Anna established Girl Meets Dress in 2009, allowing people their ‘Cinderella’ moments by renting designer dresses. Now in more than 30 countries, she tells us how she’s been a pioneer…
What is it the company does?
Girl Meets Dress provides millions of women the ability to rent designer dresses and accessories for a fraction of the retail price. In reality, we help create everyday “Cinderella moments", be it an 18-year-old wearing her dream Alexander McQueen dress to a prom, or an executive that wants to wear a dress from the latest Lanvin collection.
When Girl Meets Dress launched back in 2009, the recession mindset dominated. It meant that "cost per use" was a huge driver, as being smart with money and where to spend it was highly regarded. But it was also clear that people realised that experience and time are the most precious commodities we have, and that consequently ownership is becoming more irrelevant than ever before.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
The Girl Meets Dress story began in 2009 when I was working as head of UK PR for the French luxury brand Hermes – and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists. I thought it would be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar. When my co-founder and I looked into the market, we saw that no one was doing it.
Eight years later and Girl Meets Dress has achieved huge traction from celebrities and customers across the UK and Europe. The majority of all transactions are outside of London, enabling customers in all parts of the country to have global designers delivered to their doorstep. Customers can rent over 4,000 dresses from over 150 designers from more than 30 countries.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
Perseverance and hard work are the most essential skills, but being a leader also requires being organised, patient and motivated.
What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?
We were the first online hire company in the world, so we didn’t know what to expect. Entering an unknown market meant we had no direct comparisons or references for our business. With rental, designer labels get to be introduced to potential customers on a regular basis. That is a huge marketing opportunity for designers trying to reach new customers and the next generation on a mass scale. Instead of picking holes in the sharing economy we should continue to embrace it.
Having a useful online tool would have been incredibly beneficial, which is why I am so excited to be part of the Plusnet Pioneers campaign. An exciting partnership between business broadband and phone provider Plusnet and startups.co.uk, the campaing aims to provide small businesses with advice and resources in key challenge areas – funding, marketing and talent.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
I am pretty good at managing pressure, but I find list making particularly helpful in organising my thoughts and visualising priorities. Having a good team has also been vital in helping me remain relatively stress-free. The wonderful thing about e-commerce is having an exciting variety of team members with extremely different skills and backgrounds, all working together each day to make our customers happy.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
During A-levels and throughout university I wanted to be the editor of Vogue. Once I started working in the fashion industry I had so many ideas for companies, so I knew it was just a matter of time before I started my own business.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
We have a ban on all ‘Friday’ ‘Friyay’ social media posts. I believe strongly that everybody should strive to find a job/career that they are passionate about, and motivated to execute. I hate the idea that so many girls out there are willing the week, and the majority of their working lives away, when they could be creating value in a role that they are excited about.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
We are executing strongly not just in our local UK market, but also now abroad into Europe and that means doubling down on enhancing the customer experience, product line-up, and the operational efficiency of our service. This is the first time designer rental has been made accessible in Europe and the expansion will enable these customers to have access to global designer brands.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Don't over-think it. There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk your salary or take a chance on an idea which might not work, but what's the worst that can happen? You'll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea.
Although not 100 per cent necessary, I recommend choosing an area that you know something about. There are exciting ways to pioneer every market, whichever field your experience lies in. Of course, you can always learn about a new area, but will you be able to compete with people who have years of knowledge and expertise?
Finding a co-founder with different skill sets to you is a brilliant way to launch without needing to hire a full team on day one. If you can split the main areas of the business between you, then you can launch with minimal cost and test the product at market – which is the first step to seeing if there is demand.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
One piece of advice I would give to people starting out is that success is less about the idea and more about the execution. Don’t wait until you have a great idea or have refined all the plans, just get something up and start iterating.
It is also important to make sure you understand your own business model. It’s not something one should deligate to someone else. Understanding money-in, money-out, is critical to business success and ignorance is not bliss.
The Plusnet Pioneers funding event would have been particularly beneficial to me in my early stages, which is another reason why I’m so excited to be a Plusnet Pioneer. This exciting programme of events, content and mentoring provides small businesses with invaluable advice that can help them get off to a great start.
For further information on Plusnet Pioneers, please visit www.plus.net/business/plusnet-pioneers.