“Looking back, I’m really glad we pulled the trigger when we did.”
Looking back, I thought I knew more.
Each week SHE‘SAID’ features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.
Jane Lu is the young founder of Australian fashion e-tailer Showpo. When I first met Jane, it was clear she wasn’t your typical CEO. Dressed in denim cut-offs – her signature look – with long hair out and that beaming smile she’s known for, Jane is as much a customer of Showpo as she is the owner.
Formally from accounting giant Ernst & Young, Lu tired of corporate life and launched Showpo (formally Showpony) in 2010. In five short years, she’s proven that hardwork and a bit of fun is the key to creating a thriving, not to mention truly satisfying business.
The company’s Instagram account @ILoveShowpo has amassed a whopping 539,000 followers, while Lu herself (aka @TheLazyCEO) is nearing 100,000. Last April, Showpo did $800,000 of sales and projected continual growth month-on-month. Not bad for a local Sydney girl who admits to having “no business pan” in her late-20’s.
Here, she invites SHESAID into the world of Showpo to share what a typical work day looks like for one of Australia’s brightest young stars.
8:15am: Rise and Shine
While most entrepreneurs brag about waking up at the crack of dawn to get started on work, Jane Lu bucks the trend. “I get up as late as possible because I always go to bed way too late- normally watching TV or playing on my phone in bed!” she tells SHESAID.
Lu then jumps in her Jeep and heads straight to Showpo HQ, a chic warehouse office space in Sydney’s creative hub, Surry Hills.
9am: Coffee fix!
“Coffee first thing in the morning is a must, and as much as I would love to start being productive first thing in the morning, I spend most of it checking my emails and chatting with the team,” Lu admits. When we sat down with the business whizz, she even ran a tab at her local hot spot, Le Monde, a bustling cafe in Surry Hills.
Lu does a quick email check in the morning, but limits her use throughout the day. To avoid constantly checking her inbox, Jane sets a bounce back that asks colleagues to email ‘URGENT’ in the subject line, otherwise she responds to messages intermittently.
As for a typical schedule, Lu says normal doesn’t exist in the world of Showpo. “Every day is different for me – some days we have photoshoots, some days I’m in back-to-back meetings. I like to jump between the little divisions within our office and give my two cents and see how to improve our current systems and processes.”
Midday: Team time
“Team lunch! This is the highlight of the day! It’s great being located in Surry Hills – we’ve got heaps of yummy places to choose from to buy our lunch. We always bring it back to the office all sit around our ‘family dining table,'” says Jane.
It’s clear that the SHOWPO team is a close one. As the founder, Jane fosters time for the crew of young, passionate staffers- all of whom are SHOWPO poster girls on social media. And it shows- Jane and her team are clearly more than colleagues. There’s mutual respect and a willingness to drive the business as a team.
6pm: Cram time
As the boss of her own burgeoning business, Jane sets the pace for her work day and admits that she’ll often stay back to work late. “I’m really the most efficient from 8pm to midnight- I’m a crammer!” she laughs.
And while that might not be a conventional work day, it’s clear that steering away from normality has been a secret to success for this young entrepreneur. Given the dramatic growth of Showpo, and thriving culture of Showpo’s resident ‘ponies,’ it’s obvious Jane Lu’s doing something right.
If you’ve been thinking of starting a business, maybe you just need a little motivation. Alexandra Tselios, co-founder and publisher of TheBigSmoke.com.au, a new opinion site (similar to The Huffington Post), knows what it’s like to go out on your own.
Aged just 31, Alexandra has a diverse background in corporate, public and creative fields, and is also a business start-up consultant and provides strategic advice to young Australians start-ups and entrepreneurs. Her mantra is simple: Don’t hate Mondays. Life is better when coloured and varied.
A true entrepreneur, Alexandra loves all facets of business, from the most boring and banal aspects, to the high energy creative parts. She shares her top five tips to turn your dream into a reality.
1. Prepare your frameworks
Fantastic ideas are just fantastic, but turning it into a profitable business that is viable is a totally different type of fantastic. I often get shocked at how many people just register their ABN before doing a business plan. Before I even get to any of that I would ensure all the so-called boring parts are attended to at the foundation level. This means the business plans, market research, your point of difference, knowing how you will execute this – all these things really need to be understood by yourself.
I hate to be a cliché, but if you fail to plan you plan to fail – I feel dirty even saying that, but it’s true. Before you start talking about it to everyone or making a Facebook page, get the frameworks right and ensure you have the working resources, both in terms of capital, time and ability, to move forward with the idea.
2. Learn from people even if you don’t like them
I don’t care if you loved your grandmother who was a fabulous lemon butter maker and made 5 cents on the $2 jar she sold at the church fete, or that you hated the guy next door who started a successful vitamin franchise. Watch and learn from the people who have had tangible success, and also the people who couldn’t ‘quite get the concept off the ground’.
I am also a huge proponent of being mentored. I have been fortunate enough to sit down over cups of tea with some really strong men and women in business. These industry leaders have provided me with solid advice, sharing their mistakes and giving me feedback. You don’t have to take everything on board, but it’s important to be open and to learn – regardless of your personal feelings about the individual. It is a constant invaluable tool for me.
3. You are the creative one
So many people I know in business don’t give themselves enough creative credit. To me, artists and musicians simply do not have the monopoly on creativity – entrepreneurs are the ones creating something from nothing all the time. I think that is actually an amazingly courageous and exciting thing to do. You are looking at nothing and finding a way to put it people’s hands, and make money for it. It takes research, analysis, creative thinking and finally gumption.
I may not be able to use a paint brush to paint a portrait, but I create concepts and businesses and I think that is equally creative and valuable. I know a guy who writes ridiculous songs while living with his mother at 35 because he refuses to get a proper job – because he is creative. Come on.
4. Focus on sustainability
A lot of people get really excited about their start-up in the first 12 months and then run out of steam. There is nothing wrong with changing course, but there is something to be said for watching your energy and managing your emotions so you can continue to drive the business as far as you need to. PR and media personality Prue Macsween once told me that all this energy is fantastic, but if you don’t manage yourself it can come at a huge cost both physically and financially.
Sure, I love hearing that you answered 250 emails and stayed up all night working on your marketing plan. But if that means you have a breakdown in a fortnight and can’t work for six weeks and need to go to India to find yourself again, we’ve got a problem. Everyone has different capacities and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you, you have to focus on your own sustainability.
5. Let it go
It is really easy to become so attached to your concept, idea or brand that it distorts any feedback and decisions. It then becomes based on how you feel in the moment rather than what is best strategically for the business. Try to detach from that and aim to see the business simply as an entity that needs to succeed, independent of fluctuating feelings or personality conflicts. If you can do that you’ll be able to hopefully make better quality decisions based on actual data. And if you make a mistake – who cares – it’s all part of the scary ride.
What are your best tips for starting a business?
Helen Stevens has been what many people would call ‘a corporate high flyer.’ She’s a mover and shaker, a key figure in the corporate development of the Internet in Australia. She’s set up three high profile Internet companies in three years, drives a sports car, and lives in a trendy inner west apartment with water views of Sydney Harbour. She’s been married twice, but has never let her personal life, or anything else for that matter, get in the way of her career. By all accounts, and also by her own admission, she’s a successful woman. The type of woman who proved that the glass ceiling is really just a flimsy piece of glad wrap that tears easily if you poke it for long enough. A role model for your daughters.
Two weeks ago Helen, in her mid thirties, walked into her office and notified her staff that she was eight weeks pregnant and was flying to Fiji in two days. For good. After over ten years in the fast lane, she is giving it all up for motherhood and a humble life with her long- distance love of the past two years, a Fijian diving instructor. Everyone was supportive and congratulatory, if not a little shocked. It was strange to see this ambitious entrepreneur succumb to the lure of love and babies on a tropical island. This, from a woman who has wheeled and dealed it with the best of them.
“I have always been very career orientated and success has driven me for the past 10 years. It’s not so much the money, although that is always nice, it’s more the personal challenge of starting a project from scratch and watching it grow into a successful business,” she admits. From one professional success to another, Stephens proved that she had the winning formula. Her life was good. Very good. But at 36, she stopped and asked herself that proverbial mid-life question, ‘What is it all for?’ “I guess there comes a time in your life when you have made a success of your career but something is lacking, it hit me about 6 months ago and I thought, ‘What the hell am I doing? I have no life’. I wondered where the bright eyed girl of my 20’s had gone.” Whilst life as a corporate high flyer did come with a lot of perks – the thrill of the challenge, the money – it also meant that Stevens had little time to cultivate let alone maintain a truly fulfilling personal life. Her partner lived in Fiji, a long way from Sydney’s CBD. “You get to the stage where you think, ‘Why don’t I have a personal life? What is the point of all this? Why does everyone else get to go home to their boyfriends and husbands? It’s a pretty lonely existence when you come home and take your laptop to bed with you each night.'”
Stevens decided that the solution was to drop out. To immerse her self in a personal life and regain some sense of what really matters. ‘I personally needed time, I was at a stage where I valued a career more highly than a personal life and that’s not good. There needs to be a balance, so that’s what I’m doing now, dropping out and looking for a better balance and putting life back into perspective.” No one was more surprised by the decision than Stevens herself. “If someone had told me two years ago I would be doing this I would have laughed in their face, it was never part of the big picture”: In typical Steven’s style, she relishes the thought of this new challenge. And challenge it most certainly will be. Life as a mum on a holiday island. No sports car, no bottles of Riesling at the Quay Bar on a Friday night, no job. For a workaholic and a city girl like Stevens, this will probably be the most difficult challenge of her life. “My next big project is giving birth to my baby and enjoying time out with my partner. It’s a total 360 degree turn for me.” Whilst Stevens will remain a director of her company for the time being, there’s no doubt that her old life will soon be a distant memory. “It’s very scary what I’m doing now, I feel like I’m stepping into the unknown. I don’t have a business plan in my hand to guide me along the way. I don’t have any meetings scheduled or strategic partnerships to work on. It’s a whole different ball game.”