"'If there's one piece of advice I give to you, it's do not
under any circumstances get a business partner, said one person.
'Whatever you do, get a business partner - don't start something on
your own - just pick the right one'," said the next.
This was the conflicting advice given to entrepreneurs Natalie Brossard and Anouchka Bala before they launched online fashion start-up Luxx Lab during London Fashion Week in September 2012. But a year on the decision to work together has helped their business to blossom.Brossard and Bala were friends before they were business partners, having met at the Cannes Film Festival through a mutual acquaintance in 2009, but it soon became apparent that they had similar ideas about fashion retail and shared a desire to break free of their careers.
"The initial idea for Luxx Lab came about not so much by us thinking 'we want to start our own business, what shall we do?' It was from a consumer point of view. As keen online shoppers, we felt there was something missing which we wanted to see in the market," says Brossard.
They felt there wasn't a fashion website offering finely-curated, boutique fashion with independent designers at accessible prices. Luxx Lab sits in-between high-end luxury and the high street, but, according to the founders, it has the same quality of fabrics and finishes as more expensive shops. The designers working with Luxx Lab are both emerging and established.
"Because there were only two of us, we had to be realistic about what we could put together and launch ourselves," explains Bala. "You can have a great idea on paper and as soon as you launch it, it won't necessarily work."
Brossard spent ten years working in finance at a string of top tier banks and before Luxx Lab was working for a Bermuda based mutual funds company called Orbis. Meanwhile Bala was busy as MD of branding and music company THE:HOURS.
They pair spent spare time during evenings and weekends putting together the plans for Luxx Lab so by the time they left their jobs; the plan was ready to swing into action.
"Although we both knew the market really well, we took notes about what we saw and where," explains Brossard. "We noticed what we thought could be improved upon and things that frustrated us as consumers. At the end we had a huge list that outlined exactly what we wanted to do, the best of what was out there.
"We didn't start off with a pot of money and say 'okay what can we do with what we have?' We worked out the gap in the market, had our business plan, knew what we wanted to develop and how much it would all cost. We worked out every penny that we had and pretty much scraped the barrel.
"Being self-invested meant we could maintain one hundred per cent control over how we wanted to launch."
The pair both quit their jobs by January 2012 with an aim to launch on time for the start of London Fashion Week in September of that year.
Creating the website
The next move was to find a developer that could make their plans a reality. Brossard put a brief together of all of the research they had done into the online fashion market, and condensed into a five-page development planning document and a list of developers was drawn up.
"We put a list of developers together and it became an intense hiring process," says Bala. "We had to make a note of what their and our requirements were and see who would fit in with us the best. There were very few people that actually understood what we wanted and how we wanted it to be developed."
It wasn't just a case of finding the best developers, the Luxx Lab founders wanted someone who was a specialist in building fashion platforms.
"We needed a specialist because the infrastructure of an online shop is very complicated - particularly how the front and back-end work together, and if it is all to work flawlessly without hiccups," says Bossard. "We had to choose someone who had done it 50 times before."
The shipping process
Apart from locating a developer, the girls faced several challenges in the nine months prior to launch. Getting fashion designers on board for something that didn't yet exist proved hard as were the complicated logistics for a global customer base and an international collective of designers.
"We made sure that the shipping process was seamless for all parties," says Bossard. "Which meant working with shipping companies without being able to offer exact volumes. We also needed a website which could notify not only us but our designers every time an order was placed. Leading up to launch we spent long night after long night testing everything."
Getting your name out there
But launch they did, with 25 designers backed-up by a sophisticated ordering system behind the scenes.
"Getting the word out at launch was quite organic," says Bala. "We just wanted to lay the foundations and make sure the site was in working order. We had got to know all our designers really well and became as dependent on them as they were on us as they spread the word internally in the fashion world. We did barely any PR and yet people knew who we were."
Once the launch was behind them the pair had no trouble securing designers for the business. Enquiries came in thick and fast from designers they had previously contacted and completely new ones who had heard about Luxx Lab on the grapevine.
"Every item you see on the website has been hand-picked by us, we've tried them on and felt the fabric and we have a rule that if one of us absolutely loves the collection and the other one isn't sure - we don't have that designer join. We only have designers that we both really love," explains Bossard.
Team work is a priority for the Luxx Lab founders and common ground is always the basis for their business decisions. When you are as coordinated as these two, who needs good advice?
For more information about LuxxLab click here