by Jenna Kutcher
I can picture you sitting there at your desk, glancing around those stark office walls, the ping of your email inbox echoing in your ears, and you’re thinking: There’s more for me than this.
Jane Lu was an accountant, she had a stable job in the corporate world, but after starting a business on the side she became so distracted that her work suffered. So she quit. And she didn’t tell anyone. And then her business failed.
Now what? No job, no promise of finding another one, and no business. But now Jane is the founder of Showpo and sitting on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, on track for $200 million in sales. There’s so much between point A and point B… Actually, Jane’s story is more of a point A to point XYZ.
Jane is funny and unfiltered, and she’s sharing her story that all started with a decision to quit. Press play!
Quitting Her Job
All Jane wanted, and all her immigrant parents wanted, was a simple, solid job in the corporate world. Immediately after school, Jane found herself in an accounting role feeling very proud that she landed a position with a stable income. It wasn’t until after she took some time off to travel that she realized her job wasn’t stable… It was boring.
Going back to the office and her accounting position after seeing the world left her feeling a little stuck. She looked at the partners and thought she would never get promoted. She looked at herself and thought, “I don’t even like accounting that much!” When a friend came knocking with a business idea, Jane jumped on the opportunity to launch a side hustle without really thinking through a business model.
The First Failure
The business saw some success at the beginning, so that’s when Jane seized the opportunity to get out of the boring corporate life and dive into the entrepreneurial world. But then the business failed.
She had no job, no business, and with the global financial crisis knocking everyone down, she had no promise of finding another source of income. But Jane was the hope of her family, her parents had immigrated to see Jane in a better life. So she pretended to get up and go to work each day, keeping her situation a secret. “There is nothing worse than getting up early, other than getting up early and being unemployed,” she laughed.
Eventually after sitting at cafes all day and brainstorming her next move, Jane got a job as a receptionist at a laser hair removal clinic to make a little money. While it wasn’t a natural progression for someone with an accounting degree and entrepreneurial aspirations she said, “There’s no shame in going to get money while you’re figuring out how to make money.”
The start of Showpo involves a friend of a friend and a bottle of red wine. Like every great business beginning, right? Jane’s friend who had a business of his own insisted she meet a friend of his who was growing a business in the retail space. Since Jane’s first failed business was retail related, she was initially wary, but took the meeting anyway.
The pair really hit it off and after one particular night with one glass too many of vino, the idea of Show Pony was born. It started as a fashion retailer operating out of Jane’s parents’ garage (yes, the same parents who thought she was still an accountant). A few months after, they opened their first brick and mortar retail shop and a kiosk. Now, the brick and mortar shops are closed so they can focus solely on their massive online business.
It took Jane two years to tell her parents what was really going on in her professional life. She had nearly half a million dollars in stock in their garage, which gave her the confidence and proof that this thing she started in secret was actually growing into a legitimate business.
How to Start with No Money
With her receptionist job and a failed business she had sunk her savings into, Jane didn’t exactly have ample funds to fuel the start of Show Pony. But there’s two things that a product-based business needs to get going: stock and marketing. So how did she get those two things without money to invest?
One thing she learned from the failed business, however, was the concept of consignment selling. Consignment selling means you acquire stock from a supplier but you don’t need to pay them until the stock sells. Jane and her business partner approached a wholesale supplier for Show Pony with the same consignment strategy, and although wholesalers typically do not like consignment, they agreed.
“It kind of gave us this risk-free way to test out the market and understand what our customer wanted,” Jane explained, “It was a very laborious process.” Each day she would go to the supplier and pick up the product to fulfill the orders from the last 24 hours. “Time I had a lot of, but money I did not, so I had to do it this way,” Jane said. Once they started to make money, they started to buy stock outright, which made more sense as a business model for them.
With the stock strategy figured out, Jane and her business partner looked at the marketing strategy. When Show Pony started, Facebook was the big social network and Jane was a self-proclaimed Facebook addict. Social media wasn’t the big proven channel for marketing and sales like it is today, but it was a driving factor in Show Pony’s initial growth.
Setting Up for Growth
Show Pony dropped the “ny” to become Showpo, and the changes haven’t stopped. Now the company has over 150 employees, which Jane finds amazing, “because we’re impacting not only their lives, but their families’ lives, too.”
The company is about to turn 9 years old and as CEO Jane is thinking about the future. Their strategy for growth is hiring people at the caliber of where they want to be so they can take the company to that level. They want to invest in expensive software used by bigger companies because they eventually want to be at that level.
Their biggest focus is keeping a “startup mentality” and to remain agile, but also put in a level of rigor that a company of its size needs.
More from This Episode
When I asked Jane about the biggest mistake she made in starting her business, she laughed and said, “Oh, there’s so many.” Tune into the episode for the biggest mistake she made involving her competitors, and how it can help you avoid confusion in your own business. And now that she’s married (and her parents really want grandchildren) how is she feeling about becoming a mom as a CEO? Plus, Jane’s number one piece of advice that she wishes she took herself before quitting her job and starting a business.