I鈥檝e been an entrepreneur for just over a year, and Modern Citizen is my first company. A year ago it was just me, running everything out of my house, working with a lot of freelancers and other startup, partner services. Today we鈥檝e got our first office and event space, and we鈥檙e five people strong.

With so many moving parts in so short a time, I鈥檒l be the first to admit that I鈥檓 still learning. But one of the things that鈥檚 been most eye-opening for me so far has been being a new manager of people 鈥 rather than projects 鈥 and to think about what matters in terms of building a strong, palpable sense of culture.

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From Cruising Altitude to Ground-Level

Before I began Modern Citizen, I worked for Gap, Inc. as part of the strategy and business development team in the e-commerce division. Part of my job was looking at women鈥檚 businesses in the online space, just seeing what was interesting out there. Two companies that stood out to me were ModCloth and Nasty Gal 鈥 they both have a very specific aesthetic and a great sense for brand. You just look at their websites and you immediately know who their clientele is.

They really helped inspire my vision for Modern Citizen, especially since they were both brands who began as online retailers, without brick and mortar experience. They built their community through their voice, products and branding. At Modern Citizen, we curate and sell clothing for women who are modern, forward-thinking and polished. We imagine that many of our customers work full-time and maybe do most of their shopping online from their desk. We started doing pop-ups in corporate spaces, to make the shopping experience effortless for them and to just give them a little pick-me-up in the middle of the day. It鈥檚 been a big change, though 鈥 evaluating businesses from a 30,000-foot view to where I am today, at the five-foot view, clued into every single detail and minutia of the business.

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People are Movers and Shakers (and Clothes-Buyers)

We were lucky to bring in our COO and co-founder, Lizzie Agnew, in February of this year. She was previously a general manager at ModCloth. Today our team is made up of five inspiring women, but we鈥檙e all vacuuming and taking out the trash, answering tickets in Zendesk and packing boxes.

Now that we鈥檙e a team, one of the first things that surprised me was how much everyone cares. As a founder you think you care more than anyone else about your business, but I鈥檒l come in some weekends and the team will have been here a few hours before me, and I had no idea they were planning to work. The amazement I鈥檝e felt has been so tangible.

That鈥檚 partly because I鈥檝e also experienced it the other way. I was naive when I first started hiring, because I was thinking strategically about market opportunity more than I was thinking about actual execution. Your team is executing your vision; they鈥檙e hanging clothes on racks at a pop-up and shaking hands with your customers. So both your customers and your team have to be put first. When we talk about 鈥渢he market,鈥 it鈥檚 made up of customers, and the chart moves because customers are people and people are dynamic. You鈥檝e got to place emphasis on every interaction that you have, with every person.

Locating the North Star

As long as we鈥檙e making our customers happy and leaning on and inspiring each other as a team, I know we鈥檒l get where we want to go. Consistently doing those two things is our North Star.

Having come from a large company, I know that you can lose this shared sense of responsibility and culture once you get used to a level of hierarchy. Transparency between teams goes away, and there鈥檚 a lack of ownership once your team 鈥渙wns鈥 one thing and 鈥渄oesn鈥檛 touch鈥 something else.

That鈥檚 why having a team that鈥檚 at the top of their game and cultivating excellence in each other is so valuable. Right now, we don鈥檛 feel limited because we鈥檙e a small business. We can do a lot of what the big boys do, but we have to do it in a way that makes sense given our resources, and we can do that because we have this magical mix of people who keep each other motivated. We鈥檙e aligned around a shared sense of responsibility, and around our customers. It wasn鈥檛 clear to me until I was running a small business that you can鈥檛 plan backwards from the success you鈥檝e predicted. Instead, we have to start with our customers because, without them, we wouldn鈥檛 have a business.

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This post was previously published on Levo League by聽Jessica C. Lee. Photos via Getty.