High-end fashion and social impact. People often wonder how IVLYISH, a startup which I co-founded to bring together these two seemingly disconnected terms, came to be. The answer is quite simple: I have always loved fashion, but I am also passionate about doing good in the world. From an early age, I started visiting orphanages in Vietnam, my home country, and yearned to help lift our disadvantaged youth from the cycle of poverty. I have also always had the desire to be an entrepreneur – I just wanted to find the right time and opportunity. In my travels around the world, I noticed a lack of unique, high-quality pieces of jewelry without the bank-breaking price tag. This immediately sparked the thought that I could help bring these accessories to the global market and help my home country at the same time. I knew that through my network, I could build a team of fashion-forward designers and create partnerships with the best artisans to produce this jewelry. I envisioned myself connecting these products to consumers around the world. Through these experiences and my “aha moment,” I felt like I had found the opportunity to merge my passion for fashion with positive impact, and thus IVYLISH was born. In early 2013, I co-founded IVYLISH as a premium jewelry brand that fuels entrepreneurship and empowers youth in developing countries. Our first partnerships are with Vietnamese artisans, but we will soon expand our production network across the globe!
So far, the ride hasn’t been easy, but it has definitely been exciting! We recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $25,000. Within ten days of the campaign we were featured on Indiegogo’s home page, several fashion blogs and even a few gift guides. These small successes feel great, but there have also been many bumps along the road.
I have learned a lot throughout this journey, and although IVYLISH is just getting started, my experience may be helpful to hopeful entrepreneurs. Below are just a few of the lessons I have learned in the past few months.
#1. Capitalize on your strengths and find people who can do the other stuff. My experience as a consultant has prepared me to manage large projects, think strategically, and solve problems efficiently. Though these skills have been immensely helpful in developing IVYLISH, there are a number of things I have not mastered. Technology is probably my biggest “area of development” and although I have been forced to learn a lot in order to build IVYLISH, I am still far from proficient at this. That is where my co-founder, Kevin, comes in. He is a technology ninja! Without him I would still be trying to figure out how to use MailChimp and Trello. The good news is that you don’t have to be great at everything. You do, however, need to understand your capabilities and find people who can do what you can’t. Diversity in skills within your team is an important factor for success, and learning from others is an added bonus.
#2. When you’re working on a startup, get ready to do everything. If there is something you don’t like, speak up. But you should also be ready to take on the responsibility. For example, one member of our launch team, Carmen, did not think some of our brand messaging represented IVYLISH in the best possible way to our consumers. After she brought it up in a team meeting, we discussed ideas for better messaging at length and then asked her to take the lead on all content and marketing. This is a pretty big undertaking, but so far she is running with it and she is now our Chief Marketing Officer in charge of literally every message that is delivered to the public. Sitting around and poking holes in the efforts of others is not a helpful exercise if you are not willing to roll up your sleeves and try to do it better yourself.
#3. Constantly check in with yourself and your team. The saying “don’t mistake motion for progress” has become very meaningful to our team. As we are working to build a business, we realize that there are dozens of things we could be doing at any given time that are related to IVYLISH. However, we try to identify and focus on the few tasks that will actually help us move forward. For example, we recently postponed a fashion show we had scheduled for this fall. We realized that even though it would be fun and it may have created some buzz for our brand, real progress will come from developing our supply chain and building our website so that when we do have a show we will be able to fulfill the resulting orders. It’s important to frequently evaluate if your top priorities are really helping you develop your business, so that you can axe those that are not.
#4. Love what you do. Working on IVYLISH has been great, but it has also been a very consuming undertaking. I am constantly thinking about and working on IVYLISH – it’s my baby. Do I feel tired? Yes. Am I loving every moment of this experience? Yes. I cannot imagine working this intensely on something that I didn’t feel passionate about. I know working on startups is the cool thing to do right now and I do think it’s great if you are interested, but I think it is so important to find an opportunity that really speaks you. You should make sure that when things get tough (and they absolutely will), you will still be willing to push forward because you fully believe in the potential of the idea you are pursuing.
IVYLISH is just getting started, so I know there is still a lot of learning ahead. After this crowd funding campaign, the real work will begin. The crazy thing is that I am working on this around the clock already, so I don’t know where I will find more time!