Kim Edwards is the Founder & CEO of online boutique Step. & Lizzie.She previously served as the Director of Inventory Planning at Wayfair, the largest online retailer of home furnishings in the US, where she implemented the Planning function. Prior to Wayfair, Edwards held Merchandising and Planning roles at Amazon.com and Wal-Mart. Edwards received her BSBA from Boston University and her MBA from Indiana University. She currently resides in Boston’s South End.
Check out my interview with her below and find out more about her exciting new venture!
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
The most important thing you can do as a leader is surround yourself with a strong team. The team includes direct reports, outside vendors, mentors, anyone in your circle.
I am a college basketball fan and I often think about how Duke’s head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, describes putting together his basketball team each year. When the players are trying out Coach K wants to make sure the players have good basketball fundamentals: quick first step, solid free throw shooting, and strong passing skills, etc. He also places an equal amount of emphasis on how the players interact with their parents, the facility staff, and other players. He is looking for players who are respectful, willing to listen, and who will be good teammates. His philosophy is if the player has strong character traits and good basketball fundamentals, he can teach them the rest. He is willing to pass over someone with greater technical talent in favor of a player with a blend of character and technical skills.
That is the logic I use when making hiring decisions or even when I choose who to keep in my circle. If you have good, smart people in your life, everything else is much easier. You have a team of people who have a great amount of knowledge across a diverse set of functions who are willing to work together to achieve a common outcome. As you bring in these great resources, more people start believing in what you are delivering. Because of the strong character of your team, you can have honest conversations and the recipient knows you are giving feedback with their best interest in mind. You also start to attract more great people who want to be a part of the mix and the momentum snowballs.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Step. & Lizzie?
I have been very lucky to work at some of the most successful retailers in the world. At the larger organizations I learned solid business fundamentals, how to think about scaling, and how to solve problems creatively. Despite being large organizations, they were quite entrepreneurial, so I was given a lot of opportunity to think through and implement out of the box solutions at large scale using world class resources. I use these experiences in creative problem solving every day at Step. & Lizzie.
Working at smaller organizations gave me the opportunity to be even more entrepreneurial. At smaller companies, you are usually resource constrained and unable to implement the full solutions you would like. The ability to live with the messiness of completing what you need at a level that is sufficient for now then moving to the next thing is necessary for a startup. Those experiences gave me the confidence to launch on my own.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Step. & Lizzie?
Startup life is a roller coaster of emotions. The challenge is to consistently work through the plan despite the highs and lows. The greatest highlight so far was my first sale. It is an unbelievable comfort to get that feedback loop from customers letting you know that this business is something they want. As a young business, the biggest challenge is still the uncertainty. There is a lot of patience needed at the beginning of a business.
What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
Know what your true goals are in life and how your business ties into those goals. Starting a business is scary. If your only goal in starting a business is financial gain, you will likely quit very quickly. Financially, it is a lot more comfortable to get a steady paycheck from a larger company. You need to be bought into the idea of something greater to have the patience to see it through.
My other piece of advice would be network, network, network. I am so lucky to have built a tremendous network over the past 15 years. As an entrepreneur you need to be able to know every function. Most likely, you don’t actually know all the functions today. So, you need a group of people who collectively know how to do everything well that are willing to spend some time teaching you what they know.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’m not sure there is such a thing as a work/life balance when you have a startup. The list of things you need to do is never ending and every moment you aren’t working is a moment the business isn’t being built. Also, if you picked a business you are passionate about, you don’t really want to stop working on it because it’s fun. When I decided to launch a business, I also made the decision to put my personal life on the backburner while I get Step. & Lizzie up and running.
I do a few activities to get my mind to wind down in order to maximize its performance. I try not to think about work the hour before bed so I can get a good night’s sleep, which is really important to be bright the next day. I also try to get outside for at least 30 minutes everyday which also helps recharge the batteries.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The STEM curriculum is critical for women in the workplace. Data analysis and engineering skills are must haves for job security in today’s workforce and they will only continue to grow in importance. I grew up in the Silicon Valley in a school district that was a few blocks from Apple headquarters. Most of my friend’s parents were software engineers. As a young girl, I had no interest in that field. The concepts felt so confusing. When I was in business school, I had two great business modeling professors, Dr. Wayne Winston and Dr. Don Harnett. They taught us how to build business models by breaking down problems and using Excel and other programs to do the math. The value was really in setting up the problem. Those courses changed my career trajectory. Before business school, I only knew how to add cells in Excel. By the time I graduated, my quantitative skills were strong compared to my peers in the workforce and that helped me advance in my career. In my day, girls tended to shy away from STEM subjects. I am happy to see the percentage of girls in STEM programs increasing because that will dramatically impact their earning potential and career options.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been important in my workplace education over the years. For me, corporate sponsored mentorship programs did not really work. I never felt comfortable opening up to someone who was assigned to be my mentor. I have had great success, though, in finding informal mentors. It is important to find mentors who you connect with and who have an interest in your succeeding. I think the best way to find a good mentor is just to meet different people and listen. Look for a person who knows things you don’t, who you believe has good judgment, and who is willing to take time for you. Do not pick a mentor just because they have a flashy title. Use thoughtful judgment. Also, have different mentors for different topics. One person might know how to manage up and get promoted. Another person may know the ins and outs of the function you are in. Some relationships only last the duration of you both working at the same company while others last decades.
I have also been a mentor to many people and it is incredibly rewarding. As you move up the ranks, don’t forget that you were once a 20-something too who needed the help of others as you moved along in your career. I feel like my career was kickstarted by a more senior alumni of my business school. We had a 30 minute phone call and he reached out to some of his C-level friends to help get me an internship. That internship got my foot in the door at my first post-MBA company and so on and so on. So, if someone contacts me for career advice, I typically respond, because it was the kindness of that one person who talked to me for just 30 minutes who helped launch my whole career.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I love to hear the stories of independent, successful female entrepreneurs. Over the past few years the success of Sarah Blakely (Spanx) and Bethenny Frankel (SkinnyGirl) has really inspired me. It was also exciting to see Marissa Mayer named the CEO of Yahoo!. In just the past few years, there has been this new wave of great female success stories of women who are using their innate skills to develop businesses for other women.
What do you want Step. & Lizzie to accomplish in the next year?
In the next year, I’d like to see Step. & Lizzie grow into a sustainable business that has legs. As part of that goal, I want to ramp up making the site a destination for smart, interesting women to exchange ideas and learn from each other in a fun way.
|Step. & Lizzie|