Fashion industry tips: Wisdom from leading entrepreneurs

A "unicorn" company is a business that’s private and is also worth at least one billion dollars. Is there any founder who wouldn’t like to found a billion dollar company - before it’s even gone public? I suspect not.

The first step to achieving this could be to do what José Neves - founder of Farfetch  - did, which is to combine two of your passions. José started his own software business when he was 19, whilst living near one of the biggest fashion companies in the world, which resulted in him doing some work for them. This got him interested in fashion and ended up with him starting a shoe business - with no qualifications whatsoever.

Eventually, he realised this was too messy an arrangement - simultaneously running tech and fashion businesses - and wanted a way to consolidate things. As the quote goes, "necessity is the mother of invention", and that’s exactly how Farfetch was founded.

When it was founded, however, he had a problem. The same problem all entrepreneurs have when they start out: how was he supposed to get his first client? Farfetch is a marketplace, and if no clients are using the marketplace then there won’t be any customers… but if there are no customers, then why would any client sign up to be a part of it?

A problem indeed. That’s why José used his existing relationships with potential clients to get them to become actual clients. Isn’t that better than going in cold? Isn’t that better than trying to convince people who have no idea - and probably no interest - in who you are?

And - obviously - it’s better to make it as easy as possible for potential clients to become actual clients. Which is the next thing José did - there was no upfront free, and clients paid him based only on sales. When it’s put like that, why wouldn’t a potential client want to be an actual client? There’s no risk. They’d be stupid to not take that deal. And nobody wants to believe they’re stupid.

Because getting that first client can be so hard, and because it’s only the firstof many hurdles, José has some important advice: only be an entrepreneur if it’s something you’ll never forgive yourself for not doing. Because that’s your competitive advantage. Other people will face obstacles and they won’t bother trying to overcome them because, actually, deep down, it’s just not that important to them. But to you? The person who would never be able to forgive themselves for giving up? You’ll keep going. You’ll find a way, somehow.

Tyra Banks agrees. She says how competitive the fashion industry is, and that’s why it can be so low paid - that’s simple economics. Do every internship you can, find a way in, any way in, and once you’re in, once you’re doing an amazing job, then you can start to focus on your entrepreneurial stuff. 

And let’s be real: your entrepreneurial ideas at that point are likely to be much better than they were before - simply because you know more, you’ve experienced more, and you’ve (hopefully) been paying attention to what problems need to be solved.

Then again, you can be like Sara Blakely and have no experience in the fashion industry whatsoever - and use your ideas (and personality) to become a billionaire (she’s the founder of Spanx, in case you’ve been unable to access the internet for a few years). So how did she do it? How is that even possible? Well, as she says, she was just a “frustrated consumer” who wanted someone to solve a particular problem for her  - and then she realised that she was someone.

Stuff that’s not in this blog post that you can listen to on the podcast:

  • How Spanx founder Sara Blakely put her life on the line to impress Richard Branson.
  • If your product or service is good enough, does it even matter if you’re (accidentally) late to an investor meeting?
  • Why the customisation of products might just be the future of business.

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