Jane Lu’s online startup, Showpo, has been named as one of five Australian startups to watch in 2016 by Business Insider. Last year the online clothing retailer turned over $10m and sold to over 50 countries. She has over 900k followers on Showpo’s Instagram. Jane built her business from nothing. She arrived in Australia from China with her migrant parents when she was seven, unable to speak English, but went on to graduate from High School with a UAI of 99+.
This is her story.
It was a typical day at the office. Sitting in my cubical, I had one screen opened to a spreadsheet and another on an online clothing store. My manager walks by and I quickly alt- tab to open up another spreadsheet. I looked at my phone. Three hours have just passed, I thought. I am literally three hours more dead than I was and all I’ve done is removed the circular referencing on this spreadsheet and added five dresses that I can’t afford to my wish list. How is this my life?!
I had always been quite academic and thought I was on a great career trajectory when I got a cadetship job with a Big 4 accounting firm at the age of 18. I thought I was doing so well, until I realised I really hated accounting. The only thing I found excited me was a side business I had with friends where we ran market stalls on the weekend.
So on that seemingly uneventful day at the office, I decided to quit my job. My colleagues laughed at me behind my back. My friends thought I was an idiot. I didn’t even have the guts to tell my parents. Regardless, I felt great about it! I’m going to follow my dreams and my business it going to make millions! I was on top of the world!
Until one month later and the business failed. We lost all of our money and we realised the idea was not profitable nor scalable. I was devastated. I literally hit rock bottom.
I left in such a “so long suckers” way that I knew I couldn’t grovel for my job back. And it was the middle of the GFC, so no chance of getting another. My only other option was to start another business. I saw the opportunity in the online fast fashion market in my days spent bludging at work. I decided to open an online store despite having no fashion knowledge or retail experience (besides the failed business).
I had two major problems. I was living my parent’s dream. We immigrated when I was 8 because they wanted to bring me to a land of opportunities. And for them, that was working in a big company in upper middle management. And I was doing so well to tick all the right boxes for them as a good Chinese daughter. I went to a selective school, got a 99+ UAI, studied commerce at UNSW and even played 8th grade piano!
So how could I tell them that I quit my corporate finance job and now I’m going to sell clothes online?! I simply didn’t. What really sucked was that I was living at home at the time, so for the first 6 months I just slapped on a suit, carried around an empty laptop bag and pretended to go work. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than being unemployed than having to get up early anyway when you have no job to go to.
My other problem was that I had no money. I had over $60k of debt from HECS, travel, paying back my overspent allowance from the cadetship and money lost from the failed venture. This wasn’t going to deter me, I had something to prove to everyone. So I built the website by myself by googling “how to use HTML”, I bought the stock on consignment (which meant I didn’t have to pay for stock until it was sold), and marketed the products using social media.
Facebook was really what saved me from a life of accounting. It was at a time when the big retailers either thought that Facebook was just a fad, or they simply didn’t know how to use it. I managed to build an entire brand on it. For example, our first Face of Showpo competition cost us nothing to run, and within a month, we grew from 3,000 to 20,000 followers. So from there it just started growing and growing.
Of course it has had its ups and downs, but Showpo has far surpassed what I had envisioned from those cubical walls. From packing all the orders myself out of my parents’ garage, five years on we’ve grown to a team of 14 with our orders seamlessly packed by a third party fulfillment house.
And yes, I did tell my parents eventually. They’re shocked that I had the guts to do what I did because they and their families have always worked in companies. But I reminded them what a big risk they took in leaving their careers and families to move to Australia to give me a world of opportunities.
Chief Executive Pony
Mia Freedman also knows the effort and reward of starting your own business. Here is what she wishes she’d known before starting Mamamia.