I was given the opportunity to speak with #girlboss Jessica Lee, CEO of Polyvore last week during her press trip to Sydney for the launch of the collaboration with Yahoo7 across their lifestyle and entertainment sites.
It gave me a new wave of inspiration after hearing Jess’ story of how she started with the business by just simply sending through her suggestions to improve the platform as an end-user. So here it is guys, enjoy!
If you hadn’t sent all those suggestions for improvement those years back to Polyvore (which inevitably led to you working for the company), where do you think you would be today?
Oh wow – that’s a good question. You know what, I was actually quite happy at Google so I probably would have stayed at Google maps a little longer. But the itch to go to a small company with a small team probably would have struck me anyway and I might have just done that for some other product instead.
Would you have stayed in the fashion realm?
You know it wasn’t specifically the fashion that drew me into Polyvore but the self-expression side of things. Products like Polyvore, Tumblr and Youtube – are platforms that empower people to express themselves and share their voice are the things I really love.
Over the years you’ve been with the business, what are some of the strangest trending searches or crazes that you’ve found?
I would have to say ‘Pastel Goth’ was one of my favourite that I’ve seen, which is an oxymoron in itself. Have you ever seen the gothic Lolita look? It’s like that – but with pastel colours.
There are just so many sub-niches inside the Polyvore community; there’s the Cosplay group and one of my favourites is Disney bound; where outfits are created that are inspired by Disney characters. If you check out Disney bound on Tumblr – the girl who created this came to the attention of Disney and she has gone on to start her own clothing line. It’s awesome to see our members go from being just an ordinary person with a creative vision to actually go on to form a career in the fashion industry.
Describe an average day for you at the office (when you’re not on a Vogue shoot with Gigi Haddid and Kendell Jenner).
When I walk into the office I usually head to the café for a quick breakfast whilst I check my emails, my Snapchat and just get a hold of what’s happening that day in my calendar. Every morning I check Polyvore’s metrics; our dashboard to see how user growth and revenue growth is tracking.
A lot of our team in Polyvore communicate using a program called Slack which is a messaging platform used by companies and I like to use this to keep on top of what’s happening. Each team has their own channel (like a chat room) and I monitor what’s happening through the discussions to keep a finger on the pulse. I’ll usually have a few meetings here or there – some are regular weekly meetings and then others are strategy driven to evaluate other competitors and their products. Not as glamorous as people would think.
For all the aspiring #bossladies out there, did you have a mentor who guided you to where you are today?
I never really had an official mentor but I definitely did have some role models who I looked up to. Probably the first was my mom. I grew up in Hong Kong and my mom ran her own business out of our apartment. It wasn’t anything tech-related or anything glamorous but it was an interpretation and translation service. So every day I saw her running her own business and it was never unusual for me to see a woman running her own company so that definitely helped push me to go on this path.
Then there are various others; both men and women who I’ve looked up to including Marissa Mayer who is now the CEO of Yahoo and another would be our CFO who has taught me a lot about how to lead authentically. She taught me how to be a leader whilst still staying true to your personality.
What’s your one piece of advice to those wanting to start their own business?
I would remind them that it’s supposed to be hard. So all the moments where you think ‘oh god I failed’ or ‘this is really hard’ or ‘I don’t know what I’m doing’ – that’s part of the process and pretty much every entrepreneur faces those moments. You need to power through them and to get you through that you need to have your support network. That could be your friends and family or just other entrepreneurs.
I would also encourage you to build a network with other fellow entrepreneurs so that you can share tips and advice with each other, have a shoulder to cry on (haha) – that’s really important.
If you could choose one place to travel to right now, where would you go?
Well Sydney has been pretty amazing so far! Let’s see – I’ve always wanted to go to Egypt. Actually no, what I want to do is go scuba diving in the Red Sea – I’ve heard that’s quite nice.
If you could choose to be any superhero, who would you be?
Oh my gosh…I’m actually a really big comic fan. (I knew because I stalked her Instagram – yes I have a girl crush) That’s a tough question – Superman is too boring and Batman is a little emo for my taste. Wonder Woman is pretty cool.
Wait no let’s go to the Marvels universe – Captain America, Black Widow. Oh man, you’ve asked me the hardest question (lots of giggling)! Not Antman. You know I kind of like Ironman – I’m going to go with him.
What did you want to be growing up?
I wanted to draw comic books. I love to draw and wanted to go to art school but Asian parents are not huge fans of that particular career path. (I feel you sister.)
Have you tried Vegemite? If so, did you like it?
I have (she says whilst giggling). Not a super fan. I actually tried it when I was young because there was a huge Aussie community when I was living in Malaysia so I did try it then but I don’t like it.
Who would you want to be stranded on an island with?
Oh that’s easy, my husband. He’s my best friend and quite handy so he could probably build us some sort of boat to save us.
Can you still recall any of your initial suggestions that you made to Polyvore?
Oh yes absolutely – I wanted a feature to be able to rotate images; I had feedback on the naming of the buttons as well.