'I quit my corporate job to build a $30m online store'
AS A young woman, Jane Lu did everything right. She had the corporate career - first at KPMG, then at Ernst & Young - stellar marks in the HSC and at university and a host of gold-star extra-curricular activities, like playing eighth grade piano.
There was only one problem. She wasn't happy at work.
So when a friend called her, asking whether she was keen to work on "an awesome fun project", running pop-up stalls in "underutilised locations" like bars and markets, selling clothing, accessories, homewares and knick-knacks from emerging designers.
"I was really distracted [at work], sneaking off into meeting rooms to take calls from suppliers and my business partners, ducking into bathroom stalls to take five minute power naps," Lu recalls.
"My work suffered, and I hated being bad at what I did. So one day, I'm sitting there, behind my laptop, in my cubicle, and I looked at my phone and realised that three hours had passed and all I had done was [moved one thing in] this excel spreadsheet I'd been staring at all morning. So I quit."
And Lu hasn't looked back. Though the market business' days are also over, Lu struck gold when she launched e-commerce site Showpo almost seven years ago.
Today, it is one of Australia's most successful tech startups, with a team of 37, operating in 81 markets and generating $30 million of sales a year. And almost half those orders come from global customers.
The early days
After quitting her corporate gig, Lu admits she lied to her parents, dressing up in suits and leaving the house every day so they wouldn't suspect she had left her job. One night, after a few glasses of wine, she stumbled upon the idea for a go-to online destination for fun and feminine fast fashion.
"Later that night I pulled an all-nighter googling how to use HTML and built the website," Lu says.
"The next day we borrowed samples from a supplier. That weekend we had our first photo shoot. Within a week we made our first sale. Since then it's been an ongoing tweaking and learning process!"
The early days were a period of constant action and reaction. "I bought the stock on consignment, which meant that I didn't have to pay for it until it sold," she says.
"Postage was 'pay as you go'. And I marketed our products using Facebook, working from cafes and my parent's garage."
It's this experience that informs Lu's overarching message for female businesswomen: "Just do it!"
Learning from mistakes
There were times, Lu says, that she lost sight of her own strategies and goals.
"I'm ashamed to admit that there was a period when I would frequently look at what our competitors were doing.
"I found myself subscribed to everyone's newsletters, following their Instagram and responding to every cold call email from new digital platforms that had promised us an edge over the competition.It absorbed me to the point where I forgot who we were and what we were about."
"And you know what, that was a period where we plateaued. The worst part of it was that the team was uninspired. They weren't led by a maverick girl boss with big dreams, they were led by a sheep. It wasn't until the team regrouped on our vision, and removed the distractions, did we started growing again."
Her goal, she says, is to make Showpo the number-one online destination for women all over the world, making $100 million in sales annually and with no external funding.
"And we'll work our asses off to get there!"
The importance of networking
Aside from her role as CEO of Showpo, Lu also forms one half of networking group Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine with Gen George.
"Women need support from other women," Lu says.
"There is still a bit of stigma about women CEOs and we need to continue breaking the stereotypes and negative connotations associated with it."
Lu admits that things have changed since she first dipped her toes into the startup water seven years ago.
"There are so many inspiring women kicking serious goals and having women like that to look up to is something that's come a long way since I started."