Showpo CEO Jane Lu: Closet tales behind a multi-million $ company

Friday vodka shots, weekend trips to Byron, and days spent aboard yachts on the harbour… Showpo is not your average workplace. But then neither is Jane Lu your typical successful business owner… unless your idea of a typical business owner is one that wears hot pants and see-through skirts while rocking out at Coachella.

Years ahead of the current entrepreneurial movement, it was a passionate hate for her mindless corporate job that saw Jane founding fashion e-store Showpo from her parent’s garage in 2010. A move that brought with it a ton of raised eyebrows. With no background in fashion, no business plan, and no financial backing – one could be forgiven for having some slight misgivings about her career move.

But with a determination to prove the whisperers wrong, a strong belief in the business, and a foresight into the power of social media, Jane set out to make something of Showpo. Fast-forward seven years, and with the fashion e-store currently claiming a $30 million run rate, we’re pretty sure Jane is happy with her decision to dance along the path less traveled.

Here, we chat to the major style influencer about doing things differently…

Do you label yourself an “entrepreneur”?
When I started my first business, I had no retail or fashion experience – then my first business turned out to be an utter failure, I was over $60k in debt, and I’ve never had a business plan. So seriously – if I can do it, anyone can! I didn’t even have an interest in starting a business and never considered myself entrepreneurial. My parents and I immigrated from China when I was eight, so all they wanted for me was to get a secure job working somewhere in upper middle management. But that didn’t exactly go to plan… haha.

What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learnt since launching Showpo?
The first office we got was 140sqm and cost $30k a year in Pitt St in the CBD. I couldn’t even believe that I was moving out of my parent’s garage and into an actual office – it was unreal! We took out a two year lease and I got the biggest desk I could find from Officeworks to fill up space – it only took up a quarter of the office space. Soon, the office started filling up with stock and staff and before I knew it, we ran out of space after a year. I literally had stock placed under my desk, in the kitchenette – every service area of the office had stock in it, and that just became the official location of that SKU.

So we had to move out and since we couldn’t find a sub-lessee, the office just sat vacant as we moved into a 1000sqm warehouse in Ultimo. At the time, I was so annoyed at myself at wasting that much money. It was more than my first year working salary and it was being wasted. But now looking back, I realised that because of that mistake, we’ve now learnt to always take the discount over any rent incentive or discount for staying longer. The $30k loss has saved us hundreds of thousands of dollars, as it turns out. For our next office, we’re looking at $300 to half a million a year in rent, so you can see how valuable that lesson is!

What would you do differently?
Nothing, because as much as I cringe at some of the stupid mistakes I’ve made, they all taught me valuable business lessons. Everyone is going to fu*kup at some point.

What would you count as your biggest “break-through” moment?
When Showpo (called Showpony back then) became all mine. Once I took over, I was able to do whatever I wanted. So I removed the shipping charge, optimised Google and Facebook ads, provided impeccable customer service and packaging, scheduled frequent social posts… a lot of which went viral, made better buying decisions, expanded on inventory, started doing my own PR – sales just kept doubling month-on-month. We went from $5k, to $40k, to $75k, to $140k within the space of four months.

Do you think that having a background in business at EY helped the brand become the success it is today?
I think all my experience in different areas has contributed to the success of Showpo. That and hiring the right team that understand my vision.

Where there ever any moments you wanted to give it all up? And how did you overcome these feelings?!
Yeah! There were moments it has felt so hopeless but funnily enough, it was spite that made me perceive. So many people said I couldn’t do it and thought I was an idiot for giving up my great corporate job in the middle of the GFC, so it was spite to prove them wrong :p

You seem to have a rather fun time at work! Is this always the case?
I think it’s really important to love what you do and have fun doing it. One of the reasons I work so hard if because I actually just really love what I do. We work hard and party hard at work, it’s always a good balance. I recently started vlogging and heaps of that footage is about the fun stuff we get up to.

You also recently launched the Showpo blog, are you planning on getting into publishing – or is it just to supplement the retail offering?
We actually used to have the blog, like years ago, but it had no one looking after it and writing isn’t something I am great at, so it was kinda neglected. Then Kel [Kelly McCaren, PR and Content Manager] started and is really passionate about effect content marketing, so we kinda just let her do her thing and then watched with our mouths open as the stats started growing like crazy. I’m interested in publishing really fun, great content that our community of bubbly Showpo customers want to read, look at and watch. Everything we’re working on is really exciting and I’m sure everyone else will love it too.

Is Showpo looking to expand into other areas as well?
Did you see our Showbro prank?! But that was a joke… we’re constantly looking to expand our products ranges but an actual men’s line (or similar) isn’t on the horizon at all.

When you started, you invested a lot of money into Facebook advertising. Why do you think this was so effective?
No-one else was using it that much, I think they thought it was just a phase that would die off, but being as FB obsessed as I was, I thought otherwise. Luckily, I was right and our following and sales grew from FB exponentially.

What do you suggest brands spend their marketing budgets on these days to gain maximum sales?
We still use FB and find a lot of success with it, it’s just about being really clever with your marketing and coming up with creative ways to catch people’s attention. I also think other social media (like Instagram and even WeChat) are really good platforms, plus good content that increases SEO and CTR.

You do a lot of work with influencers. How do you choose which influencers to work with?
I have a team of three who all work on our influencer network – they [influencers] are such an effective way to market your products and we invest a lot in our influencer program. Choosing the right ones comes down to a few factors like engagement (so if someone has high followers but shit engagement, they’re not an ideal option) and if they’ll resonate well with our target market. We also like to work with friendly, easy-going influencers – no divas!

We see influencers Pia Muehlenbeck and Brooke Nash crop up a lot in regards to Showpo. Are you now friends with them?!
Of course, you can’t work with such lovely women for so many years without them becoming good friends. We all recently went to Coachella together and had the best time.

Where do you see Showpo in five years’ time?
We want to be ‘her go-to place’ to shop and have a $100M run-rate by 2020 with no external funding. Other than that, you’ll just have to stay tuned… :p

All images: @thelazyceo

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