Gilt Groupe’s Alexis Maybank Tells Us She Still Worries About Failing

What would the world be like today without Gilt Groupe? How would we shop? Imagine being responsible for a business that changed the way many people shop. And when I say many I mean the 5 million members of Gilt Groupe that have helped make it a $1 billion company in just four short years. But Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, the founders of Gilt, don’t have to imagine what that would be like because they did it.

The two women met while in business school and bonded over their love for shopping at New York sample sales. They wondered if they could bring the excitement of exclusive sample sales to the internet. And then like that, Gilt Groupe was born! Oh, if only it were that simple. Though Gilt Groupe is considered an overnight success, there was a ton of hard work and some struggle involved. Luckily, we were able to talk to Alexis Maybank about that amazing journey. You can read more about the entire Gilt Groupe evolution in her and Alexandra’s new book, By Invitation Only: How We Built And Changed the Way Millions Shop (available in stores now.)Alexis talked with TheGrindstone about the secret to working with a partner, the importance of female entrepreneurs and never resting on your laurels.

When you first set out to create Gilt do you think you even imagined it would have this kind of overwhelming success? What were your original goals with this business?

Alexis Maybank: Never! No entrepreneur can ever predict his/her level of success or outcome, and in fact you never reach the finish line, as each new month (or week) brings a wholly new set of challenges.

As we launched the business, we projected a very aggressive goal (or so we thought) that in our first year we would reach $6M in revenues. We thought we would take a while to get to any sort of “hockey stick” inflection in the growth of our customers and sales, however in our first year we exceed plans by nearly 6x and our customer base’s referral activity went highly viral too.

What have been the challenges of starting and running a business with a friend?

Alexis Maybank: In a startup, it is absolutely critical to be able to trust and rely on your co founders and/or team. If you are considering going into business with a friend (or family member), you are likely to put a lot on the line. It is important to communicate. Lay out any potential issues or concerns on the table and talk about them in detail. We did this because people told us to have these discussions, but we were never all that concerned about working together. It is important to think about the context of your friendship. In our case, we were friends from business school, so we had seen each other’s work ethic and drive in action, and we were familiar with each other’s basic business acumen. Most important, we each had seen the other at her best and worst and knew we would not encounter any surprises as we hit the inevitable highs and lows any start-up faces as it grows. Our confidence and trust in each other was absolute.

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