GILT Groupe took the fashion, retail, and e-commerce world by storm when it started in 2007, rapidly growing into a multi-million dollar online shopping empire and household name. Now GILT Groupe’s founders, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson and Alexis Maybank have written a book about how they created the billion-dollar company, By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop. They answered our questions about their path to success below.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for GILT?
Alexandra and I drew inspiration from the New York sample sale, an exciting form of retail that drew throngs of fashion devotees to remote Manhattan showrooms to get the most coveted looks at unbelievable prices. We partnered with Kevin Ryan who had witnessed a similar model in Western Europe gain popularity. We knew there would be interest across the country in shopping for these designer items on our site.
Q: At what point did you know you had a success on your hands?
We knew we had struck a nerve with our shoppers when our goods sold so quickly in that first Zac Posen sale the day we launched in November 2007.
Q: If there is one thing you wish you had known before starting GILT what is it?
I knew building startups was an all-encompassing effort; however when you are in the trenches of one it is hard to take the needed time out to make sure you don’t hit a wall. It’s not a sprint, but a marathon.
Q: What partnerships were important to the growth of your company?
Our first major partnership was with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. This allowed us quickly to partner with hundreds of top designers. Also, a partnership with Vogue in which we sold items on our site directly from the magazine’s pages showed people loved the combination of magazine style imagery and the ability to shop directly from these photos.
Q: What were the biggest risks you took starting GILT?
Partnering with a friend was personally risky – what might happen to our friendship if we didn’t work well together? Also, we invested and doubled down in studios, styling and photography – this impacted our cost structure and would have hindered us if we didn’t scale quickly.
Q: What pointers would you give to someone starting an internet company?
Now’s a great time to start!
Q: What websites do you visit the most often?
Pandora and of course GILT!
Q: How do you learn about fashion and taste trends?
Fashion shows, magazines and just observing the streets of NYC, LA, Paris and Milan.
Q: What designers do you like now?
Prabal Gurung and Zac Posen are favorites!