I speak with Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise, co-founder of Girl Meets Dress.com to find out more about the company, his journey and tips for first time and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Hi Xavier, Thanks for doing this. How are you doing today?
Pretty good, woke up at 6am yesterday (Saturday), met up with 2 friends at Stratford to catch a train to Camber Sands; Kitesurfed to my heart’s content and today (Sunday) I’m catching up on emails and loose ends while watching movies in the background with a breeze coming in from the window.
Can you give us some background information about yourself?
Tell me about how you got into business?
I've tried quite a few things (linkedin). After interning in the City for every holiday I could since just before my GCSEs I eventually eliminated all options having done accounting at PWC, IPOs at Citigroup, Auditing at E&Y, M&A at etc. I felt lost knowing that the life I thought I wanted and had worked inspiringly to kickstart no longer inspired me at all, not one bit; an existential vacuum.
I mentioned it to a close friend of mine and he said I should try running my own company like his father. Somehow after that I found myself marketing the audio recordings I had made for one of my lectures at Uni, Fridays 3-6pm so few people attended consistently; I got the professor’s OK to sell them (£8 for 2 CDs) and worked intuitively towards selling them. It was so exhilarating that it was clear this is what I want to do.
I started a company here in London after finishing university which was some of the most fun and hard work I had done, through this company I met my current co-founder Anna, that was working at Hermes, the French luxury group and one of the first corporate clients we got.
How did the idea for Girl Meets Dress come about?
It's in both Anna and I's DNA to be starting things up, we can hardly do something without turning it into a much greater adventure, which can make some mundane thing loads of fun, even an unforeseen 3hr traffic jam. Anna one day mentioned that she thought it should be normal to have a clothes library, we were walking on the Kings Road and I remember us delayering the idea into what it is today. The idea did it’s works in the back of our minds and it became clear this was a shot worth taking and we'd figure out the details later, she called me and said, "Let's do it!" - our aha moment as they say.
What were you doing before you co-founded the company?
Immediately before GMD I led the UK Digital Media and eCommerce practice at a Bank in the City working with Startups of all sizes helping them raise funds / sell themselves or even buy other companies. Also phenomenal fun, but slightly less rewarding. I remember working with Errol from Wonga before it became the impressive beast it is today, with Alderbaran an incredible robotics company on their first raise, now worth £100mn+... you name it, someone is starting it up and being smart about it. More importantly it was smart hard work, and loved it.
What is Girl Meets Dress and what are you trying to solve?
Girl Meets Dress is multi-award winning designer luxury fashion rental destination, the first of its kind, offering access to your dream wardrobe for all of life's special occasions.
Girl Meets Dress allows you to hire designer dresses and accessories for up to less than 10% of their retail price. You can borrow over 4,000 designer pieces from over 150 global designer brands like Marc Jacobs, Halston Heritage, 3.1 Phillip Lim, etc. Get up to 3 dresses delivered "next day" to your home or at your office and all you have to do is have fun in the one you want, get a refund for the others; have fun and send them all back in the pre-paid box when you are done. It’s like we’re your new best friend with the massive designer wardrobe who is cool enough to let you borrow whatever you want!
What should we be expecting from yourself and Girl Meets Dress for the rest of the year?
What aren’t we expecting! :) Our raison d'etre, as it were, is access to high end fashion. To enable women of all ages to try out a particular designer for the first time, to experiment with fashion affordably and to find whatever look or style they are after; and as a result have some unparalleled experiences in the process. To quote an American stylist “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak”, even as a man removed from the experience, the feedback we get from customers shows how significant our value proposition is to them.
Imagine trying on a £1,500 Herve Leger designer dress first thing tomorrow morning for this weekend, and only pay £99...
Our customers regularly write to us saying "everyone came up to me to say how lovely I looked", "I felt amazing!”, “I got so many compliments", “I haven’t felt this good in years!” etc.
Catering to the demand is really just the first step. With over 4,000 dresses in our "wardrobe", we have the capacity to amaze women with how well she can feel/ look wearing the right dress / clutch / jewellery for that next occasion; as tailored by 150 of the world’s top fashion designers; We have had everything from first dates to days out at the races, and have a team of stylists helping with everything from what to wear to a wedding, to "I need to look amazing my ex-is going to be at the party".
This year we aim to drastically increase our reach within the UK and Ireland to continue to reinvest in our infrastructure.
Tell me about the early days of Girl Meets Dress, what was the hardest part of starting the business?
Getting things done really, putting a team together that has been able to keep growing together to work hard but also smart and on budget.
Another part of the big struggle, more generally, is that the Collaborative/ Entrepreneurial spirit is not quite here yet. People still think for the most part that it is a zero sum game so to help you means to lose out on something e.g. “want help? what’s in it for me?” even for a basic intro some people actually want cash which is just...unfortunate...for them.
In some cases the people that can really help and reinvest into the startup community have gotten so screwed on their own start-ups or careers that they are still hunting for their big pay-day and can’t afford to not do anything but chase it.
That said, there are total godsends out there that I would walk miles for, but they are few and far between. Best tip on this is to somehow find someone that can give you guidance as you build up and progress over time.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Nothing yet really...? The yardstick keeps moving, you reach milestones that make you proud (a growing and happy customer base, hiring employees, investing in infrastructure, margins, etc). Actually I get quite a buzz from paying our growing quarterly VAT...can’t quite explain why but I guess I just find it amazing the world functions with so much margin floating around. I’m still miles from where I want to be so it is head down and keep hustling. I have big plans but it’s going to be a long, fast paced journey.
Could you give us an example of a setback you had in the early stages of the business, how you overcame it and what you learnt from it?
You get all sorts of issues, and while you persist towards learning how to manage them, new items keep getting added to the list, so it’s partly about learning to juggle and a good co-founder that balances your personality/ thinking is a great asset to have.
From prospects wasting your time carelessly, to consultants breaking non-compete clauses. The best way through is to refocus, keep executing, be inspired to execute more boldly and know when to quickly move on to what actually matters – it’s a thick skin you learn to really appreciate and treasure.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
I have found that for every advice the opposite advice has worked somewhere else, so my advice would be to be specific about what you want advice on or don't bother asking. Feeling that you missed out on asking for advice can be more inspiring than asking a random question and feeling satisfied. Advise needs to be specific and tailored and invariably should only be considered for key decisions if received from within your business; you might as well have asked, “can you tell me something random you think might be interesting to bear in mind”, in which case you are always better off asking for thoughts on how you might tackle what you are struggling with at this point in time; the mere act of articulating it sometimes removes it all together as a stumbling block.
Also, of the million stumbling blocks upstarts face, thinking your next decision remains illusively out there as opposed to within your core members of the team/ customers/ investors, is a big time waster; even if the resulting answer is to go hire someone from outside or ask for outside advice.