With no MBA or college degree, 29-year-old Nasty Gal CEO Sophia Amoruso has built up a $24 million business and one of the most recognisable online fashion retail platforms in the world. In a recent post on Forbes, Index Ventures partner Danny Rimmer recalls his first conversation with the founder, where he came to learn about the company’s impressive growth ($28m in revenue in 2011, up from $10 million in 2010), all garnered before long VC support without outside financing or marketing. In order to follow up on Nasty Gal’s success and vision, we caught up with founder Sophia Amoruso…
VV: You founded Nasty Gal six years ago as an eBay vintage stand. Now you’re a multi-million dollar business backed by Index Ventures. What factors have been key to your success?
SA: Lots of factors have come together. Clearly having awesome customers who have been loving what we do was critical. Not taking no for an answer helps. And whenever something came up, either learning how to resolve the problem or getting help from other people with the right experience.
VV: You are well-known for your engaging Twitter feed, where you’ve attracted well over 50,000 followers. What do you consider key elements for building an active community and audience, on Twitter and other social networks?
SA: Being genuine. Having a real conversation and just sharing stuff we think is cool. Our gals are very savvy and don’t want to be “marketed to”. A conversation also needs to be a two-way affair.
VV: When I met Mike Volpi from Index a few months back, he called you “the perfect example of an entrepreneur”. What do you think of that?
SA: Thanks! I’ve never really thought too much about it; I’ve just focused on making the website better and better and continuing to find and sell great outfits as we have grown. And just been keeping up with the growth of the business. There is so much more I want to be doing before patting myself on the back!
VV: You have over 150,000 customers in more than 50 countries. What have you noticed regarding the differences across borders, in the ways people shop and build their wardrobes?
SA: The most striking thing is actually how much in common our customers have around the world. They know the latest trends, but want to interpret them their own way. If they want to wear denim cut-offs they will fit an outfit around them regardless of local weather or styles for example.
VV: Many apps have emerged in the last year to assist fashionistas (Pose, Snapette, Svpply…). In which direction to you think the online fashion world is heading?
SA: Fashion has always been about making personal statements, self-expression, feeling good and of course looking good. For yourself or to influence those around you, as a taste-maker or a trend-follower. Online apps and tools are helping fashionistas to do so more broadly, more globally.
VV: When you started your business, you were 23. Was there some special about that year that made you just do it?
SA: I was always into vintage clothing, and at the time was getting a lot of requests on MySpace from eBay sellers (yes… MySpace back then…). So I saw what vintage was selling on eBay, and I thought I could do a better job of it, so just bought a book about selling on eBay and got started!
VV: Who has been critical in building up Nasty Gal, in your life professionally and personally?
SA: Everyone! Really! The first employee(s) are still with us today.
VV: You started off as a secretary, correct? What about your background enabled you to do what you’re currently doing?
SA: I did a ton of jobs, although I was never a waitress! I was always very good at getting jobs, although keeping them was a different story. The most relevant experience I had was probably my training as a photographer and working as a stylist.
VV: What makes Nasty Gal stand out form other online retail shops? Who exactly are you addressing, and what’s the mission?
SA: Our customers are creative, fashion-forward, adventurous, body-confident and unique. We want to provide them with the destination where they can be inspired, get new ideas and trends, share their ideas and of course find great items of clothing which fit effortlessly into their closet. Unlike most other online shops, we don’t want to be everything to everybody. We have a point of view.
VV: You started the business in San Francisco, but moved to LA a little over a year ago. What was that like?
SA: It was the smartest move for the business to grow and LA has been seeing some great art and culture recently. This last year has been pretty crazy but I will always stay inspired by my surroundings.