There’s trendy and then there’s trendsetting. Entrepreneur Benish Shah knows about enduring fashion. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Vicaire NY, an e-commerce platform that curates the best of new and emerging fashion designers. While scaling quickly might look good today, growing too quickly might mean a company is gone tomorrow. For this reason, Shah turned down early funding offers so that she could dress her startup for long-term success.
Shah recently strutted VicaireNY’s stuff down the KillerStartups catwalk. Here’s what she had to tell us about her soon to launch company and its efforts to disrupt the fashion industry.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
We wanted it to be simple and stand for exactly what we do. Since we curate emerging fashion, we thought, “Why don’t we just say that?” Vicaire means “to curate” in French, and the “NY” is there because we really believe in bringing production and fashion companies back to New York City.
What’s the very first thing you do at work everyday?
Drink coffee and check email. I can’t start my day without Dunkin’ Donuts (I’m a huge supporter of small businesses, and DD is franchised to small business owners).
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
We started off as two and now we have a team of 5. All of our team members have worked with me before on other startups, so it’s exciting to have different facets of my life come together.
Remember the early days starting up? Maybe you can share one anecdote that describes the struggle you went through?
I think we still struggle! Our biggest struggle was deciding to hold off on our launch and saying no to investors. It’s a hard thing to say, “I know that this money would help me scale asap, but we have to be smart and the company needs to be ready to accept it.” It gave us the chance to do our launch our way – and it was the best decision we’ve made.
How do you handle frustration? When/how was the last time you dealt with frustration?
Entrepreneurs deal with frustration every day! I wake up and assume that something will go wrong, so I can be in problem-solving mode from the get go. I have a great team, so I can walk into a meeting and say, “I’m frustrated about this particular problem. I don’t want to complain about it, so let’s figure out a solution.” As long as we’re looking for solutions, we’re in a good place.
What’s your office environment like? Is it the kind of place where everyone is bumpin’ away to house music or is it more traditional?
I think my team members would quit if we told them there is no music allowed. It’s always interesting though, because we all have such distinct musical tastes. From house, to hip hop, to Latin and Bollywood even – it’s always a fun time.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
We want to change the way the fashion industry looks at buying, selling, and the “seasonal” cycles. So in 5 years, we want to have an event space geared toward emerging designers, classes for up-and-coming fashion designers, and have grown to the place that luxury retailers will look to us to see who the next “it” designer will be. It’s an exciting goal to have.
Who or what inspires YOU?
I think Marilyn Monroe is an inspiration on the fashion front – she was all about allowing the world to be infatuated by her, making her an icon despite her flaws. I think that’s an amazing way to be – and it can be applied to a startup as well!
Aside from that, other entrepreneurs inspire me. One of my first startups was a law firm (still exists! Sardar Law Firm LLC) and we worked closely with startups; it is amazing the hustle everyone has, the passion – and the way they are hell bent on changing the world. That’s how everyone should live. Waking up and knowing that if they want it bad enough, the can change the status quo.
How’d you fund this venture?
We have angel funding and self funding. Like I said, I have a legal background, and having been in the institutional funding world before, we decided as a team to hold off on getting money from other sources until we decided it was the right time. I’m all about bootstrapping like a pro.
My first startup (the law firm) was started with a few hundred dollars. I taught myself how to build websites, logos, and do web marketing – because we just didn’t have initial funds at the time. I apply the same thing to Vicaire. If it’s a skill we can learn as a team, we learn it. From photography to web development. I think it makes us stronger for when we are ready to start accepting institutional funding – because investors can rest assured that we’re smart about the way we spend it.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
If you can learn the skill yourself, DO IT. There are no “ifs” and “buts” about that. It may take a bit longer than you want, but if you can find a friend who understands that skill and is willing to help teach it, even better!
What would you be doing if you had one year off and $500,000 to spend (and you couldn’t spend it on your current startup / projects)?
I would create ways to help entrepreneurs pay off crushing college / grad school debts. It holds a lot of people back from pursuing their dreams and I don’t think the system is set up to help anyone but the lenders.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur right now? If not, what’s it gonna take to make you feel successful?
I’ve had successes as an entrepreneur, but I would consider myself successful if I could change the way an entire industry looks at itself. That would be a milestone.
Website you couldn’t live without and why?
- Mashable – keeps me up to date about startups
- Crunchbase – good tool to understand the market.
- Inc.com – great resource for stories and inspiration.
- Corporatecounselny.wordpress.com – all I need to know about the legal end of startups.
- TheOatmeal.com – because everyone needs to laugh.
Mobile App you’re in love with and why?
Flipboard. I mean, they are simply amazing and I can customize the news I want!
Dogs or cats?
Dogs. My brother has a half pit and half lab mix. It’s just the most amazing dog in the world.
iOS or Android?
What type of people should you look for in a team?
I like to work with people with completely different skill sets from my own that support my ideas, but are close enough to me that they can keep my ideas grounded in reality. You should always look for people who will make you fight for the ideas you love, and won’t always just go along with you. It makes your startup exponentially better!
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website/idea?
That it helps two different audiences: (1) the emerging designers that don’t really have a platform and have a high barrier to entry, and (2) the middle-market customer that no longer wants to shop at cookie cutter stores, but also can’t have the aspirational looks at Barneys and Net a Porter. It’s beneficial for everyone!
Where can our readers get a hold of you?
Twitter is great: @benishshah
Any other projects you’re working on that we should check out?
Other projects. I’m helping Neem Magazine relaunch into a purely digital style blog. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a side project right now. I like being able to find niche ideas to work with and then make them more mainstream.
Courtesy of startup founder | VicaireNY.com