory, so we needed to add features and work with different service providers to get what we envisioned in place – this meant that the costs kept adding up. It’s important to be mindful of the fact that what you are quoted is just an estimate and it might take some extra money to get things exactly the way you want it. Therefore, be prepared for that both mentally and financially by having enough cash in the bank or a side job to pay the bills. It’s likely that it will take some time before your company is profitable, and even when it does there are often other priorities that you need to invest in, like product inventory or marketing.
Be clear on the Vesting Schedule/Equity distribution before engaging other potential owners.
This is one of the most important things to have in place before you start to work with anyone that may become a partner, advisor, co-founder, or employee of your company. For example, a typical vesting schedule (that I adopted) is four year vesting with a one-year cliff. One-year cliff means that if the individual leaves the company any time before the one-year anniversary they do not vest their shares. If they stay one year and a day, then they get to keep 25% of the shares allocated to them, and so on up to four years when they become fully vested. Make sure to be clear about this from day one and have contracts in place that specify goals and milestones that need to be met and specify how the contract may change if they do not meet those goals.
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.