At the Forbes Under 30 Summit last week
All photos via STYLE, SHE WROTE. Instagram
I must say that it's been an amazing week, STYLE, SHE WROTE. readers! In addition to receiving a new profile from my editor, having my research published in this ethnic dress encyclopedia, and photographing a look book for Walk On Socks, I had the opportunity to attend the Forbes Under 30 Summit earlier this week. And it was AWESOME.
Held in Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Convention Center from October 19th through 22nd, the Forbes Under 30 Summit brought together 1,500 members of Forbes “30 Under 30” list with business leaders and mentors. The Summit's goal? To foster relationships and partnerships through panel discussions, keynote presentations, and parties. I not only learned a lot from my fellow attendees - who are up-and-coming talents in the fields of finance, tech, fashion and more - but from the Summit's distinguished speakers and panelists.
Although I learned a little something from each speaker, I was most impressed by the Summit's featured fashion entrepreneurs: Hayley Barna of Birchbox, Jenny Fleiss of Rent The Runway, Jodie Snyder of Dannijo, and Sara Blakely of Spanx.
Jodie Snyder, Jenny Fleiss and Hayley Barna with Moira Forbes
All four women generously shared their personal and professional experiences, tips, advice and even embarrassing moments with Summit attendees. (Perhaps that's one reason why they are so successful?! Just thought!) Here are some of the business tips that they shared:
- Build your buzz. Snyder explained that it's important to talk about what makes your business unique, as there are likely many similar businesses with which to compete. Stress this in your press and social media marketing. Snyder recommended creating clever hashtags - #armcandy, anyone? - to build interest, while Barna suggested collaborating with up-and-coming bloggers to generate excitement and distinguish your business.
- Converse with customers. All speakers emphasized the importance of treating customers well. If you care about them, they will care about you! Snyder suggested using social media to interact with customers, while Fleiss recommended gathering customer data from your business website. Not that high-tech just yet? In Spanx's early days, Blakely would sell her products directly to customers and gather their feedback. She then used what she learned to improve her designs. It's important to take what you learn from customers and use it to evolve your business to better serve them.
- Go wherever you need to go to sell your products. All four speakers emphasized the importance of selling products anywhere and everywhere, but Sara Blakely gets extra points for connecting this tip to a great personal story. Shortly after launching Spanx, Blakely managed to get the head buyer of Neiman Marcus on the phone, and offered to fly to Texas for a 10-minute meeting with her. The buyer agreed, and Blakely's 10-minute pitch got Spanx into seven Neiman Marcus stores.
- Never underestimate the power of packaging. It's simple, really: Great packaging helps sell products. For Blakely, this meant using a bright color (instead of the hosiery industry's standard beige) and fun graphics to capture shoppers' attention. Fleiss explained that Rent The Runway's new posh packaging not only encouraged more women to rent from her company, but made them want to take better care of their rentals as well. Not sure where to start? As Blakely wisely advised, "Make the product look like something you would want to buy."
- Remember: Your brand is as important as your product. Think a great product is all you need to build a business empire? Think again! Barna, Fleiss and Snyder all stressed the importance of bringing great content to customers AT. ALL. TIMES. Connect with customers and foster engagement by sharing stories about the people and things that inspire and support your business.
In addition to these professional pointers, I learned a good life lessons from these entrepreneurs as well, including:
- Ask others for help. A wise man once said, "No man is an island." As Snyder noted, we can't be experts at everything, and asking others for help will ultimately help you build a better business. Blakely shared a funny story from her company's early days, when she asked friends go to stores that carried Spanx and pretend that they had been desperately looking for them. It gave her products the impression of being in high-demand even though they had just hit the market - and helped drive sales.
- "Fumble your way through it." This was another gem from Blakley who added, "The mistakes make you memorable!" You may not get something right the first time, but the important thing is to keep going.
- “It’s a marathon, not a sprint!" Barna stressed the importance of having work-life balance, something she neglected to do in the early days of Birchbox. Taking time to stop and smell the roses allows you to re-charge. (I am definitely guilty of doing this - after all, I am writing this post on a Saturday night!)