Last week I had the honor of attending Sophia Amoruso’s Nasty Galaxy Book tour in San Francisco. It was a packed house and Sophia answered questions about the book, her life and her journey to ‘Girl Boss, Nasty Galaxy and more.’ Sophia Amoruso is the CEO and Founder of NastyGal.com, an American retailer that specializes in vintage clothing for women. In addition, Sophia founded GirlBoss Radio and Foundation where she highlights the work of women worldwide and gives grants to creative women starting projects, like Mara. To date, the foundation has gifted over $120,000 to help women start their dreams.
Amoruso started the company when she was 22 and nearly ten years and two books later the company is valued at over 218 million dollars. The company started when Amoruso was in college and working part time but eventually realized she wanted to do more with her life. Around that time Ebay retailers were messaging her on Myspace (the old school Facebook) looking to promote and sell their items and that’s when she realized she could do the same. She had a camera and a computer and set out to use her photography skills.
At the time she was an aspiring photographer in art school, which she admits to this day she still wants to complete, but eventually dropped out after her business was running well and more than profitable. In her time at Nasty Gal (which started as NastyGalVintage.com) there have been ‘many moments,’ she recalls as knowing this is was ‘it’ but she never knew what she wanted to do with her life growing up. She was interested in photography but she had trouble figuring out what she wanted beyond that, she always felt sort of lost. When the store sold out in its initial online launch she knew this is where she was meant to be. She was home schooled in her senior year of high school and dropped out of college in her junior year but eventually went back to another community college after her parents questioned what she was doing with her time/ life.
On Life at 23
‘At 23,’ she said, ‘I was worried about making my parents proud, because I didn’t feel they were proud of me yet, they kept urging me to go back to school. In addition, she was worried about keeping stock of cool items for her eBay store and avoiding bad reviews from customers. Sophia didn’t raise any money to start her company, in fact she didn’t seek funding until a couple years into the store when she already had a couple of years of experience and 6 million under her belt. ‘At 22/23 I didn’t really know how to go out for funding, she said, ‘now I do and I’m pretty good at it but at the time I had no idea what a pitch deck was and how to communicate what I was doing.’ ‘I’m glad I did it the way I did but if I knew how to go out for funding, I probably would’ve sought it out sooner.’
Everything she’s been able to do are things she’s learned ‘by doing,’ she says it’s the best way she learns. ‘I can hear someone talk for hours and not understand how to do something but when I do it I start to understand it.’ What really resonates with me about Sophia and her narrative in Girl Boss the book is her honesty about the struggles she’s gone through especially financially; she talks openly about her terrible relationships, times she’s had to ‘dumpster dive’ out of necessity and points in her life where she’s stolen things and had to wear clothing only to later return them to save money. Her book talks about the importance of work ethic and how much better money looks ‘in the bank then on your feet.’ She is one who stands by her morals and even to this day she admits to still returning expensive dresses she’s worn once, because ‘she’s cheap’ and proud of it.
On the topic of money, someone in the audience asked about raising funding and ‘what advice she had for women who are the only ones in the room.’
On Raising Funding as an Entrepreneur
Sophia replied, ‘I didn’t seek any funding when I was first started out and I think I’m glad I didn’t. I was already profitable so when it came time for me to pitch to investors it was an easier sell.’ But if you are going out and feel intimidated for whatever reason, maybe ‘being the only woman in the room’ she advised to ‘always remember why you’re there.’ ‘You’re there for a reason. You belong there and don’t tell yourself otherwise.’
If you’re going out for funding and you’re the only woman, Latino or whatever your blank is, you have to own it. Of course it’s always nice to have something under your belt but if you don’t, don’t let who you are intimate or prohibit you from opportunities. When you say ‘I’m the only ____________ in the room you’re telling other people you don’t belong. ‘We all have a blank but don’t let it hold you back. You have to own it and go after what you want, find your space, you belong there. Have the courage to manifest what it is you want in your path. In order to manifest great things, you must allow them to happen.’
On heading back to school
‘I eventually went back to school, a different community college from the one I started at and I was miserable, mainly because I started to question what I was doing with my life.
The first college I went to was for enrichment but the second, Diablo Community College was so much different, there were people who were 18 and had ear buds on during class, sometimes if the teacher said things like ‘Lake Titicaca’ kids would chuckle, and I knew it wasn’t for me, I knew I wanted more so I left and decided I wouldn’t go back.’
Making the Jump
Sophia made the jump to focus on Nasty Gal almost a year and a half into her company. Prior to this she was working in a mail room, sorting mail and needed the insurance the company offered. She had a hernia and this was the only way to afford her medical expenses. She’s held small jobs like this, of them was her first job at Subway, making sandwiches. Even though this is so, she mentioned the rewarding feeling she got from working on her Ebay store and how it trumped all the other jobs she’s held. ‘The feeling of doing what you love’ trumps the amount of money you can make any day.
For this, she encourages entrepreneurs who are working on a business or idea to know that this is what they want ‘before they go all in.’ When she first launched the Nasty Gal website it sold out within hours, that’s when she knew she was on to something. If you’re going into retail or fashion, Sophia encourages you to ‘try to find a niche.’ It’s a different era starting a business today, there are so many opportunities and ways to do things online, so find what makes you different, be unique to who you are and what your brand represents.
On Marriage and Divorce
I wondered if Sophia had ever felt failure and whether this was something she’s learned to deal with as she’s built her company. I asked, ‘Can you talk about a time you have failed and how you got back up and kept going?’ Her reply: I don’t feel like I’ve ever failed because I don’t believe in failure, I think there are mistakes, I view them as lessons to learn from and continue on the journey. ‘I feel like there is no failure unless you give up or take your own life,’ she said. ‘Right now, I guess my marriage would qualify as a failure, it’s the most finite thing because with a business, it’s a start to finish, you make some promises, I guess, but something about marriage is so extreme. Sophia recently got a divorce and posted about the TMZ article that was written on it. You put everything in it, and I did, I put everything I possible could, and I guess for that even though it failed, I still don’t feel like I did because I know I did everything I could possibly do to make it work.’
Sometimes things don’t work out and that’s okay, you have to learn and keep going.
On Finding Your Voice and Lane
‘You have to try things, be loud, throw things in the universe, and make mistakes.’ ‘When I’ve made mistakes I’ve come back because I live with a strong sense of loyalty and guilt.
Even as I sit here I feel guilty about a lot of things; not being in the office enough, not being in enough cities for my book tour, I live in a constant state of guilt. There is so much opportunity out there and so much I can do so I have to work as hard as I can because I know later in my life there will be times where my family or where other things are more important so I want to make the most of the opportunities I have at this point in my life.
Even if I go to zero and try to find ‘what I want’ I can’t. It’s not an option and I’m okay with that, there are other people who rely on me so ‘I don’t quit, I can’t stop.’ There is a sense of loyalty I have to my work and the people involved in my life, no matter how frustrating it gets, I have an obligation to my fans, my friends, my employees, my team, the people who read my book, everyone. It keeps me going. I can’t let them down.
On What’s Next
Another book? Sophia has hinted at other books and would love to continue to share what she’s learned. When asked ‘if she could trade lives with anyone dead or alive’ she mentioned wanting to trade lives with someone who lives in a war torn country. ‘That’s something I’d still love to do, I want to see life through their eyes and see how I can help, it’s something I will eventually do’
‘For now’ she said, ‘I’d like to focus on finding inspiration and living up to what people find inspiring and amazing in me, that’s what I’m focused on, to keep doing that which inspires me and to make things that keep people inspired and going, ‘that’s what’s next for me.’
Sophia Amoruso is the Founder of NastyGal, New York Times Bestselling Author Girlboss & Nasty Galaxy Host, Girlboss Radio Podcast and Executive Producer Girl Boss TV coming to Netflix next year in 2017. Buy her new book Nasty Galaxy online and in stores near you; the book highlights inspiring stories, journeys and Q&A’s of women who work and photos of her life, home and more.