“Leaving the corporate world after 14 years can be scary. But it’s the best decision I’ve ever made,” said Grace Lee. Today, her company Birdy Grey, sells bridesmaids dresses direct-to-consumer for under $100.
With the average wedding cost in the United States for 2017 at $25,764 — it’s no wonder why Birdy Grey’s $99 price tag has been so well-received. The young dress company helps bride tribes skirt the crippling cost of a dress that — let’s be honest — is only meant to be worn once.
Grace did not always imagine herself as an entrepreneur. She started her career in fashion editorial spending eight years at InStyle Magazine. She remembers being quite happy sitting at her desk at 1271 Avenue of the Americas in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, home to Time Inc. — InStyle Magazine’s former parent company. For years, she honed her skills in digital storytelling for female-centric editorial content. She grew to know the women’s category like the back of her hand. It became her superpower.
The Importance of Real-world Working Experience
“Real life work experience is so critical to starting your own company,” says Grace, as she carefully brushes her hand across the gowns in this season’s latest color palette — Sage.
“You have to develop some sort of expertise and apply that to the company. I’ve only been able to start Birdy, and execute relatively well, because I’ve had so many years of experience in the female category, social media, and digital content, and really developing that expertise. That’s something that gets overlooked these days because you hear so many stories about people dropping out of college to start a company and it turning into a huge success — which is great — but I think there is something really valuable in having real-world experience.”
After 10 years in New York at InStyle and Kate Spade, she relocated to sunny Los Angeles in 2012 and worked for beauty brands Stila and Kate Somerville Skincare. Only then did she start to have the entrepreneurial itch. At the time, she saw female peers coming out of graduate school or deciding to leave consulting or banking to start their own companies.
“They were all starting to thrive.”
Last year, in 2017, Grace took the plunge. “I was so inspired by seeing everything around me that I decided to take a leap of faith and start my own company.”
At around the same time, she was at a friends wedding as a bridesmaid. She was appalled at the price tag of bridesmaids dresses, typically costing around $250 a pop. “Why are these dresses so expensive?” she thought. Thus, the idea for Birdy Grey was born.
Constructing a Vision and Bringing it to Life
With lots of support from friends and family, Grace began tailoring all the foundational pieces to launching an e-commerce business. She began teaching herself Liquid code, Shopify’s programming language. She YouTubedeverything and brushed up on her basic Photoshop skills. In October 2017, she launched the homegrown Birdy Grey website, and the foundation for her the business.
Grace felt confident in the industry she was in. After all, she had perfected her craft over many years at female-centric brands. From the voice of the company to the tone and aesthetics, she was certain that her previous work experience would pay off at her new venture in a big way.
“I’m an expert in digital storytelling and social media content. Female-centric stories are what I do best and have perfected over the years. So today, our content and copy are feminine and millennial-focused — that’s our core customer.”
From conception to reality, launching Birdy Grey took a lot of time, grit and hard work. Grace wrote her own business plan, content strategy, and user journey. Today, it has materialized from top to bottom.
“It’s rewarding to see the vision come to life. To see it all translate into revenue has been insane because it all just started with an idea.”
Sealed with a K.I.S.S. (Keep it Simple, Sweetie)
“The best advice I ever got? Keep it simple. Beautifully simple. Take the path of least resistance. Things get complicated as you grow, and they will just deal with it as you go along.”
While it’s important to listen to sound advice, it’s just as important for Grace to share advice from the last year of running a business.
“Set boundaries with colleagues, partners, and employees and make sure expectations arecrystal clear. People like clarity, and knowing what their responsibilities are. Make sure there is no gray area and constantly reiterate that through the assignments you give. I know employees appreciate clearly defined roles so that they know where they stand and are able to take accountability for it. So everyone is on the same page.”
Grace remains a strong enthusiast for simplicity, from storytelling and securing capital. “There’s a common notion that the success of your company related directly to how much money you raised. This is actually quite misguided and confusing. There’s no one straight path to success. Do the right thing for your company, your space, or your needs at the time.”
*Images by Eric Berry Photography