Don't Lose The Direct Connection With Your Customers!
And more advice from Katie Hunt, Co-Founder and Chief Innovations Officer of SHOWFIELDS, The Most Interesting Store in The World! She began her career as the third employee of Warby Parker, served as Chief Brand Officer for Hinge, where she led the charge for the creation of their new product, their relaunch, and their rebrand. Katie worked extensively with startups in branding, product development, marketing, operations, and fundraising. Additionally, Katie is the Co-Founder of The Fund, which is a VC fund made up of a community of founders and operators that invests and mentors early-stage companies in NYC, LA, London, The Rockies, The Midwest, and Australia.
Exceptional times/Exceptional agility
I was very impressed with what came out of the team from that moment right after closing the store on March 15, 2020. It challenged everybody to find a different pathway and a way forward. We were able to offer live video shopping two weeks later. We didn't have e-commerce before that and definitely not live video shopping. We had looked to introducing that feature but at a later time. We had to take the prior roadmap and prioritize it, knowing that we closed and didn't know for how long. We were able to re-open in July 2020 with a piece of technology called the Magic Wand. The Magic Wand allowed people to shop completely contactless and add to their cart, not connecting with our storytellers unless they wanted to. They could learn about products, get their questions answered and do the entire check-out process on their phone. It was very popular and allowed people to feel safe in the store. Because of that piece of technology we developed, we were able to open our second location in Miami in December of 2020.
1.Early-stage startups do not operate like fully structured companies!
I learned my first and most significant lesson at Warby Parker. I was their third employee, and I was totally at the bottom of the totem pole. It was my first job. I had no idea what I was doing and what to expect. I just happened to be in a position where I was mentored by an incredible team: real innovators and thought leaders. Before I started the job, I expected to show up every day, and my manager would give me a to-do list. I would get through those items and be told that I was good at my job. I realized, especially in the startup world, that there never is an actual to-do list. It is about understanding your manager's expectations, the people around you, what they expect you to accomplish, and finding a way to do those things using the available resources. It is not on you to know exactly how to do something, but on you to see where you need to get to and be creative in finding a way forward.
2.Even as your company grows, don't move away from connecting with customers!
Working in customer experience, especially in a startup, is one of the best ways to learn about a company inside and out. From the moment of the order to fulfillment, you can see what could go wrong and what could go right. You are able then to work across multiple departments to disseminate that information. It was a great learning experience. I was in that team for a year, and then I moved into social media and marketing. I was still using what I learned about customers. I believe that founders should interact directly with customers. Dave and Neil, two of the Co-Founders of Warby Parker, have customer service hours every month. They are over ten years into the company, and they are still answering phone calls. That is the best way to understand where they are and what they need to work on. It keeps everyone around them grounded as well.
3.Nothing will go as planned!
Do not get attached to what you perceive the outcome of things to be before they happen. Every founder has these lofty dreams of what their company will look like in five years, ten years, twenty years. You are creating that environment at that moment using the data around you at that given time. That data that is around you is going to change. If you are not constantly checking in what reality, where you should be, what your customers are saying, what is right with your product, what is wrong with your product, and you focus on that end outcome that you dreamed of becoming, you will NEVER make it. Your job as a founder is to be flexible, to be passionate but to take everything in and say, "I was wrong, let's go this way." If you can do that, then you can take the hit because they keep coming. Showfields is a very prime example of that. If we had decided that we were physical retail and to be closed for Covid, thinking it would be fine, and we would figure it out on the other side, we probably would have lost the company. I was lucky that I had people around me who said, "great, what are we doing now." Instead of "oh no, poor us." If you have the mindset that this is fun and this is a challenge and that I am going to use the people around me as a way to learn, you are going to get a lot further than if you dig your heels into one thing.
4.Opportunity in the changing retail landscape.
I think there will be many people, especially post-pandemic, who will lean into the flexible real estate movement. I don't think a lot of people are going to want to sign long-term leases. What I think we are going to have happen is that landlords, property owners, and different real estate companies will lean into this idea of more flexible terms. A lot of brands per space rather than one brand taking 14,000 square feet. We were the first ones to mix retail and art and create this completely different consumer experience. That is one of our strongholds now. We have worked with over 450 brands and thousands of artists. We can place these brands in these locations that already have established foot traffic and we can pair brands with artists to distribute products.
5.Don't be afraid to ask for help!
Ask for help. Talk to your friends when you are stressed out, and your mental health doesn't feel great. Suppose you feel like you don't know how to solve something. Ask the people you look up to, your mentors, and random people on LinkedIn. You would be surprised that people respond. Everybody wants to help other people. Don't get disheartened if people don't write back right away, but definitely reach out and ask for help!