Rebecca Minkoff is the founder and creative force behind Rebecca Minkoff, which is a fashion brand distributed in 900 stores worldwide. The company is doing more than $100M in revenue. Rebecca Minkoff also established Female Founder Collective, a network of businesses led by women that invests in women.
In this episode you will learn:
- How to hire for loyalty
- Why hard work wins over paper degrees
- The importance of building a startup culture based on what your employees want
- How to take risks and carve your own path
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About Rebecca Minkoff:
An industry leader in accessible luxury handbags, accessories, footwear and apparel, Rebecca Minkoff’s playful and subtly edgy designs can be spotted around the world on young women and celebrities alike.
After developing an affinity for design while in the costume department in high school, Rebecca Minkoff moved to New York City at only 18 years old to pursue her dream of becoming a fashion designer.
In 2001, Rebecca designed a version of the “I Love New York” t-shirt as part of a five-piece capsule collection, which appeared on The Tonight Show and became an overnight sensation.
In 2005, Rebecca designed her first handbag, which she soon dubbed the “Morning After Bag,” a.k.a. the “M.A.B.” This iconic bag ignited Rebecca’s career as a handbag designer and inspired her edgy, feminine creations in the years to come.
Rebecca’s success was further enhanced by the support of her brother and the company’s CEO and co-founder, Uri Minkoff, who helped usher in and pioneer the company’s industry-leading social media efforts.
After four years of designing statement-making handbags and accessories with her trademark leathers, studs and hardware, Rebecca returned to her roots of apparel design and introduced her first ready-to-wear collection in 2009.
Today, Rebecca Minkoff is a global brand with a wide range of apparel, handbags, footwear, jewelry and accessories (including tech) as well as men’s accessories under the label Uri Minkoff.
In the spring of 2017, Rebecca Minkoff Watches was launched, reimagining the category through their decidedly downtown, Rock and Roll aesthetic. Uri Minkoff also introduced its own distinct line of menswear timepieces. The brand has four domestic retail stores, eight international locations, and is distributed in over 900 stores worldwide.
In 2011, Rebecca won industry recognition when she was awarded the Breakthrough Designer Award from the Accessories Council. She is an active member of the CFDA and supports multiple philanthropies including Jessica Seinfeld’s non-profit, Baby Buggy.
In August of 2017, she was announced as a member of the first-ever New York State Council on Women and Girls, in the company of other female industry leaders including Refinery29 founder Christene Barberich, SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan and Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert. Rebecca is dedicated to bringing women together to enact positive change.
In September of 2018, she established the Female Founder Collective, a network of businesses led by women that invests in women’s financial power across the socioeconomic spectrum by enabling and empowering female-owned businesses.
Rebecca is married to actor and director Gavin Bellour and they reside in Brooklyn with their three children.
Connect with Rebecca Minkoff:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone and welcome to the DealMakers show. We have a very, very exciting guest today. We’re going to be learning a lot about fashion and also the fashion industry. So without further ado, Rebecca Minkoff, welcome to the show today.
Rebecca Minkoff: Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.
Alejandro: I see that you studied at FIT, but where were you born and raised, Rebecca?
Rebecca Minkoff: I was born in San Diego. We lived there until I was about nine years old. Then my father decided very randomly that he wanted to take a sabbatical in Florida, and we moved to Clearwater, Florida when I was nine. It was supposed to be for six months. Then he decided that he liked this innocent lifestyle for his children, so sadly it was told to me that we were going to be permanently living there.
Alejandro: So, how was life for you there in Florida after moving?
Rebecca Minkoff: You know, as a parent, I really think it’s an idyllic place, but as a nine-year-old that had a full life ahead of her, for me at the time, it was really, really challenging and pretty terrible to move. So, I actually hated it, and I couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Alejandro: At what point did you start getting close and excited about the fashion industry?
Rebecca Minkoff: Basically, around the age of nine. Around the time we moved, I saw a dress that I loved. I wanted my mom to buy it for me. She was like, “No. Not going to buy it for you, but I’ll teach you how to sew.” She really taught me lots of early skills that got me hooked in a way that I felt really confident that I could make something out of nothing, and began to just get addicted. I enrolled in art classes and design classes at the age of ten. Made my bar mitzvah dress and elected to go to a performing arts high school where I studied that fulltime during my electives. It allowed me to really get a lot of great skills that I probably wouldn’t have learned until college at an early age.
Alejandro: When did you decide that perhaps New York was the place for you to be?
Rebecca Minkoff: When you dream of the fashion industry, and you look across at the places that are the pinnacle of what that is, within the United States, New York City is definitely that. For me, there was really no other option, and I don’t know that I felt brave enough to go to Europe, but I thought, “Let me try New York City. This has got to be the place, and let me see what I can do here.”
Alejandro: At what point did you decide to move to New York, Rebecca?
Rebecca Minkoff: I moved to New York when I was 18. I did not have a job, but I did have a paid internship that my brother had helped arrange. He knew a designer, called him up, and said, “Do you take interns?” He said, “Yeah, and we pay them minimum wage.” It allowed me to make the jump. Moved with two suitcases, nowhere to live, but at this internship I was excited to see what would happen if I got my start in the fashion industry.
Alejandro: Really cool. Then FIT. What was the experience of going to study at FIT?
Rebecca Minkoff: Originally, I had no plans to go to school. My parents are not your normal “You must go to college” type of adults. I started working for this designer. My aunt was basically like, “Over my dead body will you not go to school. You’ll never amount to anything.” After her sort of yelling at me every day for six months, I said, “Okay, fine. I’ll enroll.” I really only enrolled part-time at night, and took a bunch of classes, and felt that I really learned a lot of the things that they were teaching to first-year students I had already learned in high school. So, I was a little bored, and after a semester, I said, “You know what? This isn’t for me. I’m just going to continue on the path that I was on.”
Alejandro: What was that path?
Rebecca Minkoff: The path was to continue to work for this designer. Sort of start dabbling in my line on the side, sewing everything, going down to local East Village boutiques selling those goods, and seeing what would happen.
Alejandro: What did you learn about the art of the sell in fashion?
Rebecca Minkoff: I’ve learned that not all designers are comfortable with selling their own products. They’re too close to it sometimes, and I think it’s hard to be selling something that you created because any feedback can’t be taken in as it would to someone who didn’t think it up, as you know the artist. If you’re going to be both roles, you really have to have thick skin. You really have to develop a filter of when you’re being the seller versus the designer. If you don’t have that kind of thick skin, then you’ve got to hire someone that does because they’re both crucial, but if you get hurt really easily, then it’s definitely not a pleasant experience.
Alejandro: How do you take it. When you’re first selling and people are like giving you feedback, or maybe they dislike it. Who do you need to be, to be effective in being able to get the sell done?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think you have to be someone that doesn’t take no for an answer, and the is really willing to compromise, I think. I think in this day and age with commerce, I think you have to be willing to figure out what works for the other person as well, and it’s not just a one-sided view of things. I think there has to be a lot of collaboration, and just a willingness to listen.
Alejandro: Listening. That’s why we have two ears and one mouth. Let me ask you this. It seems that from 2001 to 2005 where really the company that you founded, it became more formalized, and it was the route to pursue. It seems like during those four-years, probably there was a lot of testing and really understanding and before you really took the leap of faith with both feet. So, what happened during those four years?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think from 2001 to 2005, it was really a homegrown business. I was making most everything myself. I wouldn’t even categorize it as necessarily a proper business. I didn’t have a business bank account. I didn’t have a tax ID. I was really just trying to keep up with the demand and really just being a little shocked within my apartment. In 2005, when I launched the Morning After Bag, and you could see that taking off in a way that was global, we/I had to get really smart about my next steps if I wanted this to turn into something successful. My first call was to my father saying, “Will you help me. I finally have traction, and it’s coming. Not just out of a couple of boutiques in New York, but it’s from all over the world, and people want this bag.” He declined the offer, but he did say, “Call your brother.” That’s when I really got some great business expertise with how to move things forward. He came in as my partner, and we formalized the business. We could actually put organization in under it to make sure that it could actually succeed and was a viable company. We professionalized. We began to hire people. I think we really just made it a true company.
Alejandro: Before you made it a true company, and you knew that you wanted to really dedicate yourself to this, were you doing this on the side? Was it sort of like with weekend projects, and you had your job to sustain yourself? Because New York City is a very expensive place to live. How are you doing things?
Rebecca Minkoff: So, from 2001 till 2005, it was really my main job and I literally like any $20 I got for the tee shirt would go to either pay my rent or buy my food. Then I would supplement as much as I could with jobs. Whether it was, I was a stylist for commercials, and that would pay very well. I think that helped supplement until the business got to a place where it could actually be the main fulltime gig.
Alejandro: Did that happen when you finally made the call to your brother, and you guys decided on jumping on this or were you already doing this before Uri came into the picture?
Rebecca Minkoff: It was already my fulltime gig with the exception of the small styling jobs prior to my brother. I think when he came on, he said, “Alright. Let’s add up. What is the minimum amount you can live on as we get this company growing?” We came to a number of $23,000 a year. I’ll never forget it. That was like any first money into the company aside from us paying the bills we had to pay would go to making that salary so I could just not have to worry about the next styling job or freaking out like, “When am I going to get paid?” That was priority #1. From there, we began to look at now that this is 100% my focus, how do we continue to feed the business what it needs in order to grow?
Alejandro: Your brother also had some business experience even though he was coming more from the tech side. Is that correct?
Rebecca Minkoff: Correct. He had a very successful tech company. He had some great business and sales experience that he was able to leverage early on to help.
Alejandro: How did you convince him?
Rebecca Minkoff: It didn’t take much. I think he looks at opportunities where he sees a heat, as he calls it, around something. He could see the heat around the desire for the product. He could see my passion, and he could see the growth. The way the orders were coming in, he could see that there was definitely momentum. When he looked at all those factors, he said, “Alright. Let’s do this.”
Alejandro: In a cofounding team like this where you’re partnering up with your brother, what would you say that he had that was like a strength that was perhaps your weakness, and what was your strength that perhaps it was a weakness of his too, to really make this magical?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think his strength is he’s very, very smart with business, with math, with technology. Whether it was negotiating deals with our bank or the people that loaned us money early on to seeing the future of what was happening in technology, and knowing that this direct-to-consumer universe was going to change everything really helped usher our company to be on the front lines of all this. I guess I would say my strengths are seeing opportunities and everything being able to seize them, having a creative vision for trends or things that I think are coming that a woman doesn’t know she wants, but will eventually want. I think we make a great team that way.
Alejandro: Really cool. There’s this book called The Founder’s Dilemma that talks about cofounder relationships where when you’re launching a business let’s say with your husband or wife, or with a family member like a brother or a sister or even your parents, it’s sometimes not easy. It’s very hard to tell the way things are because you don’t want to hurt the other one. It’s just tough building a business with a family member. How was the experience for you guys as family doing this? What were some of the challenges?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think it’s interesting that you say The Founder’s Dilemma. There’s been no filter in that relationship of a feeling when one person is wrong, pointing out those faults. Maybe to the extreme in that because there was a feeling of familiarity in growing up together. I think it led to the ability for that to be easy to do. I don’t know that that’s a positive either if it goes the other way. I think that we had to work hard to figure out a way to communicate where you can tell each other when someone messes up or does something wrong, but it doesn’t explode and turn into an argument. I think boiling it down to what is the most important thing I’m trying to get across here, and how do I make that heard versus the emotions, and really trying to separate the two. It’s never perfect, and we’ve done a lot of work to have it be as perfect as it can be, but you know what? When you’re spending more time with this person than your spouse, and you’re related, you’re bound to argue.
Alejandro: Absolutely. Look. I built the last business with my wife.
Rebecca Minkoff: There you go.
Alejandro: So, I know how it feels. Thank God it worked, but sometimes it doesn’t. Many times, it doesn’t, actually. Rebecca, what were the early days like for you guys?
Rebecca Minkoff: They were really exciting. We kept doubling our sales. It was all inbound. The demands for the bags were so much, and I think our stress was “How do we keep up with this?” How do we pay for this? How do we make sure that we can meet the demands? There were a lot of things to figure out, but my memories of that time were—it was the time that every business wants to have happen when they launch is this hunger and desire and excitement.
Alejandro: It’s interesting that you mentioned this. It seems that you guys hit product/market fit early on. I think that’s critical to really be able to build something meaningful. In fashion, there are just so many brands, so many people trying to launch stuff, so much competition. What nerve do you think you guys actually hit on the market to really gain that product/market fit so quickly?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think it was obviously very different back then. When you have less brands, the ability for a brand to launch like ours; now it could be every day, but back then it was not. I think we could stand out in a way back then that is very hard or expensive to do these days. I think no one was talking to this customer that was not able to afford luxury but also didn’t want something off the side of the street. I think that was a new development within fashion. It was like a great time when this new category was launching.
Alejandro: I see that for the most part every fashion brand they have like an iconic item, shoe, or bag, or whatever that is that really helps people to identify themselves or to identify the brand. What was that for you?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think at the time I was very much anti-logo or anti-some sort of obvious plague on the front of something. It wasn’t something that appealed to me personally, and I wanted something more timeless. I also wanted something that made me stand out as a whole for my style and not just like, “Here’s the plague that I purchased and I spent this much money.” For me, it was other details. It was the initial dog clip that’s on a lot of the bags. There was a signature flap that is recognizable today. It was tassels. That was all I wanted it to be. I wanted it to be pretty understated. If you knew, you knew. If you didn’t know, then you stopped a woman, and you asked.
Alejandro: One of the things that I see is that you have been able to develop a really large following. At Twitter, 900,000 people; Instagram, 800,000 people. Would you say that now in the fashion industry, the influencer approach and the following is really critical to push things forward?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think it’s really critical. I think that we’re all trying to out-think each other and trying to figure out what’s happening. It’s moving a lot faster today than it did ten years ago. I think we’re trying to keep up with the consumer who is ravenous. You have to just keep innovating and keep your pulse on your customer, and she’s moving. You don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but she’s moving faster and faster. So, brands and companies have to move faster and faster. It’s all because we’re feeding this cycle.
Alejandro: Got it. It’s funny that you mentioned the chicken and the egg. My previous company was a marketplace, and I remember when I was doing fundraising, the investors always talked about the chicken and the egg. I ended up thinking that I just wanted to shoot the chicken and step on the egg. But that’s a different decision. So, one of the things here, Rebecca, as a follow-up to that is that on the growth side of things and especially now where we are at with trends, and so forth, it seems that really understanding the dynamics of how to work with bloggers and then also influencers to really drive growth and push the brand forward is somewhat important. What have you learned about that?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think that for us early on, it was a natural extension. If I was going to be talking to my customer and she was electing certain people that she thought were style icons, that those were people we wanted to work with. I think at the time, also, as a new company, we didn’t have the budget or the resources to do big flossy print advertising, so this was also a way to get in front of our customers. It’s never been something we had to have a strategy early on. I think we worked with them. It was successful. We keep figuring out ways to work with them. Obviously, now, this is very normal, and every brand has an influencer program, so we’re just trying to be savvy about it, thoughtful about who we work with, when, why and making sure that they’re the right fit for the brand and really keeping our eye on what could be next. I don’t have that answer, but you know that at some point there’s something else, and I think we want to be on the forefront of that as much as we can.
Alejandro: One thing that I really like about our conversation here is that you talk a lot about your customers. Without your customers, there’s nothing. I love that. You always keep the customer in your mind. So, one of the things that I wanted to ask you here is, you do embrace community, and you have events that you even do in your stores. How did you guys come up with this idea?
Rebecca Minkoff: Again, something that was natural to the brand early on was me being in touch with our customer whether it was online in a forum situation, or when we would do big events with wholesalers where I would go to a town and meet 300 of these women. I think as soon as we had our stores, it was important to continue those types of events where we could meet our customer. I didn’t want to do a traditional meet-and-greet. I really wanted to give her something of value, so probably about four years ago we elected to have these fireside chats. I get to interview a woman I admire that I hope our customer comes away with something more valuable than just having had a good time. That she can learn something and be inspired as well as get her new favorite Rebecca Minkoff.
Alejandro: How do you think about the new development, and this goes to perhaps cases like Henry Ford. When someone asked him “If someone was to tell me they want 100 whatever amounts of horses rather than really giving them a car.” Or like Steve Jobs said that “You’ve got to listen to your customer.” But in many instances, they don’t even know what they want. How do you go about, for example, when you’re having or dealing with customers to really understand what may be a hit with that segment?
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Rebecca Minkoff: I think that both are right. With fashion, you’re not necessarily giving her something she doesn’t know she wants, but you have to be knowing where the trends are going, and be really good at giving her that trend item at that exact time. I wish it could be more of a science. Sometimes, it’s more of an art. But if all the sudden everyone they follow is into yellow, you’d better have that yellow bag or that yellow dress. I think you have to have a keen eye of where that stuff is moving. Then from a service perspective, if a big company is going to be forward thinking and its innovation, and how they’re going to service customers, it doesn’t matter that you’re a smaller company and that you may not be able to afford that. You have to figure out how do you be nimble and give the customer now what she’s used to. I think it’s a challenge. We’re not perfect at it, but I think we’re trying to constantly do as much as we can for our customer and give her the experience she’s getting from much larger brands.
Alejandro: With you and your brother, maybe he’s shared this with you because we have people that are listening from all types of industries, and Uri was coming from tech. What are some of the challenges that he saw that he shared with you and that obviously, that’s the typical challenges that you see here in fashion? What are some of the unique challenges of building a brand in this industry?
Rebecca Minkoff: Where do I start?
Alejandro: Let’s just say the three biggest ones.
Rebecca Minkoff: Well, I think that the brick-and-mortar experience is broken. You can’t get rid of it. People don’t want to just be in their homes all day buying clothing to not go anywhere. So, I think when we begin to evaluate our store experience, we didn’t want it to be the old school way, so that was key in developing the technology we have in our stores. I think we began to go what is the customer journey when she walks in this door? How does she want to be treated? Does she want to be anonymous? Does she want to be a celebrity or somewhere in between? How can our associates look for those signals? Then when you get her into the dressing room, how could you have “me” be in the room with her and give her an experience that is similar to one you get online? It led us to create a lot of the innovation there. It’s constantly trying to look for the pain points that your customer has and without using technology for tech’s sake. Use it to just ease the pain points. Whether it’s a low-lift as Instagram Live. Here’s my spring picks. Here’s how you style them to high tech. Come into our store and experience what it’s like to see a view of the future of shopping.
Alejandro: Interesting. You were talking about technology. How have you guys implemented technology to really scale things up?
Rebecca Minkoff: It think for us it was the technology in the stores. We also were the first brand the same day as Apple launching their Apple watch. We had launched some wearables. I think we’ve seen the traditional female wallet is going to be extinct, so how do you put a phone in a beautiful case with a chargeable battery, with wallet capabilities as something that she’s going to need. Or even a tassel that looks really pretty hanging off a bag, but gives you that extra charge? We’re trying to look at real problems when we’re using technology to solve for women.
Alejandro: Really cool. A fashion brand could probably be a little bit different for the typical startups that your brother was maybe used to where you have like the VC coming in and financing the operation. How did you guys capitalize the business?
Rebecca Minkoff: We had several ways. The first was my brother mortgaging his house and maxing out his credit cards. Then within the fashion industry and it’s not to all industries. There’s a bank called A Factor. They would advance X percentage on accounts that passed a credit check. We were able to partner with them. Most large department stores all pass those credit checks. They were able to advance us 80% of the invoice amount, allow us to have working capital, and then collect on the backend the remaining 20%. We did that from 2007 till 2011 when we then took in our first investment with a private equity firm followed up with another one in 2014 and have decided that we’re good for now. We really want to grow the business on the actual money it’s making itself.
Alejandro: Really cool. The total amount that you guys have raised. Is that public?
Rebecca Minkoff: No. We don’t really disclose that.
Alejandro: Okay. Cool. The journey of being a founder, Rebecca, there’s no such thing as a straight line. I think that the highs are very high, and the lows are very low. What was it for you, for example, a really dark moment, and what kind of breakthrough moment did you get out of that? Because when there’s a breakdown, there’s always a breakthrough.
Rebecca Minkoff: You know, there’s been a lot, and I think I like to talk about the fact that they’re actually every week. Just because your bigger and it looks all perfect on Instagram doesn’t mean it’s that way. Whether it was my first overseas experience, my bags were made with Kate Spade’s hardware on them. We shipped product that had Rebecca Minkoff and Kate Spade on the same bag. To have your customers find that out because you didn’t have a quality control person was a pretty humbling experience. That was one. I think back when we did have private equity partners. Sometimes they would make demands that could cripple your business. If we had listened would have made us nonexistent as a company. I think when you’re dealing with those challenges sometimes and you think you might have to listen or you feel forced up against the wall, those can be pretty dark times.
Alejandro: I hear you. Absolutely. One of the things that I’ve seen as well on you guy’s assent, the company always has made really interesting moves. One move that I saw that you guys did was you decided no longer to present at the New York Fashion Week. What was that?
Rebecca Minkoff: Actually, we had just had taken one year off. The reason being, last February, I was actually due with my son, so I didn’t feel like going into labor on the day of my fashion show. That was one. Also, two, it didn’t really feel smart or, I use the word tone-deaf. It felt tone-deaf to have a fashion show amidst all the political upheaval that was existing in our time. For both of those reasons, we chose to use those resources towards our digital experience. Then in September of last year, we decided we’re really launching a new brand campaign, and we feel it is best served with a lot of digital content. So, that was how we chose again to use those resources. But we came back this last February for Fashion Week, and we loved it. The ROI was phenomenal, so we’ll probably be continuing to do that.
Alejandro: Really cool.
Rebecca Minkoff: I’m going to go for it.
Alejandro: For the listeners, so that they get an idea of how big the business is, how big is Rebecca Minkoff today?
Rebecca Minkoff: We don’t give exact numbers, but we’re north of 100 million is what’s been printed in the past. So, that’s what I’m at liberty to say.
Alejandro: Really cool, and in terms of distribution and stores and stuff like that?
Rebecca Minkoff: We’re in just over 900 points of distribution for owned stored within the U.S., and then eight Rebecca Minkoff stores overseas. One in Venice, one in Malesia, one in Thailand, and one in Korea.
Alejandro: For the people that are listening that are in the fashion industry, as they’re thinking about scaling, with all this distribution that you have, as you’re thinking about scaling, what kind of tips would you give people listening?
Rebecca Minkoff: This is what I would say. I would say there is a very trendy notion today that you only scale your business if you get VC funding, or if you go the private equity route. I think not every business should be going down that road. If you have a product, and you have momentum, and you have heat, there is nothing with growing organically and strongly with the heat of your own customers wanting this. When you then go to get PE or VC money, you’re that much stronger. You sell that much less of your company because you’ve held on for longer, or there’s companies that can qualify for small business loans or using a mix of credit cards and small business loan capitalization. So, I think do your research, do your homework. There are a lot of companies that fail, and it’s just because they’ve been infused with too much cash too fast. They spend it, and their investors want a return. So, those investors are going to optimize for things that will give them their return, not necessarily things that are in the best interest of the company and the founder. So, to go slow, do your research, don’t need to be a part of this trend. Make sure that if you do bring on partners, that contract is more complicated than any marriage contract. So, to make sure that whoever you’re partnering with is people that you really feel comfortable and trust for the long term.
Alejandro: 100%. It’s tougher to divorce an investor than your husband or wife.
Rebecca Minkoff: That’s true.
Alejandro: Rebecca, you were mentioning trends. Where do you think the fashion industry is going as a whole?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think it’s evolving. There’s a lot of talk right now around sustainability. That doesn’t mean that every brand has to be crunchy granola. I think we as brands are trying to become more responsible about where we source, who’s making our goods, and the impact on the planet. I think you’ll see a lot of older brands go by the wayside as they age out of this new customer set, and you’ll see a lot of direct consumer brands go, “Uh oh. We need to actually open bring-and-mortar and touch and feel our customer.”
Alejandro: One of the things that I’ve seen and I thought it was really, really interesting. I have three daughters myself. So, I’m a big, big fan of women and also women in business. I’ve seen that you’ve done a lot for female founders empowering women. What kind of tips would you give to the female founders that are right now listening?
Rebecca Minkoff: I would definitely say join the Female Founder Collective. It’s a network of over 4,000 women-owned businesses. We’ve created a seal that denotes the Female Founded company, plus we have via our private Facebook and Google and Slack groups. Access to all these women to just help each other out, to give each the black book on what they’ve done to get successful. Definitely join, and then I would say that there is power in community, and there is power in helping each other and to find and seek out local women around you that are going through what you’re going through. It’s always good to just open up and share the challenges and see who can help you.
Alejandro: As you’re speaking with all these women, is there a common pattern like two typical hurdles or challenges that female founders tend to experience as they’re launching a business and scaling it from the ground up?
Rebecca Minkoff: I don’t know that there’s typical ones. I do know that a lot of them feel that if they are trying to get an investment that they are not speaking to their target demographic, so they have trouble being understood or taken seriously sometimes. I hear that quite a lot. They’ll be pitching to a VC, and a man will be sitting across the table. He’ll say, “Oh, let me talk to my wife. Let me see what she thinks,” when really, these are serious business women that should just deserve to be taken seriously on their product alone. I think it’s a challenge not just for women, but any founder is you’re making a path that maybe no one has ever carved before. So, there’s a lot of stuff that you need quick, easy answers to, and how do you get access to that information in a swift way that’s like the shortcut so that you can get to the next hurdle. I think there’s no handbook for founders.
Alejandro: To follow up on that, the VC space and the investor’s space is specifically for startups; it has been a boy’s club. Thank God it’s actually changing now. There’s really this incredible trend. I’m excited about this trend because I think that there are several studies that have pointed out that ultimately having women at a senior level is ultimately a really big factor of success. And in fact, those companies that have senior executives that are female senior executives perform better than those that don’t.
Rebecca Minkoff: There’s incredible studies all that point to 50/50 at the executive table or the amount of money that women are contributing to the economy. There’s so much rich data that points to equal is better. I think that people that are scared of that just need to sort of wake up that it might be more beneficial in the long run to go that way.
Alejandro: As we’re talking about people, Rebecca, how did you think about recruiting and building your team. What were some of the absolute must traits that you are looking for in people?
Rebecca Minkoff: For me, I count loyalty, hard work as two really important traits that I would put above a college degree or other things that I think in the past people have thought of as important. I think a firm handshake, a look in the eye, a desire and a willingness to get behind and help push that rock up the mountain I think is the few things that I look for. And someone, even though they’re working for me, they view themselves as a entrepreneur within their space so that they’re constantly trying to innovate and be excited about something, and they don’t just feel like a cog in the wheel.
Alejandro: How many people do you have now?
Rebecca Minkoff: We have about 65 people.
Alejandro: 65 people. How do you embrace culture, Rebecca?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think for us culture is about taking the temperature of what our employees want and trying to give back to them versus trying to embed what we think they want. So, we know they want lots of time off, and they want fun ancillary outside activities. So, that’s what we focus on is maximizing their time here giving them Fridays that end at 3:00. Mondays that start at 10:00. If you work a weekend, we know that’s holy time, so getting days off in return. I think that that means more to them than lots of cocktails or other ancillary activities.
Alejandro: Yeah. Absolutely. Seventeen years already at it, Rebecca. What an incredible ride. In a future where your vision finally comes to fruition, what does that world look like?
Rebecca Minkoff: Oh, man! That is a big question. What does it look like? I definitely think there is a lot of room to grow Rebecca Minkoff, the company into even more of a global brand. So, whether that’s our own stores in lots more places. We definitely have line extensions we’re working on whether it’s home or kids. In the future, beauty. Those are all line extensions that we’re really excited about that we’re just beginning to think about.
Alejandro: That’s really amazing. One of the questions that I typically ask the guests that come on the show is—you’ve been at it for quite some time, and around the block several, several times, ups and downs. Looking back now, if you had the opportunity, and obviously, this is impossible, but you have children, so I’m sure that you pass some of the lessons learned or you’re going to pass some of the lessons learned. If you had the opportunity to really speak with your younger self, with that younger Rebecca that was coming out of FIT and was about to launch her own business, what would be that one business advice that you would give to her?
Rebecca Minkoff: I think I would definitely say, “Don’t be scared to take a risk and to carve your own path.” For a long time, I thought you had to follow the same route and path that other designers followed and be in that system. The more we begin to carve our own way and do things on our own terms, that’s where we’ve won. So, I would have just said, “Don’t be scared.”
Alejandro: Yeah, because in many instances, we’re our biggest challenge. We’re like always giving reasons not to do things and take the risk.
Rebecca Minkoff: That’s true. Yeah.
Alejandro: So, Rebecca, for the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Rebecca Minkoff: They should definitely listen to my podcast. It’s called Super Women with Rebecca Minkoff. I get to talk to really incredible women that have inspired me. You can take a listen. Get to know me personally. Get to know these women, and follow me on Instagram @rebeccaminkoff.
Alejandro: Amazing. Well, Rebecca, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Rebecca Minkoff: Thank you so much.
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