How to matter – from dreams to cash streams

Alicia Kenworthy – How to matter – from jokes & dreams to a possible cash stream.

My name is Alicia Kenworthy, and I think I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I’m not sure I knew exactly why or what I was going to do, but I always had an entrepreneurial drive, and my first experience out in San Francisco was actually interning for a startup, here started by a French entrepreneur. Always been a big Francophile, so I met him back in Paris, and when he started his company here in San Francisco, he said you should come join me.

That summer, I felt like—it was the summer before my senior year of college, and I felt like I had learned more that summer than I had learned in any of my classes or in school, and it was really like getting a real life MBA, in the understanding of the ground. And so from that summer, I knew that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial, but I didn’t have the idea.

After college, I went onto work for different trade commission, and there I was helping French entrepreneurs with their business development in Silicon Valley. So there again, I was working with a lot of entrepreneurs, I got to help them win deals, get client meetings, help them through a certain part of their company, but then they would move on. Not necessarily forget about me, but I wasn’t part of the journey anymore. And that was really what I think was the most frustrating to me, seeing these companies at certain points of time, and not being on the client side of things, not being able to really be part of the story.

So one day, I guess I came from—I got along really well with one of my coworkers. We knew that we wanted to work together again. We both had similar pinpoints when it came to bras. We could never find bras that fit or were attractive. We always kind of joked about starting a bra line. In Silicon Valley that sounds like a really silly idea to go and pitch investors and we never took ourselves very seriously.

Until one day, I said, what if we did, just not like a bra line or a bra boutique, but what if we do something online but is scalable that can provide that quality fitting experience that you get at a Nordstrom or specialty boutique, and bring that to women regardless of location, and sort of democratize bra fitting and quality lingerie. And so I sat her down at a wine bar one night, and I had gone on social media and I had looked at everything women were saying about their bras, and really realized we weren’t the only ones with this pinpoint, and we needed to do something about it.

I showed her 30 pages of tweets and Facebook statuses and all these complaints that women had about it. And I said, look, this is how a company starts. There’s a real problem out there, and let’s do something about it. And so she said okay. She was working– by that time she had moved on, she had gone to work at IDEO, a design firm, and I still had my day job at a French trade commission.

So we probably worked—we hosted our own bra fittings on nights and weekends for about two months while we still had our day jobs. Finally, one day, it was just handling my day job and my startup was getting to be too much. It was very frustrating for me to not be able to pour my heart in soul into what I was really excited about, and having to show up from 9 to 5 to pretend to be excited about a job that I had really moved on from.

So one day I decided to go ahead and take the leap. I actually started by transitioning. I went to go work as a bra fitter at Nordstrom to get an insider perspective of the lingerie industry and really understand it from the ground up. So I went in to my boss’ office, and I essentially said, working with high tech startups has been great, but I’m going to work as a bra fitter. I’ll be at Nordstrom’s down the street, and I gave my two weeks notice, and he was completely dumbfounded, of course.

But it was freeing. It was the most wonderful feeling to really start on that journey. So I worked as a bra fitter for three months. Amalia and I both ended up going full time completely on this project at the same time. In March, she left her job at IDEO. She had a lot of back and forth about when was the right time to quit and what to reveal to her bosses and whether it was an appropriate risk to take. So we kind of diverging viewpoints on that, which was an interesting point in our relationship I  talk about.

But we both went full time in march, and just dove into really refining our story, getting our pattern maker, getting our sample factory, getting everything ready to go and speak to investors. That’s a process we started in June, and we’re in the middle of fundraising over the summer, which isn’t the best time to fundraise. I wouldn’t’ recommend it. But we’re fundraising now, and speaking to predominantly male investors in Silicon Valley about bras, so it’s really an entertaining journey.