Business challenges that we faced early on were…

S: You name it. Neither of us came from a true corporate retail background – only the periphery of one. We didn’t know what “cut & sew” meant, what short vs. long-lead press was, the nuances of a VC terms sheet, how to choose a warehouse that was the proper size…you name it. And in those early days you’re doing it all and it’s sink or swim. It was all a challenge, but it was all exciting and we were fueled by the vision of an aesthetic, a product and a brand that was forming. Fortunately we were quick studies.

L: Raising capital was tough for a more traditional product design lifestyle brand. The Venture Capital world was looking for disruptive models. There is not a lot of early stage capital for design led consumer brand companies. There are many later stage funding sources, but not so many early stage sources.

How we overcame these challenges…

S: Paying attention to what worked and didn’t work, and never losing heart or steam. Also, celebrating our successes to stay motivated.

L: We kissed a lot of frogs and were tenacious in our capital raising efforts.

How Serena & Lily drives innovation as our company grows…

S: We constantly remind ourselves that our business was founded on innovation, and it’s our point of differentiation. As tempted as we are to chase what worked last season, our calling is to create something newer…riskier. That’s where we thrive and it’s where our success lies.

L: And we try to give our design team room to innovate without any scripted merchandise input so they can create based on an artistic point of view. The fashion collection launched in Spring 2015 was part of this design-driven approach to innovation.

The most important lesson we have learned over the past year…

S: Lily has a great expression that gets used weekly around here: “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” Challenge and adversity has become a reminder that we chose, and continually choose, to do things differently. And “different” is much harder to accomplish than “same,” but far more worthwhile.

L: Growth comes with its growing pains, as a company grows you continually hit new inflection points, new controls are needed, new reporting is needed, focus is needed, sticking to your core is critical.

Our best advice for entrepreneurs…

S: Start with a strong view of what you want to say in the world. Make sure it isn’t being said already. Know your mission, never waver from it, and stay fueled by that purpose. You will need to return to it over and over again and be reminded of why you keep pushing uphill. Be alive with the notion that you can make a distinct and personal mark on the world, and make that your North Star.

L: I think Jim Collins is one of the most brilliant business mentors of all time. Some of his advice that I’ve found helpful and carry with me is to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off, try new initiatives in small doses, and that hubris is the first sign of failure. Also, if you are able to raise capital, take twice as much as you think you need at the valuation that gives you the cleanest deal terms. And, finally, never ignore your gut feeling!

Tools we use to monitor accomplishments and challenges…

S: We rely heavily on our Head of HR to keep her finger on the morale pulse. We all gather fairly frequently to check in informally.

L: We also have semiannual reviews and check-ins with very clear goals articulated, and addressing, “what’s working and what’s not?”

3 ways we celebrate our team’s accomplishments…

  1. Acknowledgement – through broadcast email messages and personally, directly
  2. The party! We never miss a chance to celebrate and honor a milestone or achievement. We have a countless number of bar cart casual happy hours.
  3. Recognizing that the best idea wins…all ego aside

Tips for creating a positive and productive workspace…

S: Acknowledgement and frequent celebration. Honoring different work styles and the space needs for different personality types. Sensitivity to aesthetics in a business like ours…there is a connection between the beauty of your environment and the quality of your work.

L: And giving people the flexibility to have work/life balance and performance be based on objectives not about clocking in.

Advice for successful partnerships…

S: The success of our partnership has hinged on both of us focusing on our domains, and respecting what each of us brings to the table. The biggest challenge in working with a partner is probably — just like with any partnership — the need for constant communication.  A partnership needs nurturing, like any relationship. In a rapidly growing business where we are each pulled in different directions, we need to make time to reconnect and keep the lines of communication and friendship open.

L: Find a partner with complementary strengths and have very clear domains. Serena & Lily is a design driven business. We balance the needs of both creativity and business with mutual respect.  The healthy tension between business and design has been both our biggest challenge and our greatest advantage.

How we identified the right time to add fashion to our product line…

S&L: We felt like there was something missing in the market from an apparel perspective. All of our categories have been derived from a sense that there’s more to say in that category. We have such a distinct point of view of design; it felt like a category that could bear our stamp, so it just felt like a natural foray for us.

We love what we do because…

S: It comes from the heart. My mission is to bring out the creative spirit in everyone, and this keeps me aligned and inspired.

L: We design and develop products to create a beautiful home to celebrate life’s most important place. We believe that your home reflects your personal lifestyle and makes you happy when you discover your own creativity.