I have entrepreneurship on the brain and stumbled upon the below Q&A with retail maven Tory Burch and the non-profit Entrepreneurship of All Kinds. This year, Tory Burch celebrates 10 years in business. Just shy of 50 years old, the self-made lifestyle guru’s net worth is reportedly $1 billion, success that began with the overwhelming sales of her first product, the “Reva” ballet flat shoe. Today, she has leveraged the success of her brand to focus on social responsibility with the Tory Burch Foundation and her newest venture, Elizabeth Street Capital. Take a moment to read the below and watch her recent commencement undergraduate speech at Babson College, here.
Your degree is in art history, not business. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned on the job that you wouldn’t have learned in a classroom?
Tory Burch: Everything I know about running a business and being a designer, I learned on the job. The most important thing I’ve learned is not to let inexperience stand in the way of something you are truly passionate about. If you’re willing to work incredibly hard, you can develop the skills you need. I was completely surprised by how much I love the management and operations side of running a business. Don’t be afraid to go outside your comfort zone. Creativity and innovation grow out of unexpected experiences and from taking the less-traveled path.
What was it like to pitch family and friends to invest in your company?
TB: I took borrowing people’s money very seriously and was terrified of losing it. I told them to only invest if they were prepared to lose their money. I understood when people said no—not everyone is comfortable with risk. Fortunately, over 100 people said yes. I felt honored by the support and didn’t want to disappoint anyone. It was thrilling to be able to tell our investors in the second year that we were profitable.
Were there ever times during the middle of the night when you doubted the company’s success?
TB: I was usually on the phone in the middle of the night with our team in Hong Kong where it was already the next business day! In the early years, I was literally working around the clock so there wasn’t a lot of time for second guessing. Of course, there were the occasional moments when I wondered whether we’d be able to pull it off. During those times, I just put my head down, focused, and worked harder.
Is there an experience from your career that stands out as one that helped you develop a thicker skin?
TB: When we were first starting out, there were many naysayers, people who thought I should build the brand at wholesale instead of launching a retail store with multiple categories. Others called our early success “a flash in the pan.” I’m a sensitive person, so it was hard. My parents told me that I needed to develop a thicker skin. They said I should think of negativity as noise and focus on what I was doing. It was great advice that I have kept in mind ever since.
What question do you wish more people would ask you?
TB: I wish more people asked what to do to help level the playing field for women entrepreneurs. Women are a great investment and there are many ways to support those who are starting out, whether it’s by mentoring, investing in their business, buying their products, or using their services.
Elizabeth Street Capital is one of your newest projects. What are you looking for from the women applying for these loans?
TB: Our Elizabeth Street Capital initiative with Bank of America provides women entrepreneurs with access to low-cost loans through our CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution) partners in different markets across the country. Each CDFI has their own criteria but, generally speaking, we are looking for passionate, committed women entrepreneurs who can successfully scale their business with the help of an affordable loan.
If you weren’t working as a fashion designer, what would you be doing instead?
TB: I’d probably be a social worker or working for a foundation.
Photo above, via.