When you can launch an online clothes store just before the first Internet bubble bursts and, a decade later, walk away with $76 million, a place on the board as executive chairman, your middle name has got to be Gumption. Former fashion journalist Natalie Massenet, who yesterday flogged Net-a-Porter to luxury goods group Richemont, the highest-profile e-tailer in the world, is far too chic for that, however. With the company now valued at $534 million the Boo.com founders must be looking enviously at her and wondering how she did it.
The 44-year-old Anglo-American started working out of a tiny artist's studio in London's Chelsea—the stylish person's equivalent to a garage start-up—and focused her energies on providing great clothes for time-poor women. "I was looking to buy some Chloe jeans and I logged onto the Internet and looked for something like Net-A-Porter and blindly assumed it existed because of how brilliantly companies like Amazon were revolutionizing service," she said, describing the Eureka moment as realizing that luxury clothes should be delivered directly to the wearer's door, beautifully packaged in tissue paper and ribbon.
Ten years on, the site gets between 2.5 and 3 million visitors a month. Two years ago, its average customer earned $330,000 per annum, and in 2008, one customer spent $100,000 in a single transaction. Net-a-Porter has now been joined by The Outnet.com, is a cheaper version of its sister site, offering high fashion from the previous season at low prices. Massenet will, apparently, plow $23 million back into the site which, next month, will be the first place to stock the J.Crew line outside of North America. This is how she did it.
An impeccable sense of the zeitgeist—her first idea was coffee shops: "I was told there was no money in it. It was before the whole Starbucks thing." Expensive candles followed. "I took samples to several designer stores in L.A., but they all said that nobody would pay more than a dollar for a candle."
Disregard your doubters: "There were a lot of unimaginative private-equity people who said that women would never shop online. I think about those people a lot. I'm sure their wives are having Net-a-Porter bags delivered to their homes every day."
Believe in your product: "I was completely confident. I never thought it wouldn't work. I never once thought it wouldn't be huge."
Believe in yourself: "My dad taught me never to be afraid of what's on the other side of the mountain."
Innovate: "If we come up with an idea and someone says it's never been done before, that's when we get going."
Service, Service, Service: "We owe it to our consumer to offer her various options for how she wants to shop, we shouldn't impose rules on her.
Know your market: "Even without an economic downturn, women sometimes want to keep their shopping habits to themselves. Don't forget we have moved the store to our customers' desks and many women shop at work—which, by the way, doesn't mean they are not being effective at work, hello multi-tasking and hello no more lunch breaks—but this does mean they are not necessarily broadcasting their spending habits either."
Hire talent: "I've always had the creative and fashion role, and I've always surrounded myself with good business and financial people. There has been a misconception that it was just me at my kitchen table."
See the future: "Look at the way 11-year-olds are living their day-to-day lives already. More things will take place virtually. They won't be meeting in public. They won't be going to stores. We haven't even begun to see just how many transactions are going to take place online. I attend Internet conferences all the time and they literally make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up."