TLQ 0.4 | 1-to-1: Rebecca Minkoff & Cassie Rosenthal

1-to-1: Rebecca Minkoff & Cassie Rosenthal | The Fix

BY: The Lead Editorial Team in collaboration with Rosenthal & Rosenthal

KEY POINTS

  • As one of the most formidable female founders of this generation, Minkoff‘s experiences building and transforming her business in a crowded and complex marketplace have blazed a path for the next generation of entrepreneurs.
  • “Every business has a unique story and it’s the brand’s job to tell that story. These days, a customer can get any product from anywhere, so the only thing that differentiates your company from others is your story and your brand values.”- Rebecca Minkoff
  • “New ideas often come out of old ones that have failed. To thrive and succeed in the current market you must be nimble, persistent, willing to innovate, unafraid to try new things and focused on creating a strong bond with your customer.”- Rebecca Minkoff

Image courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff

Rebecca Minkoff was founded in 2005 — in a different time for the fashion and retail industry — during the early stages of monumental industry changes: the introduction of the iPhone came in 2007, the concept of the digitally native vertical brand came to life that same year, and many retailers and malls have shut their doors since then.

Yet somehow, the company found a way to navigate all of this change and thrive. Sometimes with wild success and sometimes by learning through experimentation. The company’s founders, Rebecca Minkoff and Uri Minkoff, are pioneers in every way, having successfully taken the business from a small start-up handbag company to a powerhouse global lifestyle brand. For these reasons and more, we have long kept an eye on the company — and its standout female Co-Founder and Creative Director.

Beyond the macro trends in personalization, connectivity, mobility, DNVBs, and fast fashion, the way we finance businesses has changed significantly since 2005 as well. Many of the companies that have pushed forward in the past 14 years have relied on venture capital to finance their businesses — this can mean opinionated boards pushing for maximum return on investment, even if that financial return does not align with the founder’s vision and style. Minkoff bucked this VC trend by choosing debt (and control) instead of equity. In doing so, Minkoff was able to focus on developing her brand and making great products for her customers.

The Rebecca Minkoff brand has not only adapted to new challenges and disruptions in the retail sector — it has embraced them. As one of the most formidable female founders of this generation, Minkoff‘s experiences building and transforming her business in a crowded and complex marketplace have blazed a path for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

In this edition of The Lead 1 to 1, we invited Cassie Rosenthal, Senior Vice President at Rosenthal & Rosenthal — one of Minkoff’s earliest financial partners — to interview Rebecca Minkoff about the importance of maintaining a strong company culture, what it takes for start-ups to succeed today and how the role of women founders is evolving.

CR: In so many ways, the fashion and apparel industry looks nothing like it did when Rosenthal first met you. What do you think has transformed the industry the most since you first got started?

RM: Definitely social media. Before, we relied on runway shows and a different set of buying patterns. Now that the fashion industry has been democratized by social media, it’s a whole new ballgame.

CR: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced — financial or otherwise — when you were in the early stages of growing your business?

RM: The biggest challenges we faced early on in growing our business were financial. Before we found Rosenthal, we couldn’t get a small business loan or even a lease on office space.

CR: If you faced those same challenges today, how would you handle them?

RM: Today, we wouldn’t have those same challenges because we would seek out alternative financing options like Rosenthal or rent out a WeWork. Today, the barriers to entry in business are far lower, but there are so many more people now that brands must reach. The challenge for them is cutting through the noise and finding ways to make sure your customer knows you, stays with you and values you in the long term.

CR: For many start-ups, securing venture capital is considered a badge of success and the ultimate marker of ‘making it.’ But it wasn’t for you. Why did you decide to go a different route for funding when you were getting your company off the ground?

RM: Venture capital is going through a very trendy period right now. For companies that aren’t necessarily going to show a profit right away, it might be the right model. But, you can get a small business loan or pursue factoring, which is what we decided to do when we partnered with Rosenthal. We had purchase orders, so we knew we had money that was going to be coming in from stores that were trusted. Rosenthal was willing to take on the risk for us and we wouldn’t have been able to grow without that support.

Image courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff
Image courtesy of Cassie Rosenthal

CR: How do you think that early decision impacted the course of your business?

RM: If we had tried to launch this company many years ago with just venture capital, we might not be here today. The investors wouldn’t have prioritized our growth and made us make choices that would have prioritized their growth, not necessarily what was most beneficial to the company.

CR: So many start-ups today don’t make it, even with a unique concept or substantial VC backing. Why do you think that is and what do you think it takes for a company — and an entrepreneur to thrive in the current environment?

RM: There are a million different reasons why companies fail every day. Many companies don’t make it because they haven’t figured out their value proposition and what makes them different. Maybe they’re bad at marketing or bad at persisting, or they don’t lean on their networks. There are companies rising and falling every day and there have to be some that don’t make it in order for others to grow. New ideas often come out of old ones that have failed. To thrive and succeed in the current market you must be nimble, persistent, willing to innovate, unafraid to try new things and focused on creating a strong bond with your customer.

CR: Rosenthal has been lucky to have a front-row seat as your business has grown and we have always been struck by your vision and foresight to adapt your business, even as the industry is in the midst of evolving. The shift to digital and e-commerce retail is a perfect example of how you always seem to run head on towards — not away from — new challenges. What advice do you have for entrepreneurs as they face obstacles in their own businesses?

RM: When you’re facing obstacles, lean on your partners. When you bring your partners – especially your bankers – in on your challenges, successes, and failures, you’re creating an intimacy where they will hopefully go above and beyond for you. Uri and I have strived to create strong relationships with the partners that have been in the driver’s seat with us since the beginning. The partners that have helped us steer the company are the ones that see your vision, believe in you and are willing to go out on a limb to help when you need it.

CR: With so much transformation afoot in the industry, what do you do to maintain your company’s culture so that your brand remains authentic?

RM: Every business has a unique story and it’s the brand’s job to tell that story. These days, a customer can get any product from anywhere, so the only thing that differentiates your company from others is your story and your brand values. Ours is women, staying in touch with our customer, being democratic and being open and always willing to listen. The more that we talk about those things, the more the customer knows what we stand for.

CR: What do you think it takes for an entrepreneur to not only be successful but to become a true breakout — a pioneer — in their industry?

RM: They have to be smart. They have to be able to zig and zag. They have to be persistent and really rely on their networks and constantly seek out new opportunities. It’s all there, it’s just for you to see that it all exists and, more importantly, go after it.

CR: Empowering women business leaders and business owners is near and dear to your heart, as we’ve seen through your great work with the Female Founders Collective. How do you see the role of female founders evolving in the future? And what impact do you hope they — we! — will have on their businesses, industries, and communities?

RM: Female founders are really beacons and leaders for other women, whether they’re in corporate America or looking to start their own businesses. Studies show that women invest – and reinvest – in their communities when they achieve measures of success. So, if we can get the 12 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. to grow and contribute back to their communities, we will truly be investing in the future.