Founder and Chief Merchandising Officer, Gilt Groupe
Odd couples are a favorite pop culture trope, forever butting heads for comic effect. But in business, forging a partnership with someone who has a different personality and skill set is ideal. For Alexandra Wilkis Wilson and Alexis Maybank, who met in a Portuguese class at Harvard and attended Harvard Business School together, shared interests led to friendship, while divergent skill sets made good business sense when they founded Gilt Groupe in 2007.
The two always knew they would start a business together. The question was, what kind of business? Inspiration struck them at a Valentino sample sale in New York City. Both were fielding purchase requests from friends and family members who couldn’t be there in person, and they realized this was the kernel of a business idea. So they launched Gilt Groupe, a Web site that offers luxury fashion products at sample sale prices during 36-hour sales (up to 70 percent off retail, for those who have never experienced the joy) to members who have been invited to join by existing members.
The partners weren’t the only ones who thought it was a good concept. They were immediately funded by DoubleClick founders Dwight Merriman and Kevin Ryan, who also serves as Gilt’s chairman. In November, Boston-based venture capital firm Matrix Partners invested $5 million in Gilt before it had generated a penny of revenue. The site has grown from there, with new offerings including men’s and children’s clothing, and new members joining daily.
What we learned from Alexis: “Having a good idea is, obviously, incredibly important. It has to be a viable idea from the beginning. Also, it should go without saying that you need to work with a team that you trust, that trusts you, and that is better than the team your competition could put together.”
“We were best friends in business school, so there was an enormous sense of trust between the two of us. And our skill sets are very complimentary. Alexis was on the founding team of eBay between college and business school, whereas I have always been more interested in the world of luxury and fashion. I worked for Louis Vuitton and Bulgari.”
Friends ‘Til the End
“When we were strategizing with Kevin Ryan, who has 10-plus years of experience ahead of us, there was one bit of advice that he shared with us that we really have followed. He said, ‘Really make sure that your friendship stays the friendship that it is, and don’t allow the business to entirely professionalize the friendship.’ I think we’ve done a good job of maintaining that.”