Ten years ago, Sophia Amoruso was picked up for shoplifting. A self-proclaimed “freegan” (and a dumpster-diving anarchist), she vowed to make some changes. In 2006 she founded Nasty Gal – an eBay store selling curated vintage clothing. Today that store is a $100-million (U.S.) empire with 350 employees. Here, the 30-year-old business mogul and author of the new book #GIRLBOSS – part business tome, part personal memoir – shares some of the secrets to her success
Even crap sundaes have a cherry on top
In my book I say that crappy jobs make the good ones more meaningful because – for starters – it allows you to know the difference and also because every job is an opportunity to learn. When I was younger I had a bunch of jobs that might be considered shitty. My first job ever was at Subway. I joke that I went OCD on the BLT, meaning that I was exacting in the task of making those sandwiches and I learned a lot about attention to detail. Making sure that the olives didn’t topple off was a crowning achievement. I guess that’s a metaphor. Another job I had at Borders Books taught me about selling merchandise – putting my hand out [to display an item] rather than pointing at it, actually taking a customer over to the book they were looking for rather than just telling them where it is. Here at Nasty Gal, there are no shitty jobs, but I do think that had I not done everything in the beginning – shipping, customer care – I don’t think I would be able to contribute to those aspects of the business. I know what the pain points are and how customers might react to something like a new shipping policy.
Jerks need not apply
As an employer I have a strict “no a-holes” policy. I don’t have any tolerance for working around negative energy and negative people, and as the boss it’s my privilege to choose the team. It wasn’t that long ago that someone was removed from their job at Nasty Gal and the cause was pretty much being an a-hole. It was only their second week on the job. We were in a big meeting and this person said something really nasty about the work of one of the teams that wasn’t present in the meeting. I thought – wait a second: If you have a serious concern, I’m happy to address that outside of a meeting of your peers, but the attitude was so dismissive and such an insult to my choice of people and talent. It was super uncool and I thought – this is how you’re acting only two weeks in! That person was removed by the end of the day.
Be a woman – then forget about it
I have been lucky in that I haven’t dealt with a lot of situations in my business where I feel like I’m being treated a certain way because of my gender. Particularly in the beginning, I tried to avoid putting myself in vulnerable positions. With investors, I waited until I had a big business before I went out and talked to them, so it wasn’t like – uh-oh, can this girl hack it? Generally, I don’t see myself as a woman sitting at a table even if I’m in a room full of men. That just doesn’t faze me. I think sometimes when you worry about something, that’s what you manifest, so just acknowledging that things could happen makes them happen. I’m not saying that people should run around clueless about who they are and their strengths and weaknesses, but I tend to find that it’s when I hesitate that I fail, whether that’s in business or when I’m snowboarding. When I think, oh my God – am I going to fall? That’s when it happens. When I feel confident, things tend to run smoothly.
The wisdom of naiveté
I didn’t borrow any money before I started my business. I guess that’s a bit unusual, but then, no one would have lent me money. I don’t think I had that confidence when I started Nasty Gal. I wasn’t thinking that I was going to start this eBay store that was going to make so much money. I started very small. I didn’t have a ton of money to put into anything. I didn’t have a credit card, so I was backed into a pretty healthy corner of having to figure out how to have a profitable business from day one. At that point I understood business like a six-year-old – I have this thing and I’m going to try to sell it for more than I paid for it. I know now that for a lot of businesses it’s about growth and not about profitability in the beginning and that a lot businesses need research and development before they go to market. I do think I was lucky, though, to be so naive because I had very modest goals and chose something basic that I was good at. Had I known where I was headed, I’m not sure I could have done it. I would have been intimidated.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea.