Any entrepreneur knows starting a business is no easy task. Founder and CEO of Tradesy is very candid about the hard work and dedication it took to get her company off the ground. She often worked 18-hour days and rented out her bedroom while sleeping on the couch to pay bills!
Due to living on a tight budget through the start of her company, Tracy recognizes the importance of being able to build a great wardrobe on a tight budget. This is exactly what Tradesy does for its customers. Similar to a fancy online consignment shop, Tradesy makes it easy for women to buy and sell used clothing by handling all of the possible headaches like payment, shipping and returns.
Tracy’s path to success wasn’t an easy one, but it’s incredibly inspiring. In this interview, she gives us the inside story on what it took to grow Tradesy from a 1-person company run at her kitchen table to a 22-person operation with millions of customers in just three years.
Q1: Online consignment is a rapidly growing trend, which you tuned into before most. What tips can you share with other entrepreneurs for identifying and tapping into future trends?
Tracy: The first step is to identify your personal strengths and passions, then look for the big problems to solve and large market opportunities that exist in the area that you love. Before I even began to understand the fashion resale market, I knew that I felt inspired to do something that would help women like me look and feel great without overspending. I knew how it felt to have an overflowing closet but nothing to wear, and I wanted to do something that would enable women to build better wardrobes and a healthier relationship with shopping and spending. I started researching ways to solve the problems I saw, and identify deficiencies in the market.
For the quantitative research, you’ll need to spend a lot of time Googling! It’s important to answer questions such as, “How big is my target market?” and “How much do they spend or might they spend on the area that I’m interested?” Huge numbers in those areas can help you identify trends and opportunities. But the qualitative research is just as important.
Get out and talk to people in your target market! I hung around at resale and consignment shops and spoke to customers to understand what they wanted and how the existing system might not be meeting their needs. When you begin hearing the same grievances from many customers in your market, it will allow you to identify an emerging solution, or create one yourself! I think it’s really important to not get caught up in “bubble” trends and do whatever the hot new thing is. Instead, combine your own passions with dedicated research to stay ahead of the trend curve.
Q2: You grew Tradesy from almost nothing to a $10 million company in just three years. That is truly inspiring! To what do you attribute this success?
Tracy: There is simply no substitute for hard work. We often hear stories of successful entrepreneurs for whom the stars magically aligned, but we rarely get a window into how much effort went into creating that momentum. Luck favors the prepared and the tenacious. When I started Tradesy, I had no technology experience, so I worked 18-hour days, spending at least half of my time diligently learning every aspect of running an online business, including website design, marketing and customer service.
And, to manage my start-up costs, I even slept on my couch and rented out my bedroom to keep the lights on!
If you’re doing something you feel truly passionate about, starting up will be challenging and overwhelming, but it won’t feel like work – at least not in the traditional sense. It will feel like an exhilarating, challenging, scary, amazing roller coaster ride that you never want to get off of. And you will work gladly and humbly with dedication every day, because that’s what it takes to earn the success that lets you keep doing what you love.
Q3: What were your most significant challenges in achieving this success? Please share your strategies for overcoming them.
Tracy: The internal challenge was self-doubt (“Can I do this?” “Am I good enough?” “What if I fail?”). If you’re not having those thoughts, you may not be trying hard enough or risking enough as it’s a natural response to putting everything on the line for something you believe in. The external challenge was money. Deciding how to allocate my constrained resources was a daily exercise in prioritization.
For the internal challenges, it’s about cultivating mental discipline to counteract self-doubt. Every moment you spend questioning yourself is a moment you’re not dedicating to growing your company. I like to re-channel that natural fear into productivity by setting small, achievable goals. When I felt anxiety creeping in, I would commit to learning something new, like how to set up a giveaway on Facebook. I would tell myself that if I still felt like worrying about it after that task was complete, I then had permission to wallow, but I never did! Accomplishments and forward motion, no matter how small, have a way of muting that pesky voice in your head.
For the financial challenges, I found ways to be resourceful, whether it was selling my car and my clothes, or taking on small data entry jobs, or renting out my bedroom on Airbnb. Where there’s a will there’s a way, no matter what your circumstance. That spirit is very much what informs Tradesy’s core values today, and helps us inspire women to get the wardrobe of their dreams on any budget. We feel good about spreading that message, because we’ve lived it ourselves!
Q4: As a businesswoman in the fashion industry, our readers would love to hear your personal philosophy on dressing for success!
Tracy: A well-cut blazer, a great bag and a beautiful shoe will help you conquer the world! Trends change so quickly that it makes sense to invest in very classic, well-made versions of those three pieces, then pair them with less expensive things that reflect the current season or trend.
There is a ton of research that tells us we perform better at work and are perceived more positively when we dress well, so it’s important to develop a personal style and know what it says to you and others. Dressing like a successful woman helps you become one!
For me, success is about confidence, determination, and being comfortable in your skin. So I’m drawn to well-cut neutrals that aren’t too trendy or distracting, a comfortable-but-stylish shoe that lets me walk with confidence, and military-style details that bring out my “inner warrior.” If you start with identifying the traits that say “success” to you, it becomes easier to develop a personal style that reflects the inner business diva you really are, and that frees up your time and energy to focus on work instead of what you’re going to wear.
Q5: In launching Tradesy, who has been your most important mentor and how have they helped you achieve success?
Tracy: Mentorship is SO important, especially for women in business! But that doesn’t mean all your mentors have to be women. You should cultivate several mentoring relationships for different aspects of your work. For me, Dany Levy (the founder of Daily Candy and Tradesy’s first investor) has been an incredible mentor. I had admired her for years, and was pleasantly surprised that when we met, she was willing to be honest and supportive about the challenges of choosing this career path. She showed me how to manage the stress of building a company with humor and grace – and an occasional martini! Aside from providing personal support, she has also advised on major business decisions, and showed me the value of building a brand.
I’ve also been fortunate to have the guidance and input of Jim Andelman of Rincon Venture Partners, who led Tradesy’s first major round of funding and sits on our board. Jim is whip-smart and comes from a finance background, so he thinks in numbers and unit metrics. It’s a great counterpoint to my natural tendency to be more qualitative and gut-driven. His mentorship has made me a sharper, more strategic CEO, and he’s taught me to stay focused on the key metrics that drive the company’s growth.
Photos: Courtesy of Tracy DiNunzio