Jade Huang | Founder, Style Sage

"Persistence and consistence - the most important attributes in business"

How do you start your day? 

I hate to admit it, but I start to read emails while I am still in bed. Aside from that, I try to start my day with a quick run or walk on the treadmill.

Who inspires you? 

The entrepreneurs I have met throughout my journey since we started our company—whether they were just starting out like me, or established entrepreneurs who have built incredible companies. Each person inspires me in a different way. Seeing their energy and drive in action inspires me to continue building my company.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?  Be more aggressive and assertive. 

What do you need to get you through each day?   My iphone—it is my life. I literally cannot function without it —I work, communicate, socialize, reflect, read, inform, all from my phone.  My goal this year is to take a vacation where I completely disconnect.

What are you reading? 

The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Briefly describe your business and inspiration for it.

StyleSage delivers data-driven insights to help fashion brands and retailers become faster and smarter in line planning, in-season steering, and international expansion.

During my MBA program at INSEAD business school, we had studied Zara’s incredible internal discipline at collecting and analyzing data from across the world, and using that analysis to empower their creative teams to design the right clothing at the right price.  A lot of companies want to replicate Zara’s success, but often don’t have the spare resources to collect and analyze data to help with their strategic business decisions. I was inspired to democratize this process so every brand and retailer can have access to competitive analysis to make better decisions. Two years later, here we are.

How has your passion fueled your business? 

I had studied fashion design at Parsons School of Design in New York, but fell in love with technology half-way through my studies. Years later, I married my two passions into one business: fashion + technology. The intellectual challenge and love for the two sectors have kept me engaged, inspired and committed to building StyleSage into a thriving company.

What made you decide to become an entrepreneur? 

Honestly, it was a bit serendipitous—I didn’t plan it. We happened to have a great idea and worked on it throughout business school. During the market validation process, we had terrific feedback from the industry and decided to take a leap of faith after we graduated. I think it was the lure and challenge of creating something tangible from scratch that persuaded us to take the leap.

What was the tipping point for realizing you had a good business?

Our first real validation was when our company was handpicked by major retailers and accepted into the New York Fashion Tech Lab. That was an official nod from the industry that we were onto something. The second real validation was when we received our first check from a paying customer in January, 2015.

What has been the key to your success? 

Our team. This is where I have to give a ton of credit to my co-founder Robert Figiel. One of his top success metrics is our team’s happiness meter. It’s important to us that the team feels challenged, valued, and happy. Our team is very close, and we just really enjoy spending time with each other.

What lessons have you learned along the way that you wish you would have known at the beginning of your start-up career?

I didn’t realize how hard enterprise sales was going to be. I did not come from a sales background and didn’t understand the nuances of how to navigate a complex organization in order to close a deal. After many hard lessons, I am still not an expert—but at least I am closing deals!

What challenges did you face in the early days of being the Founder of your own business?

Working on so many things, with so little in terms of human bandwidth and budget.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your business to date, and how have you moved past it?

Not being aggressive enough in my early days of fundraising. As a result, building the business took longer than expected; it also took a lot of my focus off the business itself.

What would you have done differently?

I would have set both a time limit and clearer business goals during fundraising, so as to have a better handle on balancing fundraising against business development.

When self-doubt hits, what do you do?

I talk to my co-founder and my support network of friends and advisors. In addition to being cheerleaders, they help me both problem solve and build my confidence.

What is your biggest fear as an entrepreneur?

Failing my team and my investors who have put their faith in me.

What aspects of being a start-up entrepreneur do you like/dislike?

I love the process of building the product and seeing the actual results.  Every time I demo our platform I feel so proud of what we have built.

Which books, articles, blogs have helped to shape your business and/or leadership style?

Two books I read very early on before we started the company have been helpful:  Venture Deals, by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, and Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. Now that my focus is on business development and sales, I frequently read the Sales Hacker newsletter—it has a wealth of knowledge in terms of building your sales operations.

What do you do outside the office to help you stay creative/productive?

In July of 2015, after we completed Techstars, I was absolutely burnt out. I made a promise to myself to bring better balance to my life. Since then, I’ve started running in the morning, and that keeps me energized and happy throughout the day. On the weekends, I make sure to carve out time to spend with people I care about. I joined a book club to rekindle my love for reading.  I also love to cook and force-feed those around me.

What would you say to another woman who asked you if they should take the leap and start their own business?

I’m a fan of informed-decision making (I better be, since my entire business champions this practice). I’d say, do your homework and be as prepared as possible before taking the leap.  Specifically, research and validate that your business is serving a real need – if it doesn’t solve a real problem, no one will pay for it, and therefore there is no business.

If indeed there is real business potential, then talk to as many entrepreneurs as possible to understand what the journey may entail. If you’ve done that and believe you are onto something tangible, then go for it!