Think back to the dark days of September 2008. Capital markets were disappearing. Lehman Brothers was falling into bankruptcy. Businesses were shuttering at a rate so rapid that the words "the next Great Depression" were being tossed around on nearly every news broadcast.
But in the beautifully decorated West Hollywood home of Susan Feldman, you would never have known it was that bad. Inside sat new friends Feldman and Alison Pincus, two accomplished businesswomen hatching a plan to launch an exciting new company. The idea: to create an online direct sales business offering high-end home furnishings at affordable prices.
The plan was genius and the timing was perfect. With the economic downturn, manufacturers were swimming in inventory and had no place to sell. Feldman and Pincus knew, with the drying up of capital markets, that there was no way they’d land a small-business loan so they invested personal savings and, in early 2009, launched One Kings Lane.
The early days were hectic. Both founders traded sleep for thinking up new ideas and foraging ahead. Their hard work paid off. Today, One Kings Lane has three offices—San Francisco, New York and West Hollywood—6 million members, 350 employees and is on par to bring in $200 million in revenue this year.
OPEN Forum sat down with Feldman and Pincus to hear more about their road to success.
OPEN Forum: How do you like being entrepreneurs?
Susan Feldman: I love it. I have to pinch myself every day. This has been the most exciting four years of my life. It is so exciting to start off with one partner, then bring on more people and see an idea come to life and explode.
Alison Pincus: It is so much fun. When Suzie and I connected back in 2008, I had just gotten married [to Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus] and was finishing a business plan for something else. Suzie told me her idea and I couldn’t stop dreaming and thinking about it. I stopped working on my other plan and focused solely on One Kings Lane. It’s been a blast.
OF: What challenges did you experience starting out?
SF: Back then, there was so much to get done that you really had to learn to prioritize with limited money and resources. We were approaching vendors and partners in the early days without much of a business. We had to create the illusion that we were an established company and we did a good job of that. Our brand helped us—we worked hard on building a brand before launch.
AP: We had to be very scrappy and focused. It wasn’t until 2009 when we really started bringing people on and, at that time, all of our help was on a contract basis. We were being realistic. We didn’t want to hire anyone if the company wasn’t going to last.
OF: Was there a moment when you realized the company would succeed?
AP: For me it was a day in March 2011. We had a big hiring spurt in late 2010-early 2011 and had our first all-hands meeting in March in San Francisco. Back then we had 180 people and I remember stepping back and thinking, ‘Wow, this is unbelievable. We did it.’ I was so proud of our team—we have an incredible group of people.
OF: What does the future hold for the two of you? Are you planning your next big ventures?
SF: I’m so excited about what we’ve done and what we have yet to do. I have no plans to leave.
AP: One Kings Lane feels incredibly good and warm and inspiring. I will be here for a long time.
OF: What advice can you give to early stage entrepreneurs?
SF: Hire smart, passionate people. Your team will make or break you. We did that right from the beginning and it has made a huge difference. Also, make sure to be authentic to what you love and have passion for what you are doing. It is hard to fake being authentic. When you are excited, it comes out all over the place and is contagious.
AP: Have a firm belief in your vision. Be grounded in that vision and be realistic. Also, be financially savvy and really understand the startup costs of creating a business.
Read more profiles on entrepreneurs who built successful businesses.
Photo courtesy of One Kings Lane