Sarah Curran launched my-wardrobe.com, a fashion website providing 'everyday luxury', in 2006. The aim was to be more upmarket than Asos but more affordable than Net-a-Porter.
Originally an offshoot of Powder, a fashion boutique she owned in Crouch End, mywardrobe.com quickly outgrew the boutique and Curran invested everything – including money raised through the sale of her house – into the business.
Speaking at last night's launch of MT's 35 Women Under 35 2013, held at the HQ of one of Britain's leading ad agencies, Karmarama, Sarah Curran explains lessons she's learned along the way.
Surround yourself with the best of the best
One of the many things I've learned from building a brand from scratch is that it's so important to surround yourself with the best people possible. Sometimes there's a natural tendency not to employ someone who's better than you because ego can get in the way. I went through that numerous times. But if you employ people better than yourself, then the business as a whole will be more successful. It's our duty to help women succeed because that's the only way we'll break the mould and any stereotypes directed at women.
Get the culture right
Create a culture where people want to work and which is going to inspire them. The passion comes from the top. If you're really passionate, that will be passed on to your team and will trickle down to the end user and your customers, which is crucial. Culture can be really underestimated by business owners.
I was advised by my mentor to consider CEO coaching, as I was concerned I wouldn't fit the mould of a 'traditional' CEO. After my first session I was so inspired and it really made me think about how I could run my business. Your restrictions are only bound around the limitations you place on yourself. For me, coaching was a key part of really understanding my team and getting the best from them. I also realised that empowering and bringing the best people on to the team did not mean that I was going to be irrelevant or redundant.
Be passionate about what you do
I'm lucky because I'm in fashion, which is a pretty exciting industry to be working in. But what sector you're in is irrelevant, as long as you love what you do. You spend so much of your life working and it it's all-consuming – especially if you're growing your own business. So if you love what you do, it won't feel like work. You won't resent it and you'll enjoy and learn from it.
Reflect on your achievements
When I was recognised by MT's 35 Women Under 35 in 2008, I didn't stop to reflect on what it was that I really had achieved. It was all about having my head down and carrying on. You have so many goals and targets, and the sad thing is I missed so many great moments because I was so busy looking at the next thing I had to do. Stop and reflect on the journey you've just climbed. It's likely you'll soon face another mountain, but looking back and seeing the great heights you've achieved will help you to scale the next challenge.
Surround yourself with optimists
When I was starting my-wardrobe, I was so passionate about what I wanted to achieve that I wouldn't even talk to people who were pessimistic. If anyone started questioning why I was doing something, I would cut the conversation. I didn't want to entertain any thoughts that it might not work. Do something that scares you every day, because that way you'll get over your fears and grow. Selling your house and putting everything into the business is the scariest thing. The knowledge that I was putting my family's stability on the line was absolutely terrifying. But what a great motivator to get up and go to work each morning.
- Sarah Curran was a speaker at MT's inaugural Inspiring Women in Business conference. The next conference, with keynote speaker easyJet CEO Carolyn McCall, will take place in November. Find out more here.