Stitch Fix Founder Katrina Lake Has Some Advice for You

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Katrina Lake’s friends used to kiddingly call her CEO/janitor. Today, her willingness to get her hands dirty is paying off.

katrina lake

Katrina Lake is passionate about helping women achieve everyday confidence. She founded Stitch Fix to help women everywhere discover and explore their style through a truly client-focused shopping experience. Prior to founding Stitch Fix, Katrina developed extensive experience at the intersection of fashion, retail, and technology. Katrina holds a B.S. in Economics from Stanford University and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Follow her @kmlake.

Who is your hero? 

My maternal grandmother, who moved here on her own from Japan without knowing a word of English, has always been an inspiration to me. She was unwilling to accept the status quo and pursued a vision of a better life for herself fearlessly.

What’s the single best piece of business advice that helped shape who you are as an entrepreneur today, and why?

Before I founded Stitch Fix, I was working as a consultant in the retail and restaurant industries and I traveled a lot with colleagues. The best piece of advice I could give is when hiring people, consider whether or not you could enjoy spending 12 hours traveling with them. While I don’t travel with every person who works at Stitch Fix, it’s a great barometer to make sure that everyone we hire is someone we enjoy spending time with.

What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in your business, and what did you learn from it that others can learn from too?

We didn’t take a step back from the business and define our shared values and vision for the company as soon as we should have. Having a shared sense of self for the company helps provide more alignment around hiring practices, more consistency in how we serve our clients, and creates a feeling of shared purpose among employees.

What do you do during the first hour of your business day and why?

Every morning as I’m getting ready for my day I watch “Good Morning America” (guilty pleasure!). I also read WWD to get up to date on the latest retail news. I also try to squeeze in a run a few mornings a week, especially in the summer when it’s light outside.

What’s your best financial or cash-flow related tip for entrepreneurs just getting started?

Make sure to test your hypothesis/product/idea in a low-budget way before you invest more of your or another investor’s time and money. It’s tempting to pour all your money into an idea you can believe in, but it’s so important to test a concept to understand the potential traction with target customers.

When we were in the testing phases at Stitch Fix, we were purchasing inventory at retail and weren’t making any money off our clients, but we were able to validate the concept and demonstrate that women could really shop a certain way. It was helpful to show the feedback and traction from our testing as we began approaching investors for our round of seed funding. It was equally important to prove to myself that what we were doing was a worthy investment.

Quick: What’s ONE thing you recommend ALL aspiring or current entrepreneurs do right now to take their biz to the next level?

Take a vacation and unplug! Some of my best thoughts have come while I’ve been able to relax, and take some time and space away from the business.

What’s your definition of success? How will you know when you’ve finally “succeeded” in your business?

It’s hard to imagine that there will be one milestone in my life that really feels like I’ve achieved the pinnacle of success. While building Stitch Fix, I’ve experienced lots of wonderful mini-milestones that I enjoyed celebrating. When Stitch Fix was first starting out, my friends used to call me CEO/janitor. Now that I’ve been able to build an amazing team, there are fewer moments where I experience the extreme part of that high/low dynamic. But perhaps success is having many fewer moments of being janitor than CEO.

There’s nothing more rewarding than building a business where you directly see the value you create for your clients and get to see your business and your team grow.

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