Paving the Road to Gilt – Lessons From the Gilt Groupe Founders

Last Thursday I went to a panel / book signing for the new book, “By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop” by Gilt Groupe founders Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. The event was hosted by 85 Broads and moderated by Diane Brady of Bloomberg Businessweek. Diane was great at getting beyond the superficial and while I haven’t read the book yet…from a quick perusal I can tell it does the same.

The authors set out a fantastic road map of how to start a business with useful insets around key topics — partnering, a checklist for growing a network, how to evaluate risk  — all wrapped up with an engaging narrative that tells a story of friendship and the real highs and lows of creating Gilt Groupe.  Both Alexandra and Alexis were forthcoming, accessible, honest and had a fun rapport with the audience.

The book is also an inspiring push for women considering starting their own business. In 2007 when they started Gilt Groupe it was before fashion had figured out e-commerce. The company is now valued at $1 billion. As Janet Hanson from 85 Broads pointed out, they really set the stage for the women entrepreneurs today.

Both Alexis and Alexandra spoke of wanting to do whatever they can to get more women over the hurdle and starting–up. Here is some of the highlights from their talk – tips on leadership, b-school and team building that is relevant no matter what your career course!  You can check out the book on their blog, Gilt Founders.

On going to business school…

The moderator asked whether business school provided the power and confidence to start Gilt Groupe? I often get women asking for the “real deal” on the value of business school? Both authors had an interesting perspective:

“I used business school as a path to become a career switcher from finance into retail and luxury markets. It was amazing. It was really fun. I built great relationships and friendships. I wish I had taken more entrepreneur classes as I focused more on marketing and fashion. It’s a great resource. “ – Alexandra


“It’s not right for everyone. Focus on what you want to do whether it is to facilitate a career shift, to build relationships, to focus on new area for your current career. Know what you want to get out of it because it can fly by. It’s a good place to incubate an idea.”  – Alexis

On the leadership power of sports…

Diane also asked about the influence of family and their youth. Alexis spoke about the role sports played in helping her grow as a leader.  I do think sports are such a great building block for learning relationships and team skills and so accessible. You don’t have to be on the varsity team, there are a lot of options.

“Sports defined me. You fall on your face and make mistakes and get right back up and keep going. I became captain so I learned a lot about leadership roles…the standards you have to set, how your behavior sets the behavior for the team. You have to perform in front of a team and [can’t just give up].

On competition…

Look at competition as a sign you have a good idea. Don’t let it sidetrack you …but do prepare for it.

“We saw signs early on there would be competition. We focused on building competitive barriers. For us scale was the best barrier. Plus first mover advantages worked for us. ‘ – Alexandra

On partnership/building a team…

They hired an executive coach early on to help them learn about building a team. A few pointers:

  • Build in a means to have open communications. Talk about tough issues early on because they will only grow in scope and scale as you grow.
  • They pointed out that people have a tendency to hire people just like themselves. Be aware of this and hire a team with complementary skill sets and intelligence types.

On networking…

You never know who will be the key to opening up a door for you. For Alexandra, it was her dentist.

They suggest making a list of 100 people who you aspire to meet. Make it big. Just putting the list out there will focus you and help make connections happen when the opportunity is right.



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