homepage_name! > Editions > Number 078 > Business Thought - GIRLBOSS


Contrary to its title and some reviews, this is not a business book. This is a combination of a memoir and motivational business how-to book. It can also be read as Sophia’s "rags to riches" story. Also, this is not a feminist guide, therefore there is no mention of the unique challenges women face on their journey towards becoming #BOSSes, like balancing work and family, negotiating salaries, and generally walking the line between being persuasive and powerful and being perceived as "pushy" harridans. Amoruso´s book is about her personal growth that she experienced in times of growing her business.

Sophia Amoruso is the founder and ex-CEO of Nasty Gal, a business she launched in 2006 at the age of 22, in the basement of her aunt’s home. Before that she had odd jobs, and was even shoplifting at one point. In only seven years, Amoruso has grown Nasty Gal from a simple eBay store reselling vintage finds into an online retail empire selling sexy, retro-inspired looks at reasonable prices.

From 2008 to 2011, sales rocketed 10,160 per cent, making Nasty Gal one of the fastest-growing retail companies ever. In 2012, the company reported revenue of over $100 million, raised $49 million from venture capital firm Index Ventures – an early investor in ASOS and Net-a-Porter — and began leasing a 500,000-square-foot fulfillment center.

Amoruso’s rapid rise is often attributed to the powerful social media connection she has built with her customer base of “bad-ass girls” on platforms like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. "What led us to Nasty Gal was the fact that Sophia had created something extremely special in terms of a connection between what she was doing and her customer base," Danny Rimer, a partner at Index Ventures, told The Wall Street Journal.

Amoruso built the Nasty Gal community out of social media before anyone realized it could be used for free marketing. She started on MySpace and moved her 60,000 followers to her eBay store. About the role of social media, she points out: “Social media is just media. The reason eBay was successful, the reason our auctions went like crazy is because I bought awesome stuff, and then I made it look even more awesome. As awesome as it could possibly be. So exalting every single detail, and giving people something really compelling that they wanted to share. And that's how Nasty Gal got out. And thank God social media was there for me to be sharing, and for them to be sharing. But if I had bad, not interesting things that I was trying to share, there's no conversation. So it really starts with having something compelling, like a quote, a thought, a photo. People want to be inspired, and they want to see beauty in the world. I think those are two big, big things that stand out in social media, whether it's a photo or a quote, just giving people value, something that they want to take and make their own is really important.”

Sharing on Social Media became one of Sophia’s business rules. She lists them in her book:

1. Just do a good job.

2. Keep your promises.

3. Give your customers something to share.

Alongside vintage finds and curated pieces from other brands, Nasty Gal (named after the song by funk musician Betty Davis, the second wife of Miles Davis) now sells its own in-house designs. "Designing was the natural next step for us. It's going on seven years for me that I've been selling clothing to the same awesome girl. And we've understood the kind of silhouettes and cuts that she likes over time," said Amoruso.

#GIRLBOSS is positioned as a Lean In for millennials, and like the book, it uses the author's life story as a series of instructive lessons for those who would follow in her footsteps. But unlike Sheryl Sandberg's straightforwardly ambitious route, Amoruso's path was circuitous and decidedly unconventional. Though her online clothing boutique is now a 300-person company, it started as an eBay vintage store that she ran out of her apartment, and her refrain throughout #GIRLBOSS is that Amoruso never "meant" for this to happen: "I never would have done it if I'd known it was going to become this big."

She got her first online retail experience shoplifting bestsellers from chain bookstores and reselling them on Amazon while living a "crust punk" lifestyle of hitchhiking, dumpster-diving and meeting with a Marxist reading group: "I believed that capitalism was the source of all greed, inequality and destruction in the world. I thought that big corporations were running the world (now I know they do) and by supporting them, I was condoning their evil ways (which is true, but a girl's gotta put gas in her car.)" She got sick of "agonizing over the political implications" of her lifestyle and realized that she liked "nice things." Like most people who capitalism is currently working out extremely well for, she's way over thinking about the structural implications of the system that makes it possible for her business to thrive.

A chapter subheading, "You Are Not a Special Snowflake," has as its epigraph a Joel Stein quote about how millennials got too many participant trophies when they were kids. Amoruso tries to soften the blow by lumping herself in with the readers she's admonishing – "A lot of people in my generation don't seem to get that you have to work your way up."

What makes a great female boss, or boss in general?

“Communication is really important. Being proactive with communicating out, but also creating an expectation that your team will communicate back, and making it clear how that should happen. Explaining not just what you want to do, but why you want to do it is really important, because people want meaning. They want meaning in their lives – and this is something that I would want to be better at because I'm like, ‘Let's do this.’ But it's so much better when everyone understands why we're doing it, and they can buy into it. And it takes more time to explain that, and have a conversation about it, and get everyone excited about it, but the work that people create when they're inspired is a thousand times better than when they're just doing work because they were told to.”

What makes a Girl Boss different from a regular boss?

“A Girl Boss is someone who has big dreams and is willing to work hard for them. So being a Girl Boss is really about being the boss of your own life. You don't have to be the boss of anyone else to be a Girl Boss. So it's about keeping personal responsibility for your future, being comfortable taking risks, and understanding that failure is the by-product of your own invention. If you're learning from everything that you're doing, even if the outcome is not what you had anticipated or expected, you're learning. If you're learning from everything that you're doing, you're winning. I think a lot of people might be afraid of taking risks in their life because they're afraid of failure. Failure is just not learning from everything that happens.”

Do women face more challenges in leadership than regular bosses?

“That's what I hear. But at Nasty Gal, that's not the case. If there are women in my company who have challenges, it's not because they're a woman. I'm so lucky to have been able to create a company where that's the case. If you ask Sheryl Sandberg, she would say yes. What can change is how a woman commands respect, and how a woman shows up and doesn't see herself as "the woman in the room" and behaves that way, just as another contributor at the table.”

Since January 2015, Sophia Amoruso is no longer CEO of the fashion site. The company’s president and chief product officer, Sheree Waterson, took over the position and also joined its board. Amoruso made the decision to vacate the CEO position on her own, and has remained involved in Nasty Gal’s daily operations as executive chairman, overseeing its creative and brand marketing. Waterson was hired in February 2014 by Amoruso as a potential successor with more experience in growing a company. Before joining Nasty Gal, Waterson served as an executive at clothing companies Lululemon, Speedo North America, and Levi Strauss & Co. The year 2014 was an eventful one for Amoruso and Nasty Gal. Although her book, #GIRLBOSS, became a bestseller, the eight-year-old company suffered from slowing growth and laid off 10 per cent of its workforce.

Book reviews of #GIRLBOSSare many and often negative. Some critics believe this is not a book but a long blog post, others point out that someone who had no formal education cannot actually advise about business. And Amoruso doesn´t have a college degree. Her lack of a degree was compensated for by her self-confidence, and maybe some luck combined with her will to learn and ask help from people who know business.

Putting all this aside, #GIRLBOSScan be read as a case study. There is no denying that Amoruso's life story makes her an oddity in business. She went from school drop-out to anarchist shoplifter to small-time eBay seller to CEO of a company with hundreds of employees. The big question is this: is her success repeatable? Maybe not, but one shouldn´t forget Seth Godin´s words: It’s becoming clear that people who reject the worst of the current system are actually more likely to succeed.

What I’m getting at here is that you can be entrepreneurial without being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial people are passionate about what they do, comfortable with taking risks, and quick at moving on from failures. These are all things I look for in the people I hire. I want problem solvers who take nothing at face value. I want people who fight with me. I want people who are comfortable with disagreement. And I need people who sometimes, after all of that, hear the word no and get right back up to work even harder. There are a lot of companies changing the way they do things right now.

“Now, whenever I’m faced with improbable situations, I remind myself that if I really want something badly enough, I have it within myself to make it happen.”

“Regardless of what your dreams are, if you listen only to those around you, the chances of your dreams coming true are very small. The world loves to tell you how difficult things are, and the world’s not exaggerating. “

“You can’t have it all, and nothing comes easy. You will make sacrifices and compromises, get let down and let other people down, fail and start over, break some hearts, take some names and learn to pick up and continue when your own heart gets broken. But difficult doesn’t mean impossible, and out of the bajillions of things in this universe that you can’t control, what you can control is how hard you try, and if or when to pack it in.”

If you start a business, expect that you’re going to be broke for a long time.

All humans are entrepreneurs not because they should start companies but because the will to create is encoded in human DNA. – Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled. – Howard Stevenson, Harvard Business School

In a now famous commencement speech at Stanford University, Steve Jobs urged the graduating class to “Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” Never let go of your appetite to go after new ideas, new experiences, and new adventures. Compete with yourself, not with others. Judge yourself on what your personal best is and you’ll accomplish more than you could ever have imagined. Life stops for no one, so keep moving. Stay awake and stay alive. There’s no AutoCorrect in life – think before texting the universe. Breaking the rules just for fun is too easy – the real challenge lies in perfecting the art of knowing which rules to accept and which to rewrite. The more you experiment, take risks, and make mistakes, the better you’ll know yourself, the better you’ll know the world, and the more focused you’ll be.

An advantage of being naïve is being able to believe in oneself when no one else will. I was dumb enough and stubborn enough to pour everything I had into a business called Nasty Gal and tune out people who tried to tell me I was doing it wrong. Had I stopped at the first catty eBay seller who tried to crush my spirit, I’d probably still be peddling shoes that I’d never be able to afford to wear. If you start listening, you should find that your heart has known what’s up all along.