Having just celebrated their second birthday, Co-Founders of Stylerunner (@stylerunner), Sali Stevanja (@salistevanja) and Julie Stevanja (@juliestevanja) tell us about their startup story and life inside Stylerunner HQ.
You both took the plunge, finished up your obligations to other employers and began working for yourselves. Beyond your vision and hard work ethic, what solid plans did you have in place before deciding to go out on your own?
Julie: Sali and I were living in Sydney and London respectively working in Recruitment and Digital Marketing, while we enjoyed our jobs, we’d always known that we would do something amazing but it came down to timing. We didn’t have any solid plans in place to do this but after struggling to find a large enough selection of fashionable activewear, we realised there was a gap in the market. After we committed to creating Stylerunner, we launched just three months later.
Diving straight into a highly competitive fashion market, how careful were you to make sure the brand remained premium?
Julie: We knew that we wanted Stylerunner to be unique and in order to truly understand this; we conducted our researched as though we were the consumers. We wanted the best of the best, a curated collection of covetable activewear that didn’t compromise on style. Once we understood what we were trying to create, we just made sure everything that we signed off on, whether it was a new brand partner, our logo or the website design, was in line with this.
How did you approach the larger brands initially as a start up?
Sali: We lead extremely proactive and positive lives and have always been of the belief that if you act ‘as if’ you’re more than halfway there. We put together proposals for the bigger brand partners, acted as if we were already the global brand we intended to be and showed them what we were setting out to achieve.
Self-belief, confidence and knowing how to network and build relationships also assisted in the signing of these brands.
You decided not to start your own label, but instead build a distribution platform, tell us about this strategy.
Julie: Neither Sali or I come from a design background and it wasn’t about creating one brand to become part of a global online market, we wanted to create a destination that provided many amazing brands and thus offering our customers a wide selection of brands that we weren’t able to find ourselves.
Do you think managing the ‘consumer experience’ for online shopping is as imperative to success as having great brands involved?
Sali: Absolutely. Stylerunner is about so much more than just selling activewear. We have worked extremely hard to create and cultivate an inspiring and motivating culture and community and our customer service is, I believe, second to none. We handwrite cards for all of our orders and offer personal styling advice via live chat and emails. Stylerunner breaks down the barrier between on and offline to deliver a unique experience for our customers.
Did you tie yourself to one strategic plan during the start up?
Sali: As cofounders of a start up, the one thing we would tell you is to be resilient. The path you plan will often veer in a different direction so you need to be agile, willing and have the ability to bounce back if things don’t go to plan. We definitely had an end goal in site but the way in which we got there often changed course along the way.
Angels, incubators and mentors- what route do you recommend for a young entrepreneur without existing capital?
Sali: Find yourself solid mentors. There are actually a lot of entrepreneurs who are willing to share their experiences. Reach out via Linked In, conferences, forums – just find a way to connect. If you don’t have existing capital, don’t allow that to hinder getting started. Put together a bulletproof pitch and take it the bank, angels, potential mentors or investors with confidence, if you believe in yourself, the chances are they will too.
Talk to us about PR, how did you initially drive traffic to your site?
Julie: PR was very organic in the beginning. Twin sisters in their early thirties, starting an online store without any experience was very ‘newsworthy’ – however social media played a much bigger role than a specific PR strategy did. Our social channels are now collectively over 160,000 and we have attracted an active, loyal and engaged community. Social media has allowed us to show what Stylerunner is about through imagery and communication and of course has given us the chance to respond to our customers and followers immediately and genuinely.
What social media channels were the best for you? How do you leverage these sites effectively?
Sali: Instagram has been incredibly effective for us. We started Stylerunner just as this channel was really taking off and as Julie mentioned previously, it really allowed us to engage and communicate with our customers. We didn’t have anyone manning social in the beginning so Julie and I responded to each and every customer to ensure they were receiving all of the information that they needed. In less than two years we have more than 150,000 organic followers on Instagram. While we do have a presence in the others, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter, Instagram has been the most influential for us.
How do you two work together as business partners? Do you both bring different skills to the table?
Sali: We are extremely different when it comes to management styles, skill-set and also interests so we work incredibly well together. I oversee the day to day running of Stylerunner – that includes logistics, customer service and BTL marketing while Julie works on the business vision, strategy and long term objectives. She also heads up the buying so we’re both extremely busy! We play on one another’s skills though and together make a great team. Where I lack, Julie excels and vice versa.
What advice do you have for someone looking to enter a partnership?
Sali: First and foremost, you need a good lawyer who can draw up a solid partnership agreement. This will allow you to clearly lay out the expectations from all parties involved. Once the niggly details are done, you’re able to just focus on building the dream.
Do you aim to mirror your work culture and brand ethos (we mean, is your office as fun and inspiring as your site)? If so, how do you create and maintain this?
Julie: Absolutely. Company culture is as important as strategy and we work hard to foster a supportive, enjoyable and rewarding office environment. Our staff members have a 7pm rule whereby no one is allowed to stay any later than this time, we celebrate success ‘in the moment’ (we recently surprised the team with over 100 helium balloons and Brazilian dancers) and we have weekly, monthly and yearly prizes for staff members excelling in their roles.
For someone looking for a career in e-commerce distribution, what advice would you give?
Julie: Make sure you are a good fit for the role. In e-commerce distribution, you’ll need to be incredible organised, efficient, detail orientated and remain calm under pressure. As the business grows, you’ll need to manage a team, create processes and think strategically about cost reduction and efficiency. You should also attend expos to research the latest in service and technology in the field – such as shipping aggregators and parcel pick up points.
Leading on from this, is there anything specifically that you wish you had known starting out?
Julie: Just research, research, research – look into alternative suppliers, run price comparisons and explore technologies that can integrate with your ecommerce system.
And finally, what are your five Stylerunner must haves right now?
Sali: Navy 2 Person Love Towel – doubles as a picnic blanket as well as a beach towel which is perfect for cuddling up to your loved one.
Sali: Nike Pro 3” Shorts in Action Red – these motivate me to deliver a firecracker workout.
Sali: Zoe Karssen Loose Fit Sweater in RAP in Peace – Super cool, easy to wear sweater that is both relaxed but stylish.
Julie: Nimble Chloe Crop Top in Blue Lapis –I love a bright coloured crop under a loose fit tank.
Julie: Zoe Karssen Night Shadow Sweater in Camo Blue – The perfect weekend essential.