TBS spoke with Monica Phromsavanh, the innovator behind the personalised style service ModaBox, about her idea and the importance of fine tuning.
TBS: Good morning Monica. Can you please tell our audience a bit about what you have created?
ModaBox is a data-driven, personalised online styling service catering to professional women. Members share their personal preferences creating a style profile and then are matched with a professional stylist who prepares a box of several outfits that they have about a week to try on in their homes.
What is the one thing you have done in your career so far that you are proudest of?
Recently, having the opportunity to share my personal story at The White House Summit hosted by President Obama, First Lady Michelle and Oprah Winfrey in front of an audience of 5,000 was quite surreal and is something I will never forget. But becoming a founder, with a network of amazingly accomplished and highly regarded professionals in a variety of different fields, is not how I imagined my life when I came to America at 17, not speaking a single word of English. When I recognised the opportunity to create my own business I seized it. Although I feel pride in what I have accomplished, it is only motivation to go forward personally and professionally.
Describe the ebb and flow of your career thus far?
I started out with nothing and built my career by perseverance and determination. Soon after I founded my first company, a 4,000 square foot store in Manhattan, the rise of eCom began to impact how I saw my future in retail. I realised the only way to a successful future in apparel was to move quickly away from the old shop model. Because I learned early in my life and career how to make a lot out of almost nothing, I was willing to sacrifice immediate returns for an investment in my future. I knew that succeeding with ModaBox meant dedicating my time, and asking my team of stylists to dedicate theirs, to building something that would last far into the future.
What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about being an innovator?
Being an innovator in fashion is not easy. The business is defined by innovation – every season is something new. The greatest challenge is getting people to see the changing nature of the industry, and the role that ModaBox will play in the future of online retail. Profitability in eCommerce apparel has been a major challenge for even the biggest companies. Showing people who might not already have a stake in the fashion industry how personalisation will equal profit is a challenge. The margin of innovation often seems small to everyone but you.
What advice would you give to people trying to innovate in their field?
If you fail using someone else’s idea, there will always be a cushion to fall on. That may stop you from ever succeeding. If you do just one thing differently and you chose the right thing, you might innovate the originator out of relevance. If you truly believe you can do it better, do it. When you’re confident you have identified and understand the problem you want to address, design your plan, craft your message and execute the delivery with absolute confidence and consistency. Prepare for all questions and never make the mistake of not knowing the answer twice.
The greatest innovations sometimes looked like small differences when they first were conceived, yet often those innovators outperform the businesses that came before them by multiples of hundreds and thousands.
Monica will share her story at the Online Retailer Conference & Expo (OR), hosted July 20 to July 21 at the Royal Hall of Industries and Hordern Pavillion, Sydney. This year, OR will launch a partnership with Remodista and their global Women2Watch in Retail disruption program, offering Australian female retail leaders the opportunity to be globally recognised for their success. Remodista’s annual list of Women2Watch celebrates women who are leading the way in online and brick-and-mortar retailing, experimenting with new ways to solve problems in operations, marketing, commerce, supply chain, logistics and globalisation. The 2017 Women2Watch list will be announced at the end of this year.