Founder Fridays: An Interview with Susan Koger, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at ModCloth

Name, Age, Current Occupation: Susan Koger, 26, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at ModCloth

My start-up path: I founded the company when I was 17. It’s my only real full-time job. I needed a whole new wardrobe and didn’t have much money, so I was thrift shopping and buying vintage pieces. I taught myself Photoshop, how to merchandise and a little coding. I launched the site in 2003 and had a sale on the first day. That was my birth as an entrepreneur.

I start my day at _____ and end my day at ______.I start at 10 am, work until 7 pm, break for dinner and then do transactional stuff/reading after dinner and work until 12 or 1 am. I’m in bed by 2 am But it doesn’t feel like work.

I decided to start my own company because: When I graduated from college, I realized ModCloth had a lot of potential. We carried our first set of products from independent designers in 2006. Now we have three locations and around 250 employees and work with over 700 independent designers. I feel really lucky to be able to do what I do for a living.

What’s your role at ModCloth? How’s it changed over time? My official title is Chief Creative Officer. I work with our buying team and am very involved with every product you see on the site. It’s what I love to do. I also function as the Chief Brand Officer and work with teams to make sure our messaging is on point. My husband is our CEO and runs our operations.

How did you and your husband determine your roles? We thought about what we liked to do and what we were each good at. It’s important for any business relationship to have a clear division of labor. We help each other and talk about things, but at the end of the day we know who is responsible for what.

My initial idea for the company has (or has not) changed over time: In the beginning, ModCloth was a hobby project. As the Internet, e-commerce and the rise of the social web happened, we saw an opportunity to take the model even further to become an online brand and take it “social.” We have a program called “Be the Buyer,” in which we get customer opinions about designs. We turn the traditional retail model on its head because historically customers have not had access to designers. The vision of ModCloth has really evolved it being a leader in social commerce.

Any advice for a bootstrapping start-up? When we were bootstrapping, we stayed in Pittsburgh because the cost of living is low and great space is cheap. We maxed out our credit cards and ran our business out of the house. We found other young people who were very smart and interested but didn’t necessarily need a high salary. When we fundraised our first round, it helped to be able to show how our site traffic and revenue had grown over time.

The best piece of legal advice I ever received was: When we were fundraising, I felt like from certain investors, I had to explain and almost apologize for my youth. I was 22 and just out of school. My lawyer reminded me that I had already built a strong company and platform and that my age was a big part of that success. It allowed me to be a visionary, and I didn’t need to apologize for my age. We passed on those investors.

The one legal concept I didn’t understand at the outset was: At the beginning, all of them. I was 17. In the beginning, I didn’t really understand the ownership as we were setting up the company.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned over the course of my experience as a founder is: Who you work with makes all the difference. You have to have good people on your team. You are ultimately responsible for all of the decisions. But you get to choose who you hire. Surround yourself with good people.  Because you have to let go. We wanted to grow a big business, and you can’t do it on your own.

Right now, the books I’m reading are: I really enjoyed Influence by Robert B. Cialdini, it’s about the psychology of consumers.  I like Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

The blogs I’m reading are: Mashable and a ton of fashion blogs (too many to list!).

This post was authored by Nithya Das.

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