3 Lessons Learned from a Tech/Retail Startup CEO

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Speech/Blog given by Liz Kammel, CEO/Co-Founder of ZipFit Inc.

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“Two and a half years ago I started work on ZipFit. At the time, I thought we’d be the Kayak of clothing. Obviously, some of that has changed. While our vision has stayed the same – we improve apparel shopping through technology – some of how we do it has changed. We launched our own ecommerce site back in the Spring, opened our first store in October 2012, and recently launched our first software product with a large denim brand.

I spent my first quarter quarter at the University of Chicago Booth carpooling with a group of guys back and forth from Indianapolis. Along the way, an idea popped into my head. Guys hate shopping, and love comparison shopping engines. I knew how to build the first one. So what did I do? I turned to my classmates and my network for help. Some of them helped build the first product. They sat down with me as I sketched out a mockup in Powerpoint and attempted to build an algorithm in Excel. They went to Macy’s and Nordstrom to try out a few recommendations. They gave me feedback on the product. They gave me feedback on the business model. They challenged me, and it was exactly what I needed.

Throughout the whole process I really learned what a network meant. They’re people with diverse backgrounds. It’s a group of people who will help you succeed. And if you fail, they’ll help you get back up. I failed – many times over the last two years. I failed while developing our algorithm. One of my now friends tried on multiple jeans, and none of them fit. I failed in our first business model that was not scalable. And I failed in our second business model which required a incredibly long sales process. All of those times I failed,my network helped me get back up. This brings me to the first thing I’ve learned while working on ZipFit.

1. It’s ok to fail. Failing is not something easily grasped by overachievers, but it is something that will happen to everyone. Do not be ashamed, but learn from it. Take risks, and remember It is ok to fail. You will be stronger in the end.

Honestly, if you would have asked me 2 and a half years ago if I would start a company, I would have told you no, that won’t happen. But I am forever grateful it did. I’m thankful I took a risk, experienced some failure, and now have the opportunity to grow a business that was built from help by my network – which brings me to the second thing I learned while working on ZipFit.

2. Help those around you. Life and work will throw many challenges at you. And it’s not all about work, some of it is life. Throughout the past year some of my classmates have lost jobs, friends and family. It’s painful to experience, but what helps you get through those challenges are people. Be that support and help needed to those around you. Be a good example to your colleagues and to your network.

When I started in business school, my sister shared one quote with me from Kevin Rollins.

“My Advice to Chicago Booth students: 1. Learn as much as you can while you are here; 2. Dream very big. If you can dream it, you can do it. 3. Think globally.”

That brings me to the third and final thing I learned in my entrepreneurial career todate.

3. Dream Big. Dreams do come true, I’m living it everyday, and I have no one to thank more than my network, fellow classmates and friends. You never know when that dream will hit you – while you’re in a carpool, at a Bulls game, or just taking a walk down Michigan Ave. Make sure you take time to dream big if you haven’t already.”

Connect: www.zipfit.me | facebook.com/zipfit |twitter.com/zipfitme