Annie Thorp will be speaking about fashion and female entrepreneurship with the Mindr community on Monday, March 26th - you can get your tickets here. MM.LaFleur is a womenswear and personal styling company for the busy woman.
Do you think entrepreneurs are born or made?
A little of both. Mostly made, though. In my experience, the most critical characteristics for an entrepreneur to have are: a tolerance of risk, a lust for the unknown, the self-confidence to put forward ideas in the face of resistance and disdain, and resilience. I think those are qualities molded into a person by time and experience. None of them sounds earth-shattering, I know. But it's all true.
Our founder, Sarah LaFleur, is the master of just asking for things. Sometimes I would talk myself out of making a big ask of someone because I'd think, "That's crazy, I'm embarrassed, they'll think I'm nuts". Sarah has never thought that way. She's asked for the craziest things and most times, she gets them. That's what an entrepreneur does. Because if you're a good entrepreneur, everything you ask for will seem crazy until it's not. And then the same people that slammed a door in your face will hail you as a visionary.
What excites you the most about this space?
I like coming up with new ideas that get me jazzed and then trying to get other people on board. I am generally suspicious of "best practices" and anything resembling a well-trodden path. I like to surprise people. And I was raised by a father who had a winding, but ultimately successful, career journey that generally involved "the road less taken" and favoring passion over conventional wisdom. I'm not sure there's any one particular thing that excites me the most about the startup space; I just generally like being around people who aren't afraid to be different, to think differently, and this is a good place to find them.
Has anything scared you in the course of your entrepreneurial journey, and how did you overcome that fear?
There have been many times that I wondered if an idea I fought for might actually be terrible, or even be the end of MM.LaFleur. Our Bento Box idea [where we send you a box of office-appropriate staples hand-selected by a stylist] was a perfect example of this: I fought hard to make that happen, without any proof that it was going to work. And there were a lot of doubters. Shortly before the launch, I wondered if I was going to be one of the standard bearers for the idea that sunk our company. I overcame the fear by putting one foot in front of the other. I couldn't think about all the potential pitfalls and reasons it might not work. I could only reduce it down to what I knew: that the business model we pursued before Bento was not sustainable, that we needed a new model, and that in my gut, I thought this was worth a try.
The other thing that has scared me: not being taken seriously. In my most critical moments, when I looked at myself from the outside, I saw a blonde with a high voice, kids, and a resume that had some deviations and experiments in it. I saw an archetype that investors wouldn't take seriously, and I wondered if I was a liability to the company every time I went out to pitch. Honestly, I'm not sure how I overcame that fear—I just pushed it away, put on my MM clothes, and marched out the damn door. I told myself that I had every right to pitch, and that we were going to succeed. And eventually, on some days (not all), I started believing it.
What are the top three things a busy woman can do to look elegant even when she has no time?
Truthfully, I struggle to give universal advice on topics like these, because everyone's challenges are different. The advice below captures some things I've learned that work for me:
- Invest in some well-made, tailored pieces that fit well and aren't fussy (try to avoid things that can slip down, spin, show sweat stains, or get wrinkled in the subway). We do these knit suits at MM—a stretchy midi skirt, stretchy jacket, and a blouse. I love wearing them, pre-, mid-, or post-partum.
- Don’t just default to black shoes with everything; find a style you like in a range of colors (e.g. grey, red, chocolate) that pair with a lot of outfits. Then pull an outfit together with your shoes. It took me 33 years to figure this out.
- Strive for the most low-maintenance, high-impact hair routine you can. Everyone's hair is different and comes with different challenges. For me, my mission is to get a good cut regularly enough that I don't need to spend a ton of time using product and blow drying each day.
What has surprised you most about this journey, and what is your vision for MM.LaFleur going forward?
Oh, so many things! How being at a startup lays bare all your weaknesses and strengths. How helping to lead a fast-growing startup isn't as glamorous as it sounds. How I thought that when MM took off, I'd feel like I was driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in a convertible with the wind in my hair, and how instead, it often feels more like driving a flaming clown car down the Bruckner Expressway. You never know what's around the bend, and you never feel as pulled together on the inside as you try to look on the outside. Growth is hard, whether it’s personal growth (which is accelerated in a startup environment with constant, real feedback) or company growth (when you eventually realize that you don't own the company—it owns you).
My vision for MM is to continue defying the stereotypes of our industry. To be the success story that validates the market for high-quality clothing with great branding, targeting women who don't see themselves as consumers and trendsetters first, but who think that their clothes are "the least interesting thing about them." In other words: world domination.