Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Who’s the Boss?



Entrepreneurial blood had always coursed through Sophia’s Greek-American family.  She grew up surrounded by business owners, with one grandfather running a piano shop, the other in charge of a motel.  Her father sold mortgage loans, and her mother was a realtor.  No one she knew worked “normal” 9 to 5 jobs for guaranteed salaries.  Sophia herself started buying books on business startups at the age of 9, and she was the “president” of her street’s lemonade stand.

When Sophia was 10 years old, both her parents lost their jobs due to the economic recession, but they taught her how to adjust and move forward.  They cut up their credit cards.  They took Sophia out of private Catholic school to save the tuition money.  And they got a family paper route that had Sophia leaning out the window of her father’s Jeep at 6 a.m. delivering newspapers.  They got by.
Sophia’s first real job was in high school as a “sandwich artist” at Subway.  There, she took note of her directionless co-workers – many of them high school dropouts –  and vowed to be different, channeling her ambition into making sandwiches as efficiently and perfectly as possible.  She was restless in her suburban life, though, and eventually left school to complete her education on her own, receiving her diploma in the mail.  

By the time she was in her early 20s, Sophia had worked ten different retail jobs, including a shoe store, record shop, and two photo labs.  She was attending art school as a photography major and began to wonder about her life’s direction.  She spent her free time online.  She noticed a lot of people selling vintage clothing on eBay and promoting themselves via MySpace.  Sophia wore nothing but vintage clothes herself, and knew where to buy the good stuff at the best prices.  She also felt she had a sense for what would sell and how much to charge.  She looked at the eBay stores and realized, “I could do that.”

Convinced that with her eye for style and bargain-shopping expertise, she could actually do better, Sophia began buying items in her local vintage and thrift stores and selling them on eBay for three to five times what she’d paid.  She used her photography skills to take artful, edgy pictures of the clothing she was selling, using friends to model them and obsessing over their poses to maximize the clothing’s appeal.  She scoured flea markets and estate sales looking for hidden treasures.  One cheaply made thrift-store sweater sold for $550, and a vintage Chanel jacket she bought from the Salvation Army for $8 sold in her eBay store for $1,050.  These victories bolstered her confidence that she was definitely onto something.

Sophia also realized she was as fluent online as her young customers.  After a year and a half on eBay, she had 30,000 MySpace “friends” and was bringing in roughly $115,000 in sales.  But she was itching to make the business even more her own.

Sophia created her own website. She started driving customers to her site through feedback emails after customers made purchases through eBay.  Soon, eBay banned her from their site for doing so, but it was just the push she needed to focus her efforts on establishing her business as the destination to buy vintage clothing online.

By targeting young women with style sensibilities similar to her own and making her site more like a fashion magazine than an online store, Sophia built a vast community with more than 150,000 Twitter followers and over 1,000,000 Facebook friends.  Just four years after moving off eBay, her company, Nasty Gal, a name taken from a song by ex-runway model and singer Betty Davis, became one of the largest online fashion retailers on the planet.  Sophia Amoruso seems to just be getting started as she expands her brand with a signature shoe line, clothing line, and magazine, all while earning Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Retailer award in 2012.

Curious about launching your own business?  Start by answering these questions:  What genuinely interests you?  What would you do for free?  When you follow your interests, you become engaged and energized.  You persevere through difficult situations and over time, often become great at what you do.  And becoming great at something helps make you unique, which is the best way to create value with your life.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could do what you love and positively impact the world around you at the same time? 

Become the C-E-O of Y-O-U, and remember that passion will always be in fashion.

Until next week...

Live Your Dreams!

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