In the age of the internet, if you are not a tech billionaire by 23 something clearly went catastrophically wrong. This notion remains in part responsible for the mid-life crisis hitting at 30, not 40, but it also gives rise to ambition and innovation. It doesn’t discriminate. A good idea executed well becomes a parachute for success. Anyone can build one, and one woman who did was Lana Hopkins. She may not be 23 and she may not be a billionaire, but she is the founder of Mon Purse, a multimillion dollar luxury handbag company re-imagined through the customisation process.
Hopkins’ “ah-ha” moment didn’t arrive while working in print and digital ad sales at News Limited, but instead when building a bear for her nephew at Westfield. After enduring an unsuccessful search for a handbag, she decided to buy her nephew a gift and found herself at a Build-a-Bear workshop creating her own plush toy. “That’s when I realised those two activities were not mutually exclusive,” Hopkins recounts. Why search for the perfect handbag when her perfect handbag was completely different to the woman beside her? Why not create her own? Research followed, along with a trip to a Turkish factory, some self-directed coding and MonPurse was born.
Hopkins and her team had turned over more than $1 million in the three months from December 2015. The brand had opened its first Myer “concierge” service in October that year, before international expansion hit them far faster than ever imagined. There were in-store “bag building” services at Selfridges and Bloomingdales, collaborations with InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown, and a $20 million turnover within three years. “I couldn’t have written a better script if I tried,” Hopkins told SmartCompany in 2016.
Now, two years on, Hopkins is writing herself a new script after stepping down as CEO of “her baby” for a new venture. While she remains tight lipped about the next chapter, she has learned her fair share of lessons through the wild ride of founding a company. As female founded companies receive less than two per cent of venture capital dollars globally, despite generating more revenue when they do, Hopkins wants to pass on something invaluable to aspiring female founders – her hard-earned advice. For good ideas are easy to come by. Executing them is the hard part. Here are Hopkins’ key pieces of advice for those who have had their “ah-ha” moment, but don’t know what to do with it.
Stand For Something Larger Than Your Product
“If cult startups have any advantage, it’s a human quality. Soul is key,” says Hopkins. “Consumers want to buy from brands where they can see their own reflections. If you have no soul, they won’t see theirs in your company. Millennials shop differently, and align their wallets with their values. You have to stand for something now.” Hopkins believes your strategy also needs to be as firm as your purpose, with the two creating a solid foundation for any company. “Be clear about the problem you are solving, know your venture’s purpose and stay true to that. This will allow you to build a team of people who are genuinely aligned with the core purpose. Remember the beginning defines the end.”
Don’t Allow Anyone To Dilute Your Vision
“Your mission, values and vision are not going to suit everyone and that’s OK,” says Hopkins. “Don’t hire blindly. It’s crucial to vet your stakeholders as meticulously as they vet you and your company. This process allows you to establish the right team for your startup, agree on and set clear goals, then ensure all stakeholders are accountable for their key areas of responsibility. But it doesn’t stop with key stakeholders. It extends to every team member in your business. We consistently attracted talented, like-minded people at Mon Purse and were fortunate to have some of the most supportive and intelligent shareholders, some of whom I am fortunate to call friends. Yet in hindsight, I would have ensured the due diligence was extended more broadly, and clear operational and financial metrics were set in place to ensure the purpose I believed in was executed. Sometimes, even if you have a clear purpose, stakeholders can drive it in a different direction if their motives are different. It is imperative to do your due diligence and check the previous history of all stakeholders (both executive and non-executive). Also gain an understanding of their goals and vision to ensure you share the same north star. Further to that, seek sound legal advice when executing any legal agreements – the investment is well worth it.
Personality (And Its Distribution) Matters
“Just like a product remains meaningless without purpose, distribution remains ineffective without personality,” says Hopkins. “Distribution in the age of the internet doesn’t mean just a sales channel. It includes every experience that will help the product spread; Instagrammable packaging, a loyal community creating peer-to-peer referrals, dialogue-inspiring content, a beautifully photographable gallery, and a strong feedback loop. Customers must be at the heart of any business – talk to them as you do friends. Innovation is also key. In order to stay relevant, you always need to think of your ‘second hack’ while you build the first.”
Diversify Your Board, And All Parts Of The Business
“Particularly for a female-focused millennial brand, it’s crucial to ensure you have a non-homogeneous board,” says Hopkins, whose philosophy aligns with numerous studies showing diverse companies are more profitable than those without diverse teams. “You can’t just have middle-aged, white men running a company geared towards young women. There needs to be a wide range of ages, ethnicities and genders to create diversity of thought, but there also needs to be diversity in skillsets. That’s how you tend to get the best outcome. Board directors need to offer something other than money. The objective of the board is to support the chief executive and executive team, but it’s also about bringing a variety of skillsets to the table which are firmly aligned with the company strategy. All board members need to add value to the success of the business.”
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