Wharton Journal: What is FashionStake?
Vivian Weng: FashionStake is an online, community-based marketplace for independent fashion designers. We leverage crowd-sourcing to create an online community where our members vote on which pieces and which designers get highlighted on our site.
WJ: How did the idea behind FashionStake originate?
VW: I’ve always been passionate about fashion. At McKinsey, I focused on retail and consumer clients, and before business school, I helped a handful of emerging designers with sales and marketing. At HBS, I met my current business partner, Daniel Gulati, and we both felt a calling to start a business. I was driven by my interest in fashion, and by my desire to support independent designers. Daniel, who is a serial entrepreneur, was focused on launching another venture. So we both had different personal goals, but ultimately we were both excited about starting something new in the fashion space.
WJ: Did business school provide a solid platform from which to launch a new venture?
VW: Business school is a great time to start a business. You have lots of free time, you’re surrounded by individuals with diverse backgrounds and different passions, and you’re in an environment which fosters dynamism and creativity. You lose these advantages if you wait until after school.
WJ: What qualities or attributes did you prioritize when looking for your co-founder?
VW: Rather than looking for a complementary skill-set, I focused on identifying someone with a complementary personality. In the end, I found an outstanding co-founder whose vision was highly aligned with my own. Coincidentally, our skill-sets happened to be complementary as well: Daniel is very much an ideas man and a visionary, while I am very execution-oriented and excited by the challenge of creating and building. Together, we formed a great team that could innovate and as well as execute. Different pairings make sense for different teams, but for me, personality was the most critical component as I looked for a co-founder.
WJ: Did you ever consider taking a long-term leave of absence to pursue the business?
VW: For me, it was very important to finish school. Business school provided an environment where I could learn about myself and discover what I was truly passionate about. I don’t think I would have obtained these personal learnings had I not finished school. Furthermore, the VCs that we worked with never questioned our intention to return to school after the summer. They recognized that for an entrepreneur, business school offers many advantages, including an amazing network of students and alumni, connections to potential investors, access to CEOs and entrepreneurs, and the support and advice of top-notch professors.
WJ: What are some of the key takeaways that emerged from your experience building FashionStake?
VW: Being able to “test and then invest” is one of the most important skills for an entrepreneur. Many of us have read about the lean startup concept, but it’s worth emphasizing that you shouldn’t begin building out your vision until you know what product is actually going to work for the market you’re targeting. The end product is very rarely what you set out to build initially, so it’s important to identify your minimum viable product and iterate as you move forward.
I would also say that at the end of the day, a lot of business success comes down to the team, so hiring smart people that you connect with is probably the most important thing you can do as a founder. A lot of your success comes down to execution, and it is the team that ultimately does this. Hiring and firing should be top of mind if you’re thinking of launching a startup.