At 22, Sophia Amoruso opened an online store selling vintage clothing. In just a few years, Nasty Gal became a multimillion dollar business with revenues approaching
$300 million. In 2014, she authored a bestseller that inspired a movement and triggered a hashtag that appeared on over 12 million Instagram posts. Girlboss was about the struggle of developing our dreams and our work ethic. She left the reader believing that our work can and should be rewarding at all stages.
Yet Amoruso’s journey hasn’t been a straight ascent to the top. In 2015, she was accused of fostering a toxic workplace. The next year her company filed for bankruptcy. And in 2017, the TV show based on her life was cancelled after a single season on Netflix. Despite everything, she has kept learning and reinventing –– including launching a digital media company in 2017 called, of couse, Girlboss. So what are some of the lessons we can learn from Sophia Amoruso, girl boss?
When Amoruso wasn’t making a lot of money she had one thing that kept her going: passion. Passion powered her over obstacles and helped her manage a growing concern. If you’re starting a business and can only visualize a 300-store franchise or a fat bank account it’s going to be tough dealing with setbacks. As she put it in her book, “I think that part of the reason Nasty Gal has been so successful is because my goals were never financial ones. I believed in what I was doing, and fortunately other people believed in it as well. I cared as much about the process as I did about the results.”
One thing budding entrepreneurs can learn from Sophia Amoruso, girl boss is that they should pursue their passions. What is the one thing you will work late for, the one thing you would do even if you weren’t getting paid? Passion will differentiate you from the competition. Too many businesses focus more on business development than on satisfying their existing customers. Amoruso made a point of responding to every online comment –– not because she’d had social media training but because she knew instinctively it was the right thing to do.
Amoruso didn’t start out by opening a boutique in pricy San Francisco with a bunch of employees. She didn’t even have her own website! She sold clothing she bought locally (and sometimes jazzed up in her apartment), online through EBay. In fact, she only expanded because staying small or selling through the auction site was no longer a viable option.
The lesson here from Sophia Amoruso, girl boss is that if you are letting lack of money keep you from starting a business, there are ways to achieve your dreams with a minimal investment. And if you’re an aspiring female entrepreneur, know that you are in good company. In 2020, almost half of new business start ups were run by women –– most years 75% of new entrepreneurs are male.
Reinvention and learning
Amoruso points to her constant reinvention and learning as a secret for success. She often describes herself as a lifelong learner. Not long after Nasty Gal entered bankruptcy, she began her digital company which she says “… is the second brand I’ve started accidentally, but the first business I’ve started intentionally. This time I’m having intention from the beginning and not just letting things happen to me or happen to the business, but being really deliberate. Which is something that’s sometimes difficult, but it’s better to put the difficult piece on the front end in the beginning rather than having to figure out what to do later on, and then trying to fix a business later on.”
Kay Cannon, co-creator of the Girlboss TV series (and Pitch Perfect screenwriter) told The Cut that she was troubled by the media obsession with Nasty Gal’s bankruptcy, saying, “Society has this deep-rooted love of watching women fail. It’s really unfair, the double standard between women and men. And there’s been a lot of talk about Nasty Gal going bankrupt and ‘ha ha ha, look at her she has hubris, how dare she?’ But to think about all the failed businesses of men, the tech businesses — they play with fake money, they lose their businesses all the time, then they create another business and do it again.”
Keep your Work and Life Separate
When you’re starting out, boundaries can be blurry. Still, Amoruso recommends setting some clear lines. Being friendly toward your employees is fine. Being their friend is a recipe for disaster. In her book she described befriending one of her employees and talking about the joy she felt driving a new car. Her employee told her if she wasn’t careful staffers would say all their hard work was so Sophia could drive a Porsche.
As Amoruso puts it, “Your boss is not your friend, and if you’re the boss, your employees aren’t your friends.”
And no matter how driven you are, self care is vital. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Eat right.
Trust Your Instincts
Amoruso explains that she was intimidated by early hires who had been working in their profession for almost as long as she’d been alive. Yet she later realized she couldn’t just let others make vital decisions about her business. To some extent she sees that as partly responsible for Nasty Gal’s financial challenges.
Whether you are running a business or managing a team, one bit of important advice Amoruso doles out is that you shouldn’t see your work style as the only way to get a job done. If others are doing the work but aren’t as high strung or fast-paced as you are, that isn’t a negative. By accepting other’s unique qualities and contributions, we can all succeed. And that’s a great lesson from Sophia Amoruso, girl boss.
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