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'I was at rock bottom.' Why Showpo CEO Jane Lu's first business failed.

Founder and CEO of online retailer Showpo Jane Lu is one of Australia's most exciting success stories.

A born entrepreneur, Lu built Showpo from the ground up, from its humble beginnings in her parents' garage with a few storefronts in Sydney to launching a brand that would grow into a global fashion empire.

Now, Jane is ready to share her years of expertise as a new judge on the 2023 season of Shark Tank

Ahead of the series premiere, Jane Lu spoke to Mamamia about what it took to start Showpo, and how she learnt from the mistakes made on a previous failed business venture.


"In 2010, I was unemployed, I had a failed business – I was probably at rock bottom," she said.

At the time, Jane was working as an accountant for Ernst & Young, which she describes as a career choice heavily inspired by her parents, who migrated from China to Australia 29 years ago.

"Growing up being an immigrant from China with immigrant parents, you kind of have a few job options: it's to be a lawyer, doctor, accountant, all these boring jobs, no offense. And so I did [accounting] but I didn't like it.

"And then my friend came to me with this idea: let's start a business."

Jane Lu's first business didn't take off. 

Jane's first business venture was a clothing and accessories retailer called Fatboye Group, which she launched with a business partner. 

"I probably wouldn't have thought that you could even enter the fashion industry, it seems from the outside to be a cliquey industry – you have to know people," she said.

Fatboye Group began with a range of pop-up stores. "At some point, I quit my job for it, as [my partner] convinced me to. And I spent that whole month turning it into an online store because the pop-up stores was so labour intensive."

"I was like, 'Look at the website, look at the website, let's do this.' And she's like, 'Jane, no one shops online.' 

"She said, 'We've folded the business.' And that was it. I lost any money I had from investments in the business. 


"I felt like such a failure, [and] I had grown up with such a fear of failure."

Despite her first business venture not taking off, the lessons Jane learnt were priceless.

"As much as it was a really painful process to have had a business fail, it was probably the best crash course in business possible. Even though I invested $10,000 in that – which is a lot – I learned way more from it than doing a business course."

Image: Instagram/@thelazyceo. 


What Jane Lu learnt from failing.

First of all, finding the right fit when picking a business partner/s is integral, says Jane. She recommends making sure early on that you're all aligned on the vision for the company.

"I realised too late – so I think it's always good to have these conversations early on."

She added that it's important to speak openly and honestly about the future. "What happens when you actually start making money? What happens if one person performs worse than the other?" she said.

Jane also learned to become more flexible. "I think the main learning was the fact that if the business model doesn't work, no amount of hard work can make it work. At that point, it's about pivoting, which is what I was trying to do with the online store," she said.

"I learned how important social media was, I saw the importance of online growth. All these things helped me pivot."

And of course, choosing the right business helps. 

"Choosing a demand-driven business model, like finding a product that people really want, and listening to your customers. At some point, we're like, 'Well, if the sales weren't there, then we're not doing the right thing, and we need to evolve the business."

Jane also encourages aspiring business owners to ignore some of the advice they might receive. 

"Don't do it. You're an idiot," she recalled being told.

"'What do you know about fashion? What do you know about retail? What do you know about business?' It's funny. The people that said that were the first who have come to me to ask for advice. It's because you're doing what they're most afraid of."


The humble beginnings of Showpo. 

"Out of sheer desperation, I decided the only thing I could do was start another business. Then because I had that little experience in the fashion industry and building this online store for that business, I was like, 'I'll just build another online store,'" she recalled. 

"I started it kind of by default."

Showpo (originally Show Pony) began in 2010 with a website, a Facebook page and a bricks-and-mortar store in Sydney's Broadway – with the business operated out of Lu's parents' garage.

"Every morning, I'd go and pick up the stock to send to the customers from the store... I was in my parents' garage. And I was like, 'I have to make this work,' because if I fail now, every single failure – the first and second business – that will be attributed to me.

"I told my parents I was on unpaid leave from Ernst & Young, so the job was still waiting for me."

In fact, Lu had quit her accounting job before she began her first business. While working for Fatboye, each morning she pretended to go into her office job. 

"I couldn't have a conversation. I just didn't tell them. And I think part of it is, when you start a business, you already have enough doubt in your own head," she said.

The entrepreneur has since paid off her parents' mortgage and bought them a car. 


Showpo's rise and rise.

Thankfully for Lu, Showpo was a breakout success. "It went from $5,000 that first month to doubling sales to $9,000. The next month, it was $40,000, and then $75,000 – then we needed an office," she said.

"At that time, we also had a store in Pitt Street that we were running – so it was a lot."

As Showpo grew out of Lu's family home, the company eventually decided to shut down its physical stores in 2013, which by then included shops at Broadway, Bondi Junction and Pitt St. 

"The learning was that you need foot traffic. The product is at a price point that it's an easy sell, but if you don't have the traffic to cover the overheads, it's a tough business," she said. 


"We weren't able to get new stock because it wasn't turning very quickly. With online, you're housing so much variety, you're able to just turn that over and offer more freshness and newness to your customers."

From closing down the storefronts, the clothing website evolved into a fashion empire. In 2018, Showpo won Online Retailer of the Year in Australia at the Online Retail Industry Awards, which is just one of many industry accolades.

In 2019, Jane also tied the knot with James Waldie and the married couple have since had a son, Lachie, and daughter, Rosie, together.

Jane now employs more than 140 staff. Showpo ships to more than 120 countries and has over three million followers across its social media platforms.

Along with sharing her wisdom with the contestants on Shark Tank, Jane also offers an online course in starting a business... The Lazy CEO way.

"People think businesses are so daunting to start, but it's actually easier than you think," she said.

"I tell people, take an okay idea and just run with it, but don't over-invest, because you want to have money to invest when you've got the million dollar idea."

Shark Tank premieres on 29 August 2023.

Feature image: Channel 10 + Instagram/@thelazyceo. 

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