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

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. 


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 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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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101571910
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/12/2012
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
File size: 755 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About 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.


Follow Alexis on Twitter: @GiltFounder

Follow Alexandra on Twitter: @GiltAlexandra

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

What People are Saying About This

Mindy Grossman

By Invitation Only is a must read for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators who will be inspired by their journey and how passion, purpose and partnership fueled a revolution in shopping!”

Robert Polet

“A fantastic adventure of entrepreneurship and girl power. Buy it, read it, enjoy it. You will certainly learn from it.”

Arianna Huffington

"First, Gilt Groupe’s co-founders changed the way we shop by recreating the excitement of a sample sale online. Now, with “By Invitation Only,” they’ve let us in on their innovative creative process. Anyone who hopes to understand the world of tech entrepreneurship — or upend it — would be wise to read it."

From the Publisher

“The story reads as a how-to manual for any entrepreneur looking to start something big and disruptive.” —

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.”

Tony Hsieh

"An exciting story about an exciting start-up.  Alexis and Alexandra saw a fantastic opportunity in the luxury space and took it."

Nina Garcia

"Gilt Groupe has forever changed the landscape of e-commerce. Not since eBay has there been such a revolution in the way we shop. Alexis and Alexandra redefined the way we approach luxury."

Mark Cuban

"Alexis and Alexandra have created something original and amazing, and they did it in the simplest way possible. They found something they loved, and they figured out how to bring it to the massive amount of people they knew would love it too."

Janet Hanson

"By Invitation Only is a brilliantly written book because its authors, who were friends before they were business partners, respected each other's ability to cultivate relationships, take calculated risks, and execute their game-changing, visionary ideas.  The key takeaway is that one needs to have an entrepreneurial spirit and indomitable will to succeed, no matter what career path you choose!"

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