We Meet Anna Bance, Co-Founder, Girl Meets Dress!

Anna Bance, Founder, Girl Meets DressThe NextWomen September Food & Fashion Theme.

After reporting on her launch back in 2008 and charting her successes and awards in various articles since, we were delighted to interview Girl Meets Dress Co-Founder Anna Bance earlier this month.

Girl Meets Dress.com is the leading multi-award winning online luxury rental service which allows women to hire a selection of 4000 designer dresses and accessories from over 150 of the best international designers.

Girl Meets Dress delivers a dress to a customer's home or office and the customer sends it back after the party!

In 2011 Anna was chosen as one of Management Today's Top 6 35 under 35 cover stars and also won the Specsavers Everywoman in Retail Award for Innovation. She writes a regular column for The Huffington Post and also has an article in this month's Drapers magazine.

Prior to founding Girl Meets Dress with Co-Founder Xavier de Lecaros-Aquise, Anna spent three years with luxury brand Hermes as UK PR Manager.

Before that she spent time with Temperley London and in Fashion Editorial at The Telegraph,  Harpers Bazaar and InStyle. She has a degree from the London College of Fashion.

We spoke with Anna about launching her business with no outside investment; about the current trend for collaborative consumption; and what's next for Girl Meets Dress!

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for Girl Meets Dress and then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

AB: The GMD story began in 2009 when I was working as UK PR Manager for French Luxury brand Hermes - and like my previous roles in the fashion industry, it involved lending the collection of dresses and accessories out on a daily basis to fashion magazines, shoots, celebrities and journalists…

I thought to myself "wouldn't it be amazing if we could all borrow dresses for just one event, and wear a different designer for every event in our calendar?”

When we looked into the market we saw that no one was doing it. We were the first company to rent luxury fashion online and it is wonderful that Girl Meets Dress is now pioneering the way for rental as a new and exciting ecommerce category of its own.

TNW: What were the first steps taken and in which order were things done?  i.e. market research, software development first…

AB: I left my job and started working on Girl Meets Dress all within the same week. When you get inspired to do something, nothing else matters, you just go for it. Luckily I already knew my Co-Founder and we were able to get going there and then.

There are always a million things to juggle all at once, particularly at launch. The first 12 months are tough, you end up learning a lot, but it’s the start of a phenomenal journey.

As you might expect from an entrepreneur, we threw caution to the wind when it came to market research and decided to launch as soon as possible; within 2 weeks we had our site up and running.

We thought “we will know very quickly what market there is for this, let’s just do it and go from there”.
The rest is history as they say; we now have hundreds of thousands of people coming to our site every month, and a growing collection of over 4,000 dresses to choose from.

TNW: Do you believe it is better to find customers then funding or vice versa?

AB: It really depends on your sector, team, product, and the state of the various funding markets, etc.
In order to find funding without giving away 50%+ equity of your company on day one, you need to find the right investor (needle in a haystack) and it is important to back / prove the business model and metrics so you can approach investors with a viable and scalable business model within a large market.

TNW: How did you find writing a business plan?  Did you enlist any help?

AB: At first it was tough to prioritize it given we were so busy executing, but once we got things into their own momentum we started putting what we had in our heads on paper. It is something to love dearly, we love to predict the future in express detail, and we obsess about every detail so much it’s convenient to have somewhere to put it.

TNW: What were the initial start-up costs and how did you embrace bootstrapping?  

AB: If only we had the time to put the last 3 years into a book.

To give you an idea, for the first 3 months of the business we moved into my Co-Founder Xavier’s room which was 1.5meters by 4 meters, no joke. We coded there, made our calls from there…

In a sense we were lucky that as Co-Founders our complimentary skills meant that we were able to work our pants off and build the company from the ground up, keeping costs very low - from building and designing the website, to doing our own PR, and being very effective with our Marketing, logistics etc.

What it means now is that, we have been able to build the business without taking any outside investment to date.  

TNW: What problems have you hit along the way and how did you deal with them?

AB: You get all sorts of issues, and while you persist towards learning how to manage them, new items keep getting added to the list, so it’s partly about learning to juggle and a good Co-Founder that balances your personality / thinking is a great asset to have.

From prospects wasting your time carelessly, to consultants breaking non-compete clauses.

The best way through is to refocus, keep executing, be inspired to execute more boldly and know when to quickly move on to what actually matters – it’s a thick skin you learn to really appreciate and treasure.

Many challenges will come along when launching a business, and taking on a relatively new market was definitely one of them. Also, figuring out the levers and pitfalls of such an innovative business model was also a challenge. The competences required to excel in ecommerce are unknown to anyone not doing ecommerce beforehand. From Tech to Marketing to procurement, it is all a great learning curve and we now strive to reach the highest levels of excellence we can. 

TNW: How has your business evolved in the last year?

AB: Our staff are driven and ambitious and thrive on working for an innovative and disruptive business model. We continue to increase the selection of designers and dresses and we have recently been dedicated to introducing improved navigation on the website. 

We launched Hats for the Racing season, plus additional items such as shapewear and tights and Beauty products to purchase all in an effort to give our customers everything they want for their night out.

It is fantastic to hear wonderful feedback from customers about how we have improved and changed their shopping lives.

TNW: What do you think is the reason for the recent popularity in a collaborative consumption “pay-as-you-live” lifestyle?

The idea of collaborative consumption is making a big impact around the world, whether it is somewhere to stay (Airbnb) or a car (Whipcar) – and now designer clothing.

Retail and consumer habits are changing significantly, both in terms of expectations but also in terms of value. The growth in rental is testament to that change and also highlights consumers growing preference for experience over ownership.

I remember Warren Buffet once saying in an interview, “why would you want to own a yacht? You have to clean it, hire staff for it, do all the paperwork etc”. In a similar way, rental is a way for consumers to extract all the value without none of the headaches; women can now easily wear more relevant, trend led, time-sensitive fashions, while continuing to invest and buy only in those classic pieces which will stand the test of time.

The proliferation of social media, including Facebook has a lot to do with an increasing social pressure which has heightened the growing desire for people to make a statement with their fashion and for a women’s inherent desire not to wear the same dress twice. Celebrities have always been borrowing dresses for special events, and now that everyone is a mini-celebrity in their own world, all women can have access to this luxury.

TNW: Where do you see Girl Meets Dress in 5 years time?  What are the plans for the immediate future?  

AB: Without giving anything away, Girl Meets Dress is proving the potential to be huge! We have ambitious and exciting plans for the year ahead. We want to continue to grow the collection of stock, the team, and to innovate within the wider Fashion space.

We will continue our leadership of this emerging space and be in a position to wow our customers in every way possible and to forge a brand and quality of service which women will wonder how they managed without, giving women throughout the UK and Europe access to the biggest closet in the world!

TNW: Do you have any tips/advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

The beauty of business is that anyone with a passion for making things happen can be an entrepreneur.

There are no rules and launching online means you can test the concept while keeping costs very low, and stay in your current job if you need to until you are ready to commit fully.

Whether it is watching the customer uptake, repeat orders and bottom line growth, there are so many rewarding parts of seeing something you have created from nothing grow into a brand that within 6 months you won’t ever dream of looking back.

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