Sophia Amoruso, the CEO of online fashion site Nasty Gal and author of the new book GIRLBOSS (Portfolio Hardcover), is not your typical CEO.
The 30-year-old started the site in 2006 as an eBay project, selling vintage clothing while she worked as a security guard checking IDs at an art school. She had no college degree, no experience in business, and writes that as a teenager and in her early 20s, ďI thought that I would never embrace capitalism.Ē Yet without taking out a dime in loans, she started a business that has led her to be called the ďCinderella of tech.Ē Eight years later, the site is an online mecca for stylish women, with more than $100 million in revenue. Excerpts:
Q: Why did you decide to write the book?
A: Thereís no one really speaking to the audience Iím trying to reach. Every woman who has a business book has a platform. For the most part theyíre either a television personality or someone who had the perfect pedigree and worked their way up the career ladder. If you look at my Instagram, girls are just beating down my door for tips or a job or mentorship. I canít hire every single one of them. My story is an unconventional story with anecdotes, commonsense advice and a big dose of permission to figure things out for yourself.
Q: What are some of your favorite or most influential business books?
A: Well itís not really a business book, but ďThe Richest Man in BabylonĒ is a must-read thatís more about managing your own personal finances.
Q: Whatís the story behind the title GIRLBOSS? Why did you choose to focus on women?
A: Well, Iím a girl. Iím a boss. I think it would be boring to call the book ďBoss,Ē but itís not just for girls. There are a lot of parents whoíve come to me and said about their daughters, ďOh my God, sheís 21, sheís totally flailing. Your story gives me hope.Ē I put my mom through that. Sheís totally earned what sheís experiencing today.
As for the hashtag, part of my story is about using social media as free marketing. The title is also a riff on this í70s Japanese movie called ďGirl Boss Guerilla,Ē which is like a female revenge movie. Itís very campy ó something like the style of film Quentin Tarantino stole from.
Q: The company has grown immensely. How has your job as a leader changed?
A: As the company grows, you have to move from a team of generalists to a team of specialists. I was the ultimate generalist. I hired the first employee, another generalist. And even today I preach that thereís no such thing as ďthatís not my job.Ē Everyone needs to do what they need to do to get the job done.
But my job also went from whatever it takes to get job done to leading people, hiring people directly under me, and creating strategy and holding the company accountable to it. Iím making long-term goals, which I never had in the beginning, and am trying to create meaning and have conversations about it, so that everybody can take that and do a better job. Itís a different team Iím managing today compared to six years ago.
Q: One challenge of being a young CEO is how to deal with having senior executives who are older than you. The book recounts meetings where people incorrectly addressed them as the decision makers. What do you do when that happens?
A: That rarely happens, and those are the people I usually donít have a meeting with more than once. Itís generally pretty clear that Iím the one running the business. Iím the one calling the shots. I own the majority of the business. I control the board.
Thereís mostly upside to having older executives on the team. Not only do the people who need mentorship have amazing, experienced managers; but for the most part, I get to manage people who need to be managed very little.
Q: What was the hardest thing you had to learn as a new leader?
A: I think it was being loyal to the company as a whole rather than any individual person. Thatís really, really hard because I care a lot about the people I work with. But ultimately I have to set the company up for success. There have been times when the company outgrew somebody. Iíve tried to rectify that as quickly as possible.
Q: Thereís a lot of talk about the macho culture in the tech world. As an e-commerce site run by a woman, how much have you faced that?
A: It may be for some, but for me that hasnít been the fact. I waited to talk to venture capitalists until I didnít need anything from them. I think as a person and especially as a woman, putting yourself in a position where youíve already done something ó where youíve proven something, where you donít need anything ó is key. Iíd proven that I could responsibly run a profitable business that was growing very quickly before I talked to them, so the macho piece didnít really come into play.
Q: What about when women havenít yet proven themselves? What would your advice be to them?
A: You donít have to be a dude at the table. If you think theyíre going to treat you differently as a woman, theyíre going to treat you differently. What you expect will happen, if thatís what you think about it.
I never want to be in a position where I owe anyone anything unless Iím 100 percent sure I can keep my promise. Thatís how I work. I know thatís not the case for everyone and some businesses are more capital-intensive. But I would never have an idea on a piece of paper and ask someone to give me money. I just wouldnít do it. I have a pretty healthy sense of entitlement, but only in places where I feel like I can bring something to the table. Be a peer in any relationship. Itís much healthier than being indebted to anyone.
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