Career 14 December 2016
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.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.