By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop

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On a warm September night in 2002, former acquaintances Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis reconnected at a mixer for new students at Harvard Business School. Alexis had just ended a four-year run at eBay during the dotcom boom and bust. Alexandra had just spent three years as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Now they were entering the country’s top training ground for future titans of Wall Street and the Fortune 500. 
 
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Overview

On a warm September night in 2002, former acquaintances Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis reconnected at a mixer for new students at Harvard Business School. Alexis had just ended a four-year run at eBay during the dotcom boom and bust. Alexandra had just spent three years as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Now they were entering the country’s top training ground for future titans of Wall Street and the Fortune 500. 
 
Little did either suspect that five years later, they’d become famous not in finance or consulting or corporate management, but at the bleeding-edge intersection of fashion and technology.
 
Gilt Groupe – launched by Alexis, Alexandra, and three colleagues in 2007 – is one of the most fascinating startups of recent years, with a valuation of more than $1 billion. And it all began with one bold idea: to bring sample sales online and change the way millions shop.
 
As Alexis and Alexandra write about the day Gilt.com went live: “We had created a website that could potentially change the rules of retail, for both shoppers and brands. If shopping was traditionally a slow, leisurely activity that might consume an entire day, it would now be competitive, addictive, urgent, thrilling—a rush delivered at the same time each day. Shopping would become not just easier, but so much fun.”
 
But turning that vision into reality wasn’t easy. Designers had long controlled their own sample sales by staging them in anonymous, makeshift locations and strictly limiting invitations. Those lucky enough to hear about a Marc Jacobs or Hermès sample sale would drop everything and run for dramatic, fleeting bargains. Why should elite brands support a new startup trying to replicate the experience online?
 
And even if brands like Valentino, Christian Louboutin, and Zac Posen got on board, would shoppers embrace such a website? Would the kind of people who love high-end fashion really visit a new online sale each day? Was “accessible luxury” a breakthrough idea or an absurd oxymoron?
 
Alexis and Alexandra share their perspective in this dramatic story of Gilt’s birth, rise, and evolution. They show how they juggled the conflicting needs of their suppliers, engineers, marketers, and potential investors. They explain how they blended their individual strengths and weaknesses and managed their rapidly growing team. They cover the growing pains of expanding into new categories like housewares, travel, and menswear. And they take us through the darkest moments of the recession when Gilt might easily have died.
 
As you’ll learn from the true story of Gilt, anything is possible for those with the creativity to recognize a new opportunity and the perseverance to make it real.  

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Maybank and Wilson, the founders of high-end online outlet Gilt Groupe, recount their rise to success with an aim to empower entrepreneurs at every level-from brainstorming to building a business. After becoming fast friends during their MBA program at Harvard, Wilson and Maybank set out to combine their love of fashion with their business acumen. The result? An invitation-only online version of a trunk show (or sample sale) where customers could purchase designer items at a discounted price. Gilt Groupe launched in 2007 with a sale of Zac Posen creations, and they attracted other designers by providing a liquidation option for selling excess inventory directly and discreetly to consumers. Their success was immediate and remarkable; Gilt now ships to over 90 countries, and in 2011 the company was valued at one billion dollars. Maybank and Wilson discuss how they solved practical and strategic problems, including choosing the right new hires for their growing business and appealing to male consumers. The authors provide helpful checklists, as well as concise overviews of their respective leadership styles. In addition to being an entertaining and remarkable success story, Maybank and Wilson's tale is also practical and inspiring.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Bobbi Brown

“Alexis and Alexandra are the ultimate entrepreneurs, having combined their love of fashion with the evolution of technology. They changed the way millions of people shop and have inspired others to follow in their footsteps. This book gives valuable insight into starting and building a business from the ground up based on one good idea.  It’s a must-read for anyone who has a dream and entrepreneurial spirit.”

Kirkus Reviews
The founders of Gilt Groupe chronicle the rise of their smashingly successful fashion business. The authors met when they were undergraduates at Harvard, where they reunited for business school in 2002. Maybank had worked at eBay, where she was instrumental in launching the company's Canadian and automobile branches, and Wilson had established a solid career in the fashion business. In 2007, at the age of 30, Maybank and Wilson (with a third partner, Kevin Ryan) launched Gilt.com, an online sample sale of top-tier designer clothes at greatly reduced prices. "If shopping had traditionally been a slow, leisurely activity," they write, "it would now be competitive, addictive, urgent, thrilling." The authors describe in minute detail every decision that contributed to the launch of their business. Part of what set Gilt apart from other websites selling designer clothes was its exclusivity and, for the first time, online access to high-end brands like Zac Posen. Gilt.com is only accessible to members, who are required to give their e-mail addresses. Every day brings a new sale, and each sale lasts only 36 hours. The authors predicted, optimistically, that the company would generate $6 million in revenue its first year; it cleared $25 million. In addition to a description of their business model, the authors offer a fine combination of personal stories and direct advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. The writing is clear, but most impressive is the authors' confidence and exacting attention to every detail. Well-suited to aspiring fashionistas, entrepreneurs and those interested in the wildfire popularity of this online business.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591844631
  • Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover
  • Publication date: 4/12/2012
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.04 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson cofounded Gilt Groupe with Kevin Ryan, Mike Bryzek and Phong Nguyen. Previously, Maybank had launched eBay Canada and eBay Motors; Wilson had worked for Merrill Lynch, Louis Vuitton, and Bulgari. Both have BAs from Harvard College and MBAs from Harvard Business School. They live in Manhattan with their husbands and children.

Visit www.gilt.com

Follow Alexis on Twitter: @GiltFounder

Follow Alexandra on Twitter: @GiltAlexandra

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Table of Contents

Preface: Relationships. Execution xi

Introduction: Zac Posen in Daniel Island, South Carolina? 1

Chapter 1 The Perfect Complements: Our Journey from Cambridge to New York (Featuring eBay, Louis Vuitton, Plenty of Sample Sales, and One Fabulous Wedding in Miami) 7

Chapter 2 The History of an Idea: Dreaming Up Gilt Groupe 31

Chapter 3 From the Best of Friends to Business Partners: How to Know When You've Met Your Match 40

Chapter 4 An Idea Becomes Reality: Starting Your Business at the Right Time 61

Chapter 5 Networking Our Way to a November Launch 77

Chapter 6 Changing the Look of E-commerce: Photos, Curation, and Gilt Groupe's Visual Branding 90

Chapter 7 Dating, Marriage, and How to Get the Right Venture Capitalist to Fall for Your Start-up 99

Chapter 8 From College Fashionistas to Urban It Girls: Planting the Seeds of a Viral Phenomenon 122

Chapter 9 The Ground Game: Insider Marketing and How to Keep a Growing Business Exclusive 136

Chapter 10 Cubicles, Cappuccinos, and How We Built an Effective Start-up Team 150

Chapter 11 In Which We Face a Supply Crunch, Are Momentarily Tempted to Compromise Our Integrity, Struggle to Satisfy the Appetites of a Growing Membership, and Come Face-to-Face with a Worldwide Recession 165

Chapter 12 How We Developed Our Own Leadership Styles-Even as Gilt Groupe Grew and Our Roles Evolved 189

Chapter 13 Hypergrowth, Exhaustion, and One Hilarious Japanese Press Conference 221

Chapter 14 Growth, Partnership, and the Future of Fashion and E-commerce 241

Acknowledgments 255

Index 257

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 24, 2012

    Inspiring

    Great record of how Gilt was built. They share business and management tips while inspiring the reader to turn a passion into a business. Enjoyable and useful

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 6, 2013

    Great Book!

    Great Book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

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    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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