From writing your very first business plan to the nitty-gritty daily to-dos of running your own company, it takes a resilient lady to start her own business from the ground up. For Jennie Baik, cofounder and CEO of Orchard Mile, creating an online fashion marketplace wasn’t always the plan. But with a good idea and a keen eye for business, this Baik is now well on her way to creating one of the trendiest e-commerce sites around. We caught up with the #girlboss to learn more about how she’s slaying the fashion game — and how something as simple as a thank-you note is skyrocketing her business.
B+C: How did you come up with the idea for Orchard Mile?
JB: The idea for creating Orchard Mile came to me a few years ago when I was working behind-the-scenes for a luxury brand. I realized that every brand wants to increase their digital footprint and become more “direct-to-consumer.” And from a consumer standpoint, I found that more and more of my free time was being overtaken by endlessly searching on screens. While there were a few curated sites available, they didn’t feel personalized to me or offer me enough choices to get to exactly what I was looking for.
That’s why I, along with my two cofounders, launched Orchard Mile. It’s the only online fashion marketplace to offer consumers a shopping experience that allows full access to over 150 designers’ collections and unique experiences through our fashion and technology partners.
B+C: Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
JB: To be honest, not really. It goes in waves. When I was younger, I watched my mother build a very successful international accessory business with merely a $3,000 loan from my father’s salary. But I knew from observing her how much work and patience it was going to take. My brother and I nicknamed her “The Owl” because of her years of “un-sleeping” with her phone under her pillow, just in case she needed to speak to her overseas partners. I knew from an early age that her success only came from intense sacrifice, which initially scared me away from entrepreneurship. I wasn’t sure I had that kind of perseverance.
In my career, I’ve tried many things, worked at big and small companies in different industries. What I know for sure is that the grass always seems greener (when you are at a big company you glamorize being in a small entrepreneurial environment and vice versa). In my 20s, it was about getting the right kind of experience, even if it was uncomfortable or difficult. I needed to learn, and I felt the best place to do that was from large established companies. And now, in my 30s, it’s about taking what I’ve learned and teaching others, as well as being engaged in meaningful work.
B+C: Real talk, what is it really like being your own boss?
JB: Being my own boss at Orchard Mile is actually a lot more work than people may think and more work than I thought it would be! And let’s get real: You’re never really your own boss. For me, my boss is my team at Orchard Mile. I strive to deliver beyond their expectations because they are the people who deserve my very best self.
What people don’t realize about being your own boss is a large part of your job is to motivate and inspire others to be better than the day before, which often means as the leader, you have to set an example and work harder than everyone else at the company. I have had terrible bosses and great ones, and the common thread with the bosses I’ve respected is that they were willing to roll up their sleeves and help figure out problems and even do the work with you.
B+C: Why do you attribute much of your success to writing personalized thank-you notes to your customers?
JB: It sounds simple, and it’s actually more than just writing thank-you notes. It’s a mindset of gratitude that we are ingraining in everyone that works at Orchard Mile and that starts with the founding team. As the CEO, I make it a top priority to close every day by writing a minimum of five thank-you notes to our customers. To us, it doesn’t matter if a customer bought something expensive or inexpensive; it’s about the fact that they decided to support our start-up business and chose us over any other site to find a look to help them be their best selves. I want our customers to know that we genuinely care about them. I slip in my business card too and often write that our customers come to visit us. I want to meet all of them and thank them in person.
B+C: What would you say to other young female entrepreneurs who want to start their own business?
JB: I would tell them to find a mentor who knows the landscape and industry culture, but also has the foresight to know how the industry is changing. There are jobs that are in high demand at luxury houses, fashion brands, and tech companies alike that didn’t even exist three years ago. Keeping a finger on the pulse of where the future opportunities will lie is key and preparing to learn the skills you will need to be competitive for those future jobs is crucial.
Today, every job is digital, and a basic fluency in technology, digital marketing, and data analytics is key to being relevant in the new economy. Also, don’t stay too long in any job that isn’t teaching you anything new. If you find yourself bored, it’s a sign to start thinking about your next move.
B+C: Finally, what is one item every young #girlboss should have in their wardrobe?
JB: More than a statement bag or even shoes, I believe that any #girlboss should own a really great quality jacket, ideally in a neutral color that you can wear in any season (something that is distinctive but not too trendy), that makes you feel ready to take on the world. There are many fantastic ones on Orchard Mile. We’ve seen hundreds of fashionable women shop our site to invest in a piece like this and rely on it endlessly. They may have an inexpensive dress or T-shirt underneath, but with a fantastic blazer or bomber, it makes a very confident statement. It can actually change your mood and make you feel like you own the room, which, don’t forget, you have every right to do!
Do you have any tips for young #girlboss entrepreneurs? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photos via Orchard Mile)