Annie Shafran is the Founder & CEO of Bellgray, an online destination where women (20s-40s) can shop for stylish corporate clothing for work. We took the time to talk to Annie about the spark that lead to her creating her venture, and the strategies she has used to balance life as a CEO, freelancer, and life as an entrepreneur.
Q: What are some challenges you faced when developing your venture?
The hardest part of breaking into retail is figuring out your business model. Traditionally when you think of retail you think of raising a bunch of money, buying clothes and then selling them. Even if you can raise the money – there is no guarantee you don’t go out of business in your first year. Initially that was the biggest challenge to overcome – to think outside the box and figure out a more efficient way of launching. We were able to launch leanly by partnering with department stores to handle the inventory side and reduce our risk to essentially none. It costs only $200 a month for us to stay in business which is really unique for our industry.
Q: Was there any point when you thought it was over? That you were going to fail?
The word fail is not my favorite word. I much prefer pivot :). There have been a lot of pivot moments where something isn’t working and we need to change direction but that is the fun part of starting a company. I think one of the toughest moments was transitioning from launch mode to running the business mode. It is a totally different mindset from focusing on getting your product to market and then once you are live it all about running a successful business.
Q: As an entrepreneur how important has flexibility been in developing your venture?
Extremely! Being able to go with the flow and ride out the ups and downs is really important to not losing your mind. I am type A but also creative, so I love to plan but also think about all the infinite scenarios that could possibly happen as we roll out a new idea. That is the mindset you need to have.
Q: What was was your spark, where did it come from?
I had the idea to start something like Bellgray since I was in college at UC Berkeley. Then going into finance it became even more obvious that there was a huge hole in the market that Bellgray could fill. The actual a-ha moment came though when I was at Project Entrepreneur, a woman focused tech event put on by the women who founded Rent the Runway. I was listening to a talk by Whitney Wolfe the Founder of Bumble and Tinder and I was so inspired by her story. I thought hey, I can do this! I went home that night and starting working on the concept. Six months later we launched!
4. What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
I take on way too much and say yes to everything. I work best when I am 110% busy and don’t have a moment to breathe. In addition to running Bellgray and managing three employees, I work two freelance jobs, am planning a wedding, just ran a marathon and are buying our first house. So maybe it isn’t a balance because sleep is always the first thing to go!
5. What is your best tip for entrepreneurs?
Everyone always has an opinion and you don’t need to listen to all of them. Remember you know what is best for your business and make sure you can still hear your own voice the loudest.