This week’s Small Business Star is Anna Bance who co-founded Girl Meets Dress in 2009, along with her co-founder Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise.
Anna, a former fashion PR, spotted a gap in the dress rental market and together with Xavier, created an affordable way for women to wear designer dresses.
Anna told us about her lightbulb moment when she realised the idea for the business, the risks she’s taken to bring that vision to market, and her mission to give every woman a Cinderella experience.
“I knew it was just a matter of time before I started my own business. It was something I’d always wanted to do when the right idea came along.
“I’d worked in fashion, since leaving university, but it was when I working as UK PR Manager for French luxury brand Hermes that I came up with the idea for Girl Meets Dress (GMD).
“Like my previous roles in the fashion industry, the job at Hermes involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists. I thought to myself ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?’
“Xavier was leading the UK digital media efforts for an investment bank before launching GMD.
“When Xavier and I did research into the dress rental market we noticed that no one was doing it online. Given the rise in online shopping was more extensive in the UK than any other country, we knew a potential market existed, so we wanted to capitalise on this and give women a new way to shop.”
“It took just a number of hours after the website went live to receiving our first order.
“It was extremely exciting seeing orders flood in. After taking a risk by leaving my stable job as a PR manager it was great to have the reassurance that I had done the right. It was also reassurance that the GMD concept could work and I knew from here we could continue to expand and grow.”
“We describe GMD as a disruptive eCommerce business with a mission to democratise luxury. It’s about believing that everybody deserves a Cinderella experience.
“We find that our customers no longer want to fork out lots of money to buy designer clothes. They prefer to rent instead, and invest only in classic pieces that will stand the test of time. And feedback from customers is always very positive. In fact we get so much feedback that we’ve launched a customer review area on the website.
“One of our customers has seven weddings to go to, so plans to hire a dress for each, allowing her to wear different outfits each time at a fraction of the cost of buying new. Another needed a dress to wear to an event while she was pregnant. She didn’t feel that there was much point in buying one as she may never wear it again.”
“The mistake we made in the early days was not delegating certain tasks soon enough. There are many things as a founder you get used to doing yourself, or think you can do. But it is important to trust, and let go.”
“Launching a business is always going to have an element of risk, but I believed in the idea, my co-founder and the market potential. When we launched we were self-funded which was a big risk, but now we are growing at over 100%.
“There will never be a perfect time to leave your secure job, risk a drop in earnings, take a chance on an idea which might not work, but what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll go back to your previous role until you come up with the next idea.”
“When we raised our first round of investment funding in the summer of 2013, it marked a pivotal moment for GMD. This allowed us to expand quickly and invest the new funding in people, marketing, inventory and scaling our operations to make sure we are delivering incredible customer experiences.
“Decisions to increase monthly overheads such as moving office or hiring key team members are always key to a small business.”
“If you’re going to set up a business, although not 100% necessary, I recommend choosing an area that you know something about. There are exciting ways to pioneer every market, whichever field you love. Of course, you can learn about any new topic, but will you be able to compete with people with years of knowledge and expertise?
“Find a co-founder with different skill set to you. This is a brilliant way to launch without needing to hire a full team on day one. If you can split the main areas of the business between you, then you can launch with minimal cost and test the product or service at market, which is the first step to seeing if there is demand.
I don’t really choose between work and life. I mix the two to suit the business. I believe in hard work, long office hours and a team community. But saying that, we can work flexibly, thanks to portable technology. And the commute distance to the office couldn’t be better for me, either 10 minutes by car or I can walk.