Sophia Amoruso will take the stage at the Inbound15 marketing conference in Boston. I like to read ahead when I’m traveling somewhere new or when I might get to hear someone speak. So, I read her book #GIRLBOSS. In case you don’t already know, she founded a clothing company called NastyGal and she organically built the business herself. She was also, in her own words, once a “shoplifter, hitchhiker and a dumpster-diving freegan with a nose for bagels.”
Part memoir and part business book, #GIRLBOSS details Amoruso’s journey starting her business in a California rental house and selling her first item on eBay (a stolen book) before moving into selling vintage clothing. Her parents try to get her interested in a career from time to time. They do what parents do—tell her that it’s safer to get a steady job. (I had those parents, too.) But, she doesn’t keep a job for long. As she says, that’s “not her jam.” She works at Subway and other retail-type stores and collects experiences along the way that help her when she decides to run a business.
She writes that she doesn’t set out to build a $100-million-dollar empire. Instead, she starts her vintage clothing business with models she pays in hamburgers, a photo “set” that is the space in front of her garage door, and clothes that she finds in shops and after picking through enormous mounds of old clothes. In software language, this would be called the “minimum viable product.” She didn’t stress out over elevator pitches or creating a business plan. Instead, she found her customer and connected them with what they wanted. It didn’t hurt that she has a talent for finding the right shirt or dress to sell or, rather, knowing what’s likely to sell or not.
It isn’t until her mom buys her a camera that she takes an interest in photography. The skill she develops with her first camera becomes essential to the building of her business. She uses her photography and fashion styling talents to sell clothing via eBay and, after a lot of hard work, begins to make a decent living.
She doesn’t just put clothing on a hanger and try to sell it as many other eBay sellers did. She finds real models and makes sure the clothes look great. She styles them with shoes and belts and good hair. She lives and breathes NastyGal (a name she adopted from a Betty Davis song) and success comes fast.
Started in 2006, NastyGal earned $100M in revenue in 2013 due to Amoruso’s smarts and deep understanding of her customer base. She knew on which platform to find her customers and how to talk to them when she did. She is—and was—passionate about customer service. Hm. Sounds a little like smart digital marketing. It’s no wonder that HubSpot has her coming to speak at the inbound marketing conference.
Amoruso imparts advice for her readers:
1. Don’t Grow Up
“I have three pieces of advice I want you to remember: Don’t ever grow up. Don’t become a bore. Don’t let The Man get to you. OK? Cool. Then let’s do this.”
Inserts scattered throughout the book contain advice from others. The following comes from Christene Barberich.
2. Stop Caring What Others Think
“My advice to aspiring #GIRLBOSSES: As hard as it is, stop caring so much about what other people think. Find a way to hear what you want. Recognize what is your dream and then put everything you have into that.”
3. Listen to Your Customers
“My customers told me what they wanted , and I always knew that if I listened to them, we’d both do okay.”
“Customer service was my number one priority.”
What I love about digital marketing is that we can listen to our customers pretty easily. We’ve got emails, survey options, comments in blogs, and analytics to tell us what our customers want.
4. Set Realistic Goals
“Nasty Gal would have surely failed had it been my goal to grow a business to the size that I have today.”
This reminds me of novelists who say that they did not set out to be famous. They set out to write a good book. Amoruso mentions several times how hard she worked in the early days and how much care she put into ensuring the customer experience was a good one. She even took care to place labels neatly on the packages, because she wanted every detail as perfect as possible.
5. Know that Every Job is Creative
Amoruso writes that she found creativity in her job at Subway in the way she made the sandwiches, and she says every job at NastyGal is a creative one–or at least has the potential to be creative.
6. Test and Iterate
“When you begin with the finish line in mind, you miss all the fun stuff along the way.The better approach is to tweak & grow.”
This is spoken like a growth hacker, who aims to gain customers for zero dollars. NastyGal did not spend money on advertising in the early days. Audience growth happened through social media and was all handled by Amoruso while also buying clothes, photographing the clothes, and preparing packages to ship, and answering any customer questions.
“If it sold, we learned. If it didn’t, we learned. And we kept on learning.”
“There are secret opportunities hidden inside every failure.”
She points out that she quickly learned what sold and what didn’t. I don’t recall if it was in the book or in an interview with her, but she even had data on which models sold which dresses better. They took note and made changes as needed to sell more.
7. Have Confidence
“When you believe in yourself, other people will believe in you too.”
Amoruso points out that she’s an introvert. It sounds like she has a touch of imposter syndrome, too, as she points out times when she felt like she was over her head or felt uncomfortable in situations with powerful people. I found this a refreshing confession since many business books don’t share the insecurities and uncertainties of the author. What’s important is that she didn’t let that fear stop her.
I’ll end with her words.
“I STOPPED FEELING LIKE I DIDN’T BELONG ANYWHERE, AND REALIZED THAT I ACTUALLY BELONGED ANYWHERE I WANTED TO BE.”