This week Series W spoke to Uyen Tang, the founder of STYLECABLE, a curated online boutique that gives independent fashion designers a platform to share their story and connect with fans and customers.
How did you develop the idea for STYLECABLE?
My inspiration for STYLECABLE came from my travels as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department. Whether it was a dress that I brought back from Singapore or a hand-crafted piece of jewelry from Tajikistan, friends would always ask, “Where did you find that?” I loved sharing the story of the piece and its designer with my friends and turned the idea into an opportunity to connect fashion-forward consumers with unique pieces and designers.
How did you make the decision to take the plunge and start your own company?
Before I quit my job in strategy consulting, I researched the market and also conducted interviews and surveys with industry experts and target customers to thoroughly vet the idea. I also participated in a program called the Founder Institute which gave me structure to build the company, validation from tech entrepreneurs, and confidence to move forward. I finally made the leap when I had put together the pilot program.
How did you fund the business? What do you spend most of your funds on? Knowing what you know now about how to raise and spend funds, what would you have done differently?
STYLECABLE has been completely bootstrapped and we’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible. The bulk of our budget is spent on marketing. Looking back there are so many things that we would have done differently in terms of spending! One of the main things is that we had developed a fully custom site when we first launched STYLECABLE which was really expensive. In retrospect, we could have used an out-of-the-box solution like Shopify for our backend, customized the front end, and added in additional features and applications as needed. It’s a trial and error process though. The key is to not make the same mistake twice. If you’re spending money on a particular service, product or campaign and it doesn’t work, cut your losses and move on. Test everything and use the concrete data and results to drive your decisions. Try not to make decisions based on hope or faith or thinking: “Oh but maybe this time it’ll be different….”
What has been your greatest WFIO (we’re f*****, it’s over) moment so far?
I’ve never had a moment where I’ve truly thought that it was over. Perseverance and the ability to approach every problem that comes your way as a challenge to overcome is key to success. You just have to solve one problem at a time. Having said that, there have been a lot of tough OMG, WTF! moments- sometimes, even tears and “I can’t get out of bed today” moments. One of our earliest setbacks that hurt the most was when we lost one of our pilot vendors before we even launched. When you put your heart and soul into building something, and someone tells you it’s not good enough, it’s hard not to take it personally. Now when a situation like that happens, I try to separate it from my personal feelings of self worth, learn from it, and move on.
What has been the most exciting moment so far?
I delight in every win, big or small. I still get really excited about every sale, every press mention that we get. The most exciting though was when we got our very first sale from someone who was not a friend or a friend of a friend. It’s an awesome feeling when someone finds value in your product or service! I was also really excited when we were selected by the Washington, D.C. government to represent fashion in their Creative Economy campaign. It helped to validate STYLECABLE and the broader impact we were making in city. Additionally we got a chance to see President Obama when he visited our co-working space that we were working out of. That was pretty cool and a nice perk of working in D.C.
What resources have been most helpful to you in starting up?
Entrepreneurship can be a really lonely journey, so I’ve really appreciated the support I’ve received from my network of professional and personal contacts. Whether it’s helping to spread the word about STYLECABLE, making a connection, or questioning the business model, the people around have pushed me to where I am today.
I also joined groups such as the 1776 tech coworking space in DC, which opened up my network and tremendous opportunities. I am also a member of HerCorner, a community of female entrepreneurs which has been a fantastic professional development and support network. I would highly recommend that entrepreneurs join mastermind groups, co-working spaces, and professional organizations to learn from others and expand your resources.
Tell us about how you’ve learned about your customer base?
We’re always trying to learn about our customer base. Some of our tactics include using ads to set up A/B tests to determine characteristics about our target audience, sending out customer surveys, evaluating our NPS score, or interviewing our customers. We also rely a lot on Google analytics to understand who our customers are and the users behavior on the site.
What is your favorite STYLECABLE piece? Favorite piece to give to others?
My favorite STYLECABLE piece is actually one that’s not for sale. One of the very first designers we signed onto the site, Sarah McLaughlin, designed a beautiful sterling silver necklace with a deconstructed STYLECABLE logo. I wear it nearly everyday.
I love gifting friends STYLECABLE products and I typically choose something based on their personality and style. I like choosing meaningful gifts. We have a number of designers who use eco-friendly materials like organic cotton or recycled metals. We also have designers who donate a portion of the proceeds to a good cause like Twice As Warm which donates a piece of winter clothing to someone in need for each product purchased.
If you could give an aspiring entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t go into this thinking, OK I’m going to build this company and then flip it in a couple years. Entrepreneurship is a long, tough, journey and you need to consider: Is this what I want to do for the next 10 -20 years or potentially for the rest of my life? Am I going to be able to muster up the personal passion to continuously build my business? If not, or if I have to hop off this train, am I going to be able to get the experience and skills necessary to take my career to the next level?
Check out STYLECABLE with a special founder’s discount!
Use code HARVARD at checkout for an additional 30% off your order.