Fake it ‘til You Make it

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There are times when I know, “I’ve got this.” After years spent researching, interviewing and writing, I’m keenly aware of what I can do. Yet there are plenty of situations when I feel like I’m scrambling to learn and hoping my insecurities won’t be revealed. I’ll admit it — there are times I’m making it up as I go.

Still, every now and then I’m reminded that in some way or another, we’re all making it up as we go. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

In late February I attended the launch of Co—, a new digital platform created by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce aimed at helping growth-minded business owners solve problems and advance their business. The event featured an eye-opening chat with Katia Beauchamp, co-founder and CEO of Birchbox, and Sarah LaFleur, co-founder and CEO of MM.LaFleur.

While I look at these two accomplished retail executives and marvel at their fortitude and business acumen, the conversation exposed the gritty underside of being an entrepreneur, starting with the long nights spent sitting alone at the kitchen table wondering how to navigate a seemingly endless list of pain points — and sometimes making it up as they went along.

Today MM.LaFleur has established itself as the resource that “takes the work out of dressing for work.” The direct-to-consumer company operates nine showrooms and several pop-ups while continuously connecting with consumers through its mail-order “bento box” packed with potential outfits. LaFleur shared how incredibly hard it was to grow the business in the early years: Initially the company’s dresses sold well in person, but online was a struggle. “Our clothes say, ‘Listen to me, not look at me,’” she said. “There was a moment early on where we thought we’d die under a mountain of inventory.”

LaFleur recalled working as an SAT tutor for more than two years to earn money, and dark days when she struggled to get past the psychological games she was playing in her head.

Beauchamp has succeeded in creating a company that people love — the brand currently has more than 1 million subscribers and 2.5 million active customers, and recently partnered with Walgreens to bring Birchbox beauty shops to selected stores. Yet she said entrepreneurship is “intoxicating, but awful. Day after day you’re called upon to surmount things that feel insurmountable. Then at some point you look back and realize you’re getting better at it. Inventing something new is an exceptional mission and, if you acknowledge that, you realize it should be exceptionally hard.”

Like LaFleur, Beauchamp admitted to dark days but insists it comes down to the “mental game of believing you can invent reality. Being ‘good’ when you’re growing a new business is not that impressive. Being better because of your dark days is what transforms you.”

Both women shrugged off the idea that an aspiring entrepreneur needs to have specific training or knowledge. LaFleur urged asking questions and challenging assumptions — she turned a lack of experience in the fashion world prior to founding MM.LaFleur into a plus — and Beauchamp agreed. “Not being an insider gave me permission to ask questions,” she said. “Weaponize your naivete.”

Whether an entrepreneur or not, no one has all the answers. Sometimes we make it up as we go, and eventually it gets better.

Susan Reda,
Editor, STORES Media
redas@nrf.com

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