MINDSET – Road Less Traveled
Sophia Amoruso Wants Women to Own Their Career
By Melinda Fulmer
If entrepreneur Sophia Amoruso knows one thing, it’s that you don’t get what you don’t ask for.
The New York Times best-selling author of “#Girlboss” (Portfolio, September 2015) propelled her career as CEO and founder of online fashion retailer Nasty Gal, which peaked at more than $100 million in annual sales, by taking risks and learning as she went along.
But without a mentor or much of a support network, she explains, it was lonely and difficult, especially when things started to unravel and the company’s growth proved too difficult to manage. No one she knew dared to talk about failure.
Now, at 35, she wants to make navigating that climb and the stumbles along the way easier for young women with the launch of the Girlboss career networking platform designed to empower young female entrepreneurs to build connections and get the advice they need to advance more quickly.
“I’m someone who has shot from the hip a lot in my career,” Amoruso says. “I followed my nose and I didn’t have an MBA and I didn’t have the traditional education and I didn’t have the mentorship. [This kind of network is] something I really wish I had early in my career.”
Reimagining the professional network
Unlike other career sites, Girlboss isn’t just about uploading a resume. It’s as much Instagram as it is LinkedIn, complete with horoscopes, Mad Lib–style fill-in-the-blank profiles and offline social meet-ups—a sort of digital clubhouse for women.
“Girlboss is a place where I hope she can bring together not just what she does but who she is,” Amoruso says. “We want to be able to bring our whole self and our whole personality,” and that, she says, includes her aspirations, interests and talents outside of work, as well.
Indeed, while Amoruso regularly features advice from executives on her “Girlboss” podcast and digital fireside chats, she says, what’s often more relevant is the peer-to-peer mentorship from someone who might be just one step ahead in their career.
“Women are using the community to hire one another, solicit clients and get advice,” Amoruso explains. “[They are] asking questions such as ‘Which logo should I use? Here’s three … or check out my website. Can you click through and tell me if you’re getting hung up anywhere?’”
Advancing faster together
There’s also the Girlboss Foundation, which funds grants biannually to creative female-identifying entrepreneurs to help them turn their ideas into successful companies.
Christina Basias, the co-founder of Fempower Beauty, a cosmetics company that gives back to women’s organizations, was a recipient of a $5,000 grant in July. She says that networks such as Girlboss have been invaluable in helping her learn how to execute her idea.
“It’s easy to find people who can mentor you and take your business to the next level,” Basias says, as well as people you can collaborate with, such as the Girlboss member in San Francisco who is forming a community platform of sexual assault survivors that Fempower would like to support.
But it’s also somewhere where women who aren’t entrepreneurs can look for jobs and get advice on negotiating fair pay.
“A lot of people talk about the wage gap, and a big reason for that is because women aren’t negotiating [pay] in their first jobs,” Amoruso says. “And so over time, they’re making less because they didn’t ask for what they deserved in their first role.”
She wants to encourage women to take more risks and assume more active control of their careers.
“Owning your career is like owning your life,” Amoruso explains. “You’re showing up every day and saying how can I make life better rather than letting life happen to you. It really is about going out into the world and asking for the things that you want.”
Amoruso admits she fell hard in her career because she took risks. (Nasty Gal filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late 2016.) But, she says, she doesn’t regret the journey.
“I have books to write from taking risks, I have stories to tell. … Had I gone and done something predictable, I don’t think I’d be as happy as I am,” she says.
The idea for the Girlboss platform came when Amoruso was on a book tour five years ago for her best-seller of the same name. Signing books, she noticed that the women standing in line for her autograph were exchanging business cards.
“It was clear even then that there were very, very few places [to network] for a self-selecting woman who is on her way,” Amoruso says. Her social media followers, who were fans of the book and the short-lived Netflix series loosely based on her life, were already connecting online and clamoring for meet-ups. That resulted in the Girlboss Rally, an annual event, which this year drew 1,600 women to the University of California, Los Angeles, for panels and networking with other female entrepreneurs, as well as other content on what was then Girlboss Media.
The online platform, she says, was simply the next step, bringing this support and networking to tens of thousands—maybe millions of women eventually across the country.
“It was too obvious not to [launch this],” she says, noting that #Girlboss (which has been used more than 17 million times on Instagram) had already become a brand in its own right and part of the zeitgeist of a new generation of working women who were freelancing, side-hustling and trying to build companies to further their career.
“It’s the first time in my career where opportunity and my passion have aligned,” she says.
Learning from failure
Giving career advice might seem like a gutsy move for someone who has led a company into bankruptcy, but Amoruso admits that those very public stumbles taught her valuable lessons about managing a company and leading people, lessons she’d like to pass on.
“At Nasty Gal, I used to think that if you weren’t walking as fast as me, [then] why am I paying you?” Amoruso says. “I had a big chip on my shoulder, like, ‘I worked really hard, I built this, you need to work the way that I work.’”
Now, Amoruso says, she’s learned that everybody works differently, and as long as there is accountability, it’s OK to give employees a little freedom, such as work-from-home Fridays.
The workplace dynamic is changing, too, she says. These days, it’s not about being bulletproof and nodding your head at the appropriate time in meetings but about demonstrating a willingness to learn, to raise your hand and ask questions.
Amoruso says she’s also clearer on her own role and responsibilities—something she had no idea about at Nasty Gal because she hadn’t had other corporate jobs, starting Nasty Gal as an eBay store at age 22.
“As a leader, it’s my job to make sure that everybody is clear on what the future looks like, that I’m sharing my vision, that I’m present and leading by example,” she explains. “It’s something I take pretty seriously here, and I feel like I do a good job of.”
Indeed, she says, creating Girlboss has been an opportunity to heal from her mistakes and prove to herself she is capable.
“I have imposter syndrome every day, even though I’m like 13 years into entrepreneurship. I’m still totally unqualified. But the difference now, Amoruso explains, is that she doesn’t think anyone is 100 percent qualified.
“We’re all a work in progress,” she says. That knowledge makes her a lot more relaxed about growing Girlboss and writing her next book—something she says she’ll do when she has the right perspective and enough experience to make it “really interesting.”
“The future holds a lot of things that I do know,” Amoruso says, “but what’s exciting is also that the future holds a lot of things that I don’t know.”
Photo credit: Todd Cribari, inspirostudio.com; Emma McIntyre, Getty Images; Rachel Murray, Getty Images