358: Pro-Product vs. Pro-Marketing: How Heidi Zak of ThirdLove Faced Off With Victoria’s Secret

Quitting her promising job at Google, Heidi Zak decided to take the plunge and launch ThirdLove, an ecommerce brand for women’s underwear. Today, thanks to Zak’s masterful approach to scaling, ThirdLove is the third biggest ecommerce lingerie brand in America with no signs of slowing down.

Zak’s journey into the entrepreneurial space began after she moved to the West coast and got swept up in the startup world. Launching as a small bootstrapped brand, she never thought that she one day be competing with titans like Victoria’s Secret.

Listen in as Zak discusses the ins and outs of the ecommerce world, navigating scaling, product vs. marketing, and why she believes successful entrepreneurialism is based on perspective.

Nathan: The first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job? A.K.A. how did you find yourself doing the work you’re doing today?

Heidi: Yeah. So I was in earlier in my career I was in New York for 10 years. I worked for a big retail company called Aeropostale after business school. Found my way to the West Coast to San Francisco, was at Google, and I was out here at Google and really starting to drink the Kool-Aid, as I say, of being a tech founder and seeing cool things that people were building, and really getting inspired, and looking around and being like, “I think I could do something. And that would be really fun and interesting and cool.” And at Google, I went to the mall, because I needed a new bra, and I was shopping in a Victoria’s Secret store, because that’s what I’ve done since I was a teenager, and bought some bras, they didn’t really fit, I took the striped bag that they gave me and I stuffed it into the bag I was carrying because I was embarrassed to be shopping at this brand that just didn’t reflect who I was.

And I came home that night and I started doing a lot of searching, looking for a bra brand that matched what I felt like I deserved. And there wasn’t one. And that was really the Aha moment of me to say, “Hey, I think this could be a really interesting category, and in particular, a really interesting category to bring online.” And that was 2012.

Nathan: Okay. Wow. And you launched ThirdLove, fast forward to now, from research, you guys are the third largest bra and underwear company in America. Is that correct?

Heidi: That’s right.

Nathan: Wow. That’s-

Heidi: Behind Victoria’s Secret and Aerie, which is American Eagle’s brand. Yeah.

Nathan: Wow. That’s pretty impressive. So let’s go back to early humble beginnings. So, incredible story by the way of how you had this realisation. So what happened next?

Heidi: Well, did some research, was working on it at night, and really came to the conclusion that this was going to have to be a full-time gig. And at the time, I had savings, I was in my early 30s, didn’t have kids yet, and was kind of like, “Well, what’s the worst that can happen?” The worst that can happen is that it fails and I do it for a year and lose some money that I put into the company, and then I’d go back and work at a big tech company or find something else.

And so, quit Google, which was a big thing, because when I quit Google, my parents and other people were like, “You’re quitting Google? That’s the best company to work for in the world.” And so there was a little bit of that. But quit, and started from scratch without a name, without anything, without product. And the early days, I’d say the first two years, which were a really long two years, were building the physical product and then building the tech product. So we started an app that let a woman size herself using her smart phone. So this is 2013. And yeah, that was the early days of the company. A few people in a really large conference room, building the technology and building the product.

Nathan: Yeah. Wow. And so you left in 2012 and you started working on the product?

Heidi: Yep.

Nathan: Did you start with the physical product first, or the app, or both at the same time?

Heidi: Same time. Two very different types of skill sets needed there. So the two people that we hired, one was an engineer who really helped us with our mobile app. The other was a lingerie designer. So those were the two first hires. Yeah.

Nathan: Yeah. Okay. Wow. And did you raise any capital to get it off the ground?

Heidi: So, we bootstrapped for a while. My co-founder, who’s also my husband, we put in about $50,000 of our own money. We bootstrapped for nine months probably, nine months to a year, and then we raised a seed in 2013.

Nathan: Okay. Awesome. And how did you work out this whole world that was very unfamiliar until you started?

Heidi: You mean the tech world? The VC world? Or you mean start-up land or both?

Nathan: No, physical products, apps, meshing it together, making it all work, selling online. Yeah.

Heidi: I don’t know, man. It’s one of these things where you’re like, “How hard can this be? We’re going to figure it out.” And then you start doing it and you’re like, “Oh, this is going to be really hard.” And you just realise it’s not as simple as you thought it would be.

Yeah. I mean I think the app, this was the hey day of apps, right? The app store, everything was an app in 2013, 2014. So yeah, I mean just built and iterated. I mean, I feel like the technology was actually easier than the physical product. Because the physical product, we had really distinct ideas on the fit and the quality of the product, and it just took a lot of iteration and testing to get the physical product to where it needed to be. I think that took a good two years of our time. But you test, you iterate, you use focus groups, you learn, and you just try to keep moving forward and then at some point, hopefully things start to click and work, which they eventually did for us. So it was long and hard at the beginning where it wasn’t working, and then if it works, then it’s easier because you’re just scaling and taking what’s working and amplifying it.

Nathan: So it sounds like you come from, do you have a good product management background previously in previous careers?

Heidi: Yeah. I did a lot of new business development, but at Google, yeah, I was doing more… At Aeropostale I was doing launching and incubating new brands and features within the company. So I had a little bit of that entrepreneurial background in a big company. And then at Google, I was doing more website testing and optimization and a bit of that. So I definitely had some of the skills needed, but I would say most of what I’ve learned has been on the job at ThirdLove. I mean, there is no handbook for starting a company. And that’s why people fund second-time founders. I always wondered that. I was like, “Why [inaudible] start up a second company even if your first company failed, people will back it?” I’ve always wondered why, and that now having done this, I’m like, “There’s a reason why. Because there’s 1,001 things I would do the next time around.”

Nathan: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You got the battle scars to prove it, so I’m curious, what did MOQ look like for the physical product?

Heidi: Yeah. Well, there’s always a way to pay more and get less, but with bras in particular, it’s usually 3,000 to 3,500 per style, colour, which is high, high, high. So yeah, in the early days, we did oftentimes order a lot less than that and just pay surcharges, which made our costs extremely high at the beginning.

Nathan: How did you go to market? And what did that look like? And I assume you use Shopify?

Heidi: That’s also another good story. No. We didn’t in the early days. Well, if you think about when we launched, Shopify was around but they were tiny and they weren’t ubiquitous like today. So, we built our own front-end and back-end, in particular because we had the app and we had sizing and we felt like we needed something more custom. And that was a terrible mistake and we eventually moved to Shopify in 2015 and we’ve been on it ever since. We’re one of the biggest brands on Shopify today.

But, yeah, so in terms of go to market and product market fit, our biggest success in the early days was a programme called Try Before You Buy, which we call TBB, and this programme we allowed a woman to buy a bra, just pay shipping, like $3.99. We’d send her a bra and she didn’t have to pay for it and she could take the tags off and wear it and wash it for 30 days and if she loved it, she kept it and if she didn’t, she sent it back for free. And we marketed that programme and really, we stood behind our product. We knew we had better bras. And so, that was us really putting a stake in the ground and being like, “This is the moment. This either works or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, we probably won’t be around in a year.” It worked.

And that programme, we used for years to acquire new customer. Nobody knew ThirdLove, no one trusted us, no one had heard of us, so at that moment in time, that was I would say it was the most important marketing initiative that we launched in the early days.

Nathan: Yeah. Interesting. So yeah, I’m curious. So it sounds like that was a really powerful offer that converted really, really well and you guys probably just scaled that aggressively across all performance marketing channels, right?

Heidi: Exactly. I mean I think the big thing is that you have to find something that differentiates you or your product. And so, this certainly differentiated us and I think gave customers the confidence they needed to try something new in a category where they had been let down a lot. It’s kind of like what I was talking about. If your average woman’s walking around being like, “Ah, there’s never a [inaudible] bra that worked. I’ve never had a great product. Why would you believe there is something better?” So you need something unique to tell the customer, “Try this.”

But yeah, so when it worked, it worked really well and it was very differentiated. And I don’t know that any other brand’s ever done this distinct programme since. There’s a lot of trial kind of things you can do, but you really have to know your product is good if you’re not asking for money upfront.

Nathan: Yeah. I agree. It’s a great no-brainer offer, right? It removes all risk for the customer. Yeah, I do think though, Warby Parker do something similar. I’ve got this Oura Ring, this Oura Ring, they send you the kit-

Heidi: …… ordered one.

Nathan: Yeah. It’s amazing. So they send you the kit out. Yeah, no. It is a great offer. It is an irresistible offer, it is a no-brainer, it removes all risk from the customer and puts it all on the brand. But you have to have confidence in your product and yeah, no it’s amazing. So I’m curious as well, when it came to, I guess, your big break, was that when it happened in 2015, when you tried that programme? Before then, was it just slow going? Or…

Heidi: Yeah. I mean, before that, I tell this story, there were days in the early days of ThirdLove where we would get no orders or one order in five orders. I remember those days vividly, because they’re extremely painful. And there’s this idea, or there used to be, like if you build it, they will come. And it’s like, if you build it, nobody… Unless you traffic, they won’t come. And so, yeah, I would say in terms of hitting a hot glue stick road that came in the wake of the Try Before You Buy programme, that was definitely a big unlock for us in terms of building the brand.

Nathan: When you did go to market, and you said, yeah, it was slow and it took a while to get going, what things did you try that didn’t work? I’m curious.

Heidi: I mean, I think we tried a lot of just more, what I would call more traditional ads. It’s speaking to things that actually work for us today, but didn’t at the time. So things about the design of the product, or the comfort of the product, or the fit, or the quality, the natural things you think that someone’s looking to understand, but I think those tend to work better if you have some level of brand recognition. And so that probably was the biggest thing.

We also tried, we had a lot of different bra styles in the early days, and there was this one bra style that ended up working that’s still our number one product, it’s our hero product called the 24/7 T-shirt bra. And so, a lot of it also was like, the trial and error of figuring that hero product out, and then once that worked, when you have a hero product and you have the right marketing message, then everything becomes easy. It’s like magic, right?

Now, easier said than done, but yeah. So, besides that, I mean just a lot of we tried influencers. I don’t even know if they were exactly called influencers back in that period, and most of them were on YouTube because this is kind of pre-Instagram getting as popular. And so some success there, not a tonne, so there’s a lot of trial and error on different channels that didn’t seem to work that well. And when it doesn’t work at one moment in time, it may work really well a year or two later.

Nathan: Yeah. One of my mentors, he’s told me before about situational stage advice, and you have to be careful when you hear certain things, because it might not apply to where you’re at in the journey. Yeah. Always reigns true sometimes.

Heidi: Totally. Yeah. I was just on the phone earlier today with an early-stage founder who I angel invested in and I was really going back in time. Back through memory lane. When we 10 people, who did we hire? How did we think about that? What worked? What didn’t? Very different than today obviously, right? And again, it was a different moment in time, so everything’s contact. So any advice you get, just also, it doesn’t even matter if it is the same state, it really matters the context and the nuance of who your brand or company is and the moment in time as well.

Because for example, we got into podcasts early on in 2015-ish, and still today, that’s a really great marketing channel for us. But podcasts don’t work for every brand well, but they worked for ThirdLove. You got to test.

Nathan: And it takes a while to really crack a channel. For us, we’re very strong at performance marketing. We’re quite strong at organic social, but we haven’t cracked SEO. We really haven’t cracked… And it takes time, effort, testing, and you got to earn it.

Heidi: Yeah. It’s interesting. I always say this to our team, it’s funny because we started out as a broadband, today we have multiple categories, we launched lounge and sleep last week, but when we started trying to sell underwear a few years ago now, we had a really hard time figuring out how to sell underwear. Now, this seems like, we’re already selling bras, how hard can it be? It’s actually, when you build your company as a certain product company, when you go out into the world of other things, you don’t sell them the same way. People buy underwear in a different way, meaning multiples, right? There’s all these learnings about the type of things you’re selling, and just because you sold one thing really well, it doesn’t mean you’re going to sell the next thing really well and you have to dedicate time and effort to it.

And then when you figure it out, which we have, underwear is growing, doubling year on year for us, more, but we didn’t snap our fingers and it was that easy. It’s like, same thing, different period of time, different methods, different approach, and yeah.

Nathan: Yeah. I’m curious, especially because you are based in San Fran, I speak to a lot of founders and especially in San Fran, there’s this philosophy that it’s pro-product versus marketing. You know what I’m talking about? It’s all about the product, the better the product, the better product, the better product, and let the product market itself. Because you’re there and you have an interesting story around this, what is your take? Is it product or the marketing?

Heidi: Generally, I would say it’s both. I mean, again, if you don’t have great product, no matter how good our marketing is, you may acquire a lot of customers, you are not going to retain that and that’s a terrible situation to be in, especially if you’re paying money to acquire those customers. So, product first, quality first.

The question is, how good does it have to be? So therein lies the question, because you can spend tonnes of time and money perfecting a product, but generally speaking, this is not for a car obviously, but for a lot of products, maybe it doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be quite good, but maybe not perfect. And so I think there is a line that you can get to that it’s good enough and some people who are obsessed about details maybe, there’s a fine line [inaudible].

And then, but marketing is really important because you need to know how to sell the attributes of our product in a way that resonates with your customer. And that is called product market fit, right? Meaning you have a great product and you know how to sell it and/or market message it. And a lot of times, we think, like I said, what you think may be the best-selling attribute isn’t going to resonate and you got to test it.

So, at ThirdLove in the early, early days, we were running all these ads that weren’t working, so one of them was Try Before You Buy that ended up working. Another one was, Ready to Graduate from Victoria’s Secret. And that wasn’t about us, right? I’m not saying anything about ThirdLove, I’m not saying anything about, I am intuitively, I guess, underneath, but I’m just saying, “Are you ready to graduate from Victoria’s Secret?” And many women, that was the hook for them. Because they were like, “Yeah. I am totally ready.” And those type of ads worked really, really well for us because it’s about a state of mind and it’s about changing a behaviour, right?

And so, I think that how you market and the message that you use is imperative to success, for sure.

Nathan: Hey guys. I hope you’re enjoying this episode and learning a tonne. As you know, in this series, we interview some of the greatest founders of our generation to find out how they did it. However, if you’re thinking of starting your own business and you want to hear from some incredible stories from everyday people like you or I who are actually in the trenches, only been building their business for maybe one year or two years, that are building right now and they’re really in the early stages, but they’re getting success, you should come and check out our new podcast, From Zero to Foundr.

Hosted by our Community Manager, Mollie Flynn, these are in the trenches stories from our very own successful students that have gone through some of our programmes. People just like you who are deep within the process of building their very own successful business. These are the founders of tomorrow. You can find the From Zero to Foundr podcast on all platforms. And remember, it’s Foundr without the E. All right? Now, let’s jump into the show.

I’m curious, because this is something I think’s incredible, you guys have donated over $30 million’ worth of bras to women in need. Can you tell us about that programme?
Heidi: We’ve actually donated over $40 million now, as of the end of 2020. Yeah. So, basically one of the things we found out early at ThirdLove was that the biggest need of women in shelters, for example, were undergarments. So, you think about people in tough situations, women in tough situations, you think about organisations even like Dress for Success, which we partner with as well, it’s one thing to give a woman job training and a suit and these things, but if she doesn’t have the right undergarments, she can’t even go out for that job interview.

And most of the big known retailers and brands tends to burn their products, their accessed inventory, because they don’t want it to end up in the black market, et cetera. And so we decided to take a different approach, which was to donate our product. And so, yeah, we’ve donated a lot of bras and underwear. And not just to women in need, but natural disasters, for example hurricanes and fires and people who’ve lost everything, right? And now we’ve expanded internationally as well. So, definitely a big component of our brand.

Nathan: Yeah. That’s amazing. So, I’m curious as well, this is incredible growth, you guys are a market leader in a relatively short time. It usually takes at least seven to 10 years to build something of true worth or significance or to be towards a category king. I’m curious, in that in between time when 2015, the Try Before You Buy, there obviously has been some crazy step changes that have really helped on scale. I’d love to know lessons you could share with founders that perhaps have hit product market fit, we have a lot of e-commerce founders that are doing quite well that consume our content. I’d love to know from our take, that sub… Yeah, even eight, multiple seven figures going into past your nine figures. What step changes did you see and things that you guys have done to really accelerate the growth of the business?

Heidi: Yeah. I mean, I think one was really expanding our size range. So expanding our offering at the right time, which we did probably about 2018. We added about 30 sizes of bras at one time to serve a larger portion of the market. So I think one piece is, because at the beginning you really want to focus on your hero product. And then at some point, you want to expand, and again, finding the right mood’s really, really important.

And so, yeah, so think expanding sizes, expanding the product offering, and then I think our first brand campaign, non-performance marketing was also around that time period, called To Each Her Own. And in that moment, we really wrote a manifesto about who ThirdLove was, why we were different, what we stood for, and the idea of individuality, right? And we did our first at a home campaign and we took over a bunch of subways in New York City. We took out billboards. And we did our first high-fidelity commercial and launched on TV, really expanding brand reach.

So, things like that were different moments that helped us build into a bigger brand, not just a bra company, but a true brand that stood for something that could connect with our audience.

Nathan: Yeah. Wow. That’s interesting, because yeah, you look at all these fast-growing direct to consumer brands, pure performance marketing based, get very, very good at that, but oftentimes, yeah, doing brand campaigns, working on brand lift is often an oversight. And because it is so hard to measure, and because you can spend a lot of money and it’s scary to know… Yeah. So how did you work that out? And so you have seen overall that that has really helped, you believe?

Heidi: Yeah. I mean, we just launched our newest brand campaign this week called Your Boobs Deserve ThirdLove, and it’s a long-form content on YouTube. It’s about two and a half minutes long, but it’s cut into commercials that just launched across the board, OTT and Linear, and it is scary. It is scary, but I think oftentimes, a lot of online brands tend to focus more on performance and at some point, you need to step out of your comfort zone and build a brand.

And so there’s different ways to do that and it’s not necessarily like a campaign, or always TV for sure, but it’s really about who you are and making sure… I mean, if you think about the biggest brands that we all talk about, Nike and Apple and Coke, or whatever, I mean, where do they spend their money, right? Probably virtually all on brand. I mean, again, other end of the spectrum, so I think it’s really about knowing what you’re doing and how you’re spending your money efficiently. Because I think sometimes people invest too much in it, but it also is important. There’s no easy answer to that for sure.

Nathan: Yeah, but I do think it is very interesting you say, because once the brand gets to a certain level of maturity, you don’t have to go 100% performance, you can go maybe 95% and 5% on brand, right? And you can make it work, but it’s just hard to see, but yeah, I really like this idea of the manifesto. I think that’s super smart and really using the why, because that is how you can differentiate yourself to a Victoria’s Secret. You know what I mean? It’s a message that is clearly articulated that can connect with the consumer at a much deeper level, and also create more raving fans.

Heidi: Yeah. And the manifesto itself actually led to an interesting moment for us as a brand, which helped build the brand, but it was actually virtually free, which was Victoria’s Secret in 2018, their CMO at the time has since resigned, but did an interview and the article came out. And I was getting all these texts from people and the title of it in Vogue was, “We’re nobody’s ThirdLove. We’re women’s first love.” And so, he did this whole interview, but in it he talked about why they don’t feature plus-sized women, because they tried it in 2000 and it didn’t work, they would never feature anyone trans. The fashion show is interesting, and people, women love spending their Sunday night watching the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

And he said all these things and we had just written our manifesto recently to when this happened, and we decided to take out a full page ad in the New York Times writing an open letter to Victoria’s Secret and it was signed by me and it was basically like, “Dear Victoria’s Secret, we believe there is an alternative for women, an alternate view of what it means to be a lingerie brand and what we stand for, what we think women want, versus what you think women want.” And that ad was, I forget how much it was, but the amount of media and conversation and brand connection it created for us as a company was hard to track, but measurable and really important to us. And having that manifesto in that brand campaign of who we were articulated allowed us to do that really well.

Nathan: Yeah. Very smart. Okay. This is fascinating, because now we’re talking really mature, smart scaling decisions that a lot of people don’t talk about. Yeah. This is great. Okay. So let’s talk about, you talked about the right time to add new categories. So let’s just say someone has a hero product and they might have some accessories around that hero product, and now they’re looking to bolt on a new line, potentially give it a crack for a new hero. How do you know when that new time is? Because focus is key and it’s, like we talked about, you have to earn that right to understand how to sell that particular product, what angles resonates with what audiences, you’ve got to educate your team. Now you’re selling this one, this one. And it’s got to be spread, and yeah.

Heidi: Yeah. I was talking to this early-stage founder this morning and we were talking about that, because I was asking her, how many customers do you have? And she’s talking about product expansion. I was like, “You need to seel this product to a million people, and then, and then we can talk.” You know what I mean? People get so caught up in expanding and doing all these things, it’s like, you’re not going to deliver, your product’s not going to be good because you’re a small company, it’s not going to be as good as it should be or could for your customer because you’re early stage.

So, I mean, I think it depends on your market and your price point and all of that, but I think really what every early stage founder should do or mid is, what are the milestones that I need to achieve before I start product expansion or start international expansion? Whatever those things are. So like, “I’m going to get to 500,000 customers, and then I’m going to do X. And I’m going to get to a million customers, and I’m going to add Y.” In that way, it makes you really focus. If you have that great product that we talked about, then you should be selling that great product to a lot of new people, not creating new products to sell to the 10,000 people our acquired.

And then it just helps you focus more, it’s also easier to sell one thing more than multiple, which is a learning that we have. I said this about bras into underwear. When you sell one thing, it’s easy to do it pretty well. When you have five things to sell, what takes the priority? How do you talk about it? People start potentially trading, they’re not going to buy everything.

And then the last point I’d make is, I think you really want to be cognizant of what you’re trying to do. Are you trying to attract new customers with your new product? Or sell more to your current customers with your new product? Because those are two totally different decisions that would likely make you create different types of products.

Nathan: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I think oftentimes, once you do get a bit of traction, it’s exciting to create new products, and you can get caught up in that and then you think, “Okay, what if I have 30,000 people that have bought, then I can do a promo around this and then we can sell more and then we can have more potential upsells and then we can raise average order value. And then, yeah, it is an easy trap to fall into I think.

Heidi: Yeah. And look, I think some things are easier than others. So if it’s reasonably low lift to develop it, okay, you could contemplate it, but if it’s a big money and time investment, you have to really, really know what’s going to move the needle for you.

Nathan: So, I’m curious around, I guess, retail. Have you guys opened any retail stores or looking to?

Heidi: We had a pop up that we had opened in New York City in SoHo in 2019 in the summer. And we shut it down when the pandemic hit in March of last year. We had plans to open five stores last year, but [inaudible]. So right now we’re 100% D to C, with no immediate plans to do physical retail again right now.

Nathan: I’m curious as well when it comes to fulfilment. Are you guys in house or using third party?

Heidi: We use a 3PL. To me, it’s not a core competency for us as a brand and it’s a big undertaking and there’s other people who are better. So my advice would be, there are certain businesses that I know, especially businesses that are more potentially subscription based with lots of items where they really need to personalise it, that they have their own DCs and they operate them and it makes a tonne of sense operationally because it’s a competitive advantage, but again, it goes back to what’s your competitive advantage? Ours is not distribution, it’s not our warehouse.

Nathan: Interesting. Because yeah, I think companies as they do try and scale, they try and control the whole supply chain and that is, yeah, obviously customers want things faster, Amazon is training people to expect that. Okay. Interesting. Any thoughts on Amazon? Going there, touching that?

Heidi: We haven’t. I mean a few reasons. I mean I think in particular, our core product us still bras and bras are really hard to find your size. Most women who purchase with ThirdLove do our fitting room and do that experience to get a size recommendation which wouldn’t happen on Amazon. So then you end up basically, I believe you end up with women who have a subpar experience because they’re not wearing the right size.

So, again it totally depends on what you’re selling, but I think if there’s hurdles to purchase for the customer and they need to interact with something or be educated about some aspect, it’s hard to do that on Amazon. And then there’s other reasons why. That being said, a lot of companies have found Amazon truly help them scale and reach new customers. We don’t sell, we have never have sold on Amazon.

Nathan: Yeah. It doesn’t sound like it’s the right fit for you guys.

Heidi: No. But we did do wholesale in the early days. We still do Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom and when we were building our brand and did that for a while, we don’t anymore, but I think there’s alternate ways to reach customers through different partnerships that are really smart and aligned with your customer base and your values and so, yeah, certainly having other areas besides the Facebook and Instagram to acquire customers is a good idea.

Nathan: Yeah. I guess that’s where I’m going. What’s next for you guys? You said you launched underwear, and that’s obviously a really exciting space for you guys, but I’m curious, yeah, what’s next? How do you plan to, I guess, become the largest online bra and underwear company in America.

Heidi: Yeah. I mean I think this past two weeks, we’ve launched five or six things at ThirdLove. We launched lounge and sleep, we launched our new fitting room, which is the next version of the FitFinder with style and 3D animations and just a much more nuanced experience. We launched Kitting, which is buying multiple products together for a discount. We launched our new campaign that I just talked about all within the last two weeks. So those are more micro things. I think as we think about growing, I think, one, international, two, product expansion beyond what we have today, which is lounge, bras, and underwear, and then three, some component of in person.

So, TBD what that is, but I do think the in life representation of the brand is really important for consumer companies. So at some point, that will be part of our strategy. Like I said, it’s not immediate, but at some point.

Nathan: Yeah, it seems to be that, yeah, that’s what tends to happen with these direct consumer brands, modern ones. Like your Glossier, what they’re doing with their store. Yeah, we have a office in New York and I used to go there all the time before the pandemic and my partner, that’s her favourite brand and you can’t even get Glossier in Australia. And I’m lining up and I’m going to those stores and I see just, it is insane how passionate people are for that brand. Crazy.

Heidi: Yeah. Totally. And the in-store experience is really part of it, right? It’s the brand brought to life. Now, beauty is obviously is a category where woman tend to shop together, right? So, it’s very different than intimates where it’s a very personal shopping experience. So, again, it’s all about the category and how people shop for the product, but yeah, absolutely that social component, and then also the brand coming to life through that experience in store is huge. It connects you more. You feel engaged. You feel part of the community.

Nathan: Yeah. Even for me, the pink bags, the science kind of white suits that the girls are wearing that work there, and just all pink. Yeah, it is really cool.

Heidi: Yeah. Totally.

Nathan: Okay. Interesting. So, look, we have to work towards wrapping up, I’m curious, is there anything that you would like me to ask you that I haven’t yet? Or any questions that you’d like to share with our audience of early-stage start-up founders?

Heidi: I mean, I think that the biggest thing is that, at least for us, in the early days of ThirdLove, it felt like more went wrong than right, and we had a lot of lows, and maybe not as many highs. It’s kind of natural. And so I think you just have to recognise that over time it does get easier. It doesn’t get easier meaning, the problems you solve are bigger, but it becomes a little less bumpy and so, I think knowing it’s all moments in time.

And then two, the other thing I would say is that I think I took things really personally and deeply in the early stages of the company. I would get really upset about something that went wrong and I’d spin on it and I’d obsess about it and now, if that same thing happened today, I would spend five minutes on it, maybe less, and move on. And so it’s all perspective, but I would say if any piece of advice I could give it’s like, just don’t take it so hard. Just recognise it didn’t work, recognise whatever, make the decision, move on, and stop obsessing on the past and focus on the future.

Nathan: Yeah. That’s great advice, sometimes harder to know, though, when you’re in it, right?

Heidi: No, totally. 100%. But even if you can say to yourself mentally, there was this thing that happened three months ago and it was somewhat similar and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. So let me approach this next valley of death knowing I’m likely going to get through it, because I got through the last one. And just the more times you can do that to yourself and train yourself to be like, “I’ve felt this way before. I’m not going to do the exact same thing I did last time.” You’ve got to grow as a leader.

I mean, somebody once said to me and I think this is a really good point, your company’s going to grow, maybe it’s growing like this, but generally if you’re successful, it’s going to be growing at some pace up and you’re here and you have to stay up above the curve. You have to be growing faster than the pace your company’s growing, otherwise you’re not going to be a good leader and you’re not going to be able to scale the company.

So, you have to have a growth mindset for your own self as well as having that growth mindset for your company. And that means recognising these patterns and evolving and learning to react differently and have a different mental perspective.

Nathan: Yeah. I love that so much. I’m a big fan and do believe that the reflection of your company’s growth is a reflection of you as a leader, of your own personal growth.

Heidi: Totally. Yeah. And we all are on a journey, right? We’re all on a journey and your company’s on a journey and your team’s on a journey, and so, the sooner you recognise that and can lean into that, it becomes really exciting to see that progress, versus scary.

Nathan: I have to ask you as well, during those times when you wouldn’t get one sale, did you ever feel like giving up? And what kept you going?

Heidi: I’m not one to accept failure. And I think that’s probably innate to most entrepreneurs or the ones who succeed, because there’ll be so many failures that you won’t be able to even count them. Not succeeding wasn’t an option. To me, that was, there was one investor, early stage investor who told us to throw in the towel at one point. And we’ll always remember him saying that and how bad it was, because we’re like, “No way. No. We’re going to do it. We’re going to figure it out.” And we did, but you just have to be able to say, I’m going to keep pushing. I’m going to try something new. I’m not going to get down. I’m going to keep trying something until it sticks. And have that perseverance. If you don’t have that, you’re not going to cut it as a founder.

Nathan: And during these times, or even now, do you do anything for your own personal growth? Do you listen to potential books or listen to YouTube? Is there anything that you do to keep our mindset and to fuel it and that thinking big and…

Heidi: Yeah. I mean Scott Galloway is pretty awesome in terms of leadership lessons. There’s a guy in my YPO forums, I’m a member of YPO, I joined a few years ago, that’s been a really good network for growth and holding myself and others accountable for things we know we need to do. But one of the guys in my forum wrote a book called Master Your Code. And I would really suggest people read it, because it’s all about this idea that we have these preconceived notions about ourselves that actually impact almost everything we do and how we view the world and how we view ourselves. And unless you can unlock that and understand that, you can be good, you’re never going to be great.

And so, the idea of Master Your Code is, if you want to be a great leader, a top 1%, how do you do that? And it’s about really understanding and the core of a lot of it comes from childhood, not to get too into all this stuff, but it really does. It’s like, there’s these moments that define who you think you are, how you think you’ve behaved, and when you unlock that, it allows you to make radical change and change the way you view the world.

And so, really a lot of it’s about you control you. And so every day, I always, this is my own personal motto, it’s like, I can’t control almost everything in the world, right? I lack control in many, many areas, but what I can control is what I do, how I feel, what I say, and how I prioritise my life and ThirdLove in a nutshell. And if I really focus on what’s in my control, then that’s how I can make an impact.

If you get spun up on other people and other companies and this and that and all this stuff, it’s like, you spend all of this emotional energy on something or people that is totally out of your control. So, you do you. Every day you wake up and be your best self and bring your best self and everything falls into place more often than not. Anyway, it’s called Master Your Code. It’s a good one.

Nathan: Yeah. Okay. Awesome. No, that’s an amazing realisation. It’s funny you mention YPO. I’m just about to join as well. I literally have an interview with their admissions people next week in Melbourne of course, but yeah.

Heidi: Yeah. It’s cool. It’s a nice network and it’s great because you have people outside your industry, so it’s so diverse that there’s just a lot of learnings. And everyone struggles with the same thing though.

Nathan: Yeah. No, the forum experience is amazing. I really enjoy it, because I was ….. as well. Awesome. Well look, we will work towards wrapping up. Where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?

Heidi: Well, thirdlove.com and then I’m @heidi on Instagram. That’s probably my most active handle and LinkedIn. I’m on there as well. And then yeah, I write a weekly column on Ink as well about entrepreneurship and leadership and female founders and all kinds of stuff. So, also on Ink.

Nathan: Amazing. Well, look, thank you so much for your time, Heidi, and just being so open, honest, and yeah, just real about your journey. And congratulations on all of your success thus far.

Heidi: Thanks a tonne. Thanks for having me. It was a good chat.

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