The founder of a business that’s aiming to shake up the fashion industry has a five-year plan to give her venture a truly international reach. But urgent operational tasks could take her focus away from achieving this objective. She asks our panel of IoD members for advice
Having spent more than a decade working for some of the world’s biggest investment banks, Ada Yi Zhao decided to take an entirely different career path in 2016. Launching a fashion business wasn’t the obvious next step, but, as she recalls: “I was determined to put my skills and my network into something I was really passionate about.”
Zhao, who has a number of fashion designer friends, saw an opportunity to “disrupt the industry. There are way too many middlemen in the supply chain. Designers don’t get paid enough, while consumers are paying too much.”
This led her to set up Curated Crowd, which bills itself as “the first integrated crowdfunding and e-commerce platform that provides funding, mentoring and a direct sales channel”. It enables consumers to engage with designers and invest in them. What’s more, they can buy items at a fraction of their retail price because there are no middlemen.
Curated Crowd has been endorsed by the British Fashion Council and now holds workshops in association with the industry body to nurture budding talent. “We also have a partnership with Launchmetrics, which powers the fashion industry by offering services ranging from organising shows to analysing data,” Zhao adds.
As a member of IoD 99, the institute’s community of early-stage businesses, Zhao is looking to tap into the IoD’s network of entrepreneurs for advice on building her business. “In five years’ time I want Curated Crowd to be where Chinese consumers and investors can discover new brands from Europe and vice versa,” she says.
Zhao, who was born in China, recently met a number of Chinese investors who were keen to help her establish a presence in the Far East. But she has had to put her plans here on hold, in the hope that they’ll still want to invest this time next year, as her most pressing task is to bring more users to the site. Her question for our panel of experienced executives is therefore: “What is the right balance of focus between my long-term strategic vision for Curated Crowd and the short-term operational priorities of the business?”
ADA YI ZHAO is the co-founder of Curated Crowd, an online sales and crowdfunding platform for fashion designers. She has been CEO of the business since establishing it in March 2016. She was previously a director at Barclays Investment Bank, a VP at Nomura and an analyst at Lehman Brothers.
What the execs say
Founder, MAS Technicae Group
The first thing I want to address is your search for investment. That’s a hard process, which my firm has just been through, and one of the toughest times to balance those long- and short-term goals. It becomes a real challenge to retain your desired shareholding in the company while funding its growth. Think hard about that: value the business fairly to attract investors, but look after your own interests too.
Partnerships will help you to develop the venture in the immediate future, but be careful to ensure that such arrangements don’t start holding you back. Short-term priorities are more important – as long as they’re taking you in the direction you want to go.
Josh Hough is a member of IoD South
Balancing short- and long-term goals is an art and a science that few entrepreneurs master. The hard answer is: do both at the same time. For the short term, I’d suggest keeping cash in the business if you can. You can use this to fund future expansion. And don’t forget to realign your vision regularly and take a step back. You should remind yourself of the progress you’ve achieved.
Jamie Gray is a member of IoD 99
Debra Charles CEO, Novacroft
It’s fantastic that you have such a clear vision of where you want to be in five years. You can work back in time from that perfect picture and determine what you need to do at each stage to make it a reality. Right now you must focus on proving that your product is something that is bringing measurable benefits to people. Shout about its value and seek to attract investors who will share your vision. It’s also vital to get a talented team together – the sum truly is greater than the individual parts.
Debra Charles is a member of IoD East Midlands
If you were my mentoring client, I would ask you four key questions: what movement are you here to create? How is your business living and breathing that? How are you building an interactive community that is excited about what you have to offer? How could you get to know them and their needs better, so that you can prove to investors that your longer-term plan will provide what the members of this community are hungry for?
Now is also the time to be clearing out any hidden internal blocks that might cause you to subconsciously self-sabotage. Get rid of these and you’ll put your business on the fast track.
Clare Josa is a member of IoD South
Digital & Business Transformation Director, IFS
Having a clear plan that flows from your vision for the business will help you focus on the right areas. I would recommend using the following five-layer model for this:
1. Describe your long-term vision using emotive language that fires the imagination of your audiences.
2. State your overall objectives – “We’ll be China’s number-one platform for funding designers by 202X.”
3. Set quantitative goals that will show that the business has met these objectives – “We’ll have achieved the above if the site is attracting X thousand visits a month from Chinese users by 202X.”
4. Set out your strategies for meeting the objectives.
5. Add detailed plans setting out the specific activities and measures required if you are to achieve the above.
This is a dynamic process, of course, so the plan should be updated as the market evolves. Scenario planning can help you to maintain the right balance between short- and long-term priorities and to prepare for the unexpected in pursuit of your vision. I find mind mapping a useful format for this. Good luck to you.
Dowshan Humzah is a fellow of the IoD
To join Director’s reader panel or to seek its advice, email us, quoting your IoD membership number