Rebecca Allen on scaling a sophisticated footwear brand and launching at Nordstrom
Describe your business in a few words?
I’m the founder of Rebecca Allen, a footwear brand making sophisticated solutions for women. We launched a limited collection of timeless styles in multiple shades of nude and have a fabulous community across the US. We’re launching in Nordstrom later this spring.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I was fortunate to have friends who had started businesses and that really demystified it for me, made it feel like something I could do and also helped me know that I had a network of people to troubleshoot with and go to with questions. Knowing that I didn’t want to look back and regret not having tried was also a push for me.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I worked in finance for years after finishing up my MBA. I also worked in venture before going back to business school.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
No, certainly not. It took some growth for me to believe that I could explore entrepreneurship. However, I am really curious and I like early stage problem solving and being scrappy. I’ve never said, “I want to be an entrepreneur,” but I know how to execute early on and I’m comfortable with newness and uncertainty, so it fits.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
The strategy was: hustle for some press and then do offline activations with complementary brands. Things definitely worked in a small way, but it certainly wasn’t scalable.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am still really proud of our first photoshoot! I casted, directed, styled and produced the whole thing. I somehow thought through everything, never having done a shoot before, and it came out great. It was exhilarating.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
We ask a few go-to interview questions where we’re trying to gauge a candidate’s ability to troubleshoot on their own and think like an owner. We like to ask, “Tell me about a time you had to be persistent to get something you wanted,” to see how candidates get creative and advocate for themselves.
Be prepared to walk through your resume and talk about your experience. Know why you want the job and what your salary expectations are. Prepare answers for commonly asked interview questions. Have anecdotes that illustrate your strengths and your character. Practice telling these stories! Like, stand in front of a mirro, record yourself or mock it with a friend. Let your personality come through.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We were very worried that no one would be buying shoes during lockdown since everyone was at home! However, certain parts of the US really didn’t shut down as much as New York, so while things slowed down a bit, they actually really picked up in the second half of 2020. Our flat, The Skim, also grew in popularity, as you can imagine. Now we are excited for the pent up demand as so many of us are looking to refresh our wardrobes as we get back out into the world.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We just launched in Nordstrom with our existing styles and a fresh colorway! We are branching out with more seasonal styles and we may even depart from strictly “nude.” We’re committed to thinking about our customer and how she moves through her world, meeting her at every turn.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
This is quite obvious, but I think gaining perspective on the importance of family, and physical/mental health. These are things we can’t take for granted and things that have to be nurtured and looked after.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Haha, that shoes are a SKU headache.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I thrive at home so I was never really at risk of becoming un-grounded. I absolutely benefited from being able to put my phone down and tune out the news cycle, diving into a book or enjoying my toddler. Immersing myself in my daughter’s world has certainly been a good antidote to a year of heartbreak and devastation.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Yes, I think that when team members are rested and fulfilled outside of work, they are able to bring their best work to bear. Tips: If I’m in dedicated family mode and something work related comes up, I like to ask myself if it needs to be addressed in that moment. I always want to follow up on work related things immediately, but not everything is a fire drill. Telling myself that it’s OK to let something sit for a bit on a Saturday has turned out to be just that, OK.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I can ride a unicycle (super dorky!).
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Prioritize your to-do list, block off your calendar if you need to get something done, take breaks.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Paying it forward and back. I have benefitted immensely from other female founders who have helped me navigate starting up. I believe that it’s incumbent upon me to return favors when I can and to be helpful to women who are just starting ventures.