Start-up life is harder than you think. While we hear this a lot from entrepreneurs but you don’t really understand the demands and pressure until you live it. It’s the opposite of glamorous and it definitely isn’t for everyone. You need to have deep-seeded drive and determination and be willing to sacrifice. Our team has worked countless late nights and weekends which is why it’s crucial to hire people who share the same vision and are willing to hustle to make the company a success.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Erkel.
Emily is the co-founder and CMO of LePrix. With over 15 years of retail, from working at Chanel, Hermès and Gap, she leads marketing and strategy for the company. Emily was recently named to the Forbes Business Council and has an MBA from Columbia Business School as well as a MIS degree from Virginia Tech. She currently resides in Washington, DC with her husband and two boys.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thanks so much for having me! I’m so honored to be here. I was born in New Jersey but raised in the DC area. I am very lucky to have grown up in a loving home with very supportive parents and two amazing older sisters who always looked out for me. We moved around quite a bit growing up and I think, for me in particular, that has shaped a lot of who I am today.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is one that my late grandma said: “Time does not wait for people.” I write it down in every notebook I’ve had. It means life is short, whatever you were planning to do, just do it. Whether that is moving to a new city, changing careers or calling a friend, life is unknown and nothing is guaranteed. My grandma was a force to be reckoned with. She was one of the first female business owners, back in the day when women rarely ran businesses and did all of this while raising 4 kids. Later in life, after my grandpa had passed away, she pivoted careers and became a stock trader in her 70s. She lived this quote and now I do too.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand was the one book that changed me. It’s the story of Louis Zamperini’s life — from overcoming the odds to become an Olympic athlete to fighting in WWII and surviving the unimaginable. It’s a story of resilience, fortitude and most of all, hope. His story reminded me of how lucky so many of us are that benefit from the sacrifice of the few. Finally, it was a testament to the raw strength that comes from within and shows us that we are all stronger than we think.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Before the pandemic began, we had just launched LePrix Wholesale, the first wholesale marketplace for stores to source pre-owned luxury. Think of it like the “Faire of pre-owned”. This was in addition to our other business, leprix.com, the only place to shop designer goods from the best vintage and consignment stores in the world.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the pandemic initially hit, it felt like the sky was falling. With stores all around the country shuttered, we shifted into action. Our vision has always been to help small businesses thrive and the challenges of Covid shifted our mindset to survival. How do we help our store partners survive closing their brick-and-mortar stores? We knew we needed to move quickly — first, we reached out to our stores to see how we could best help. Second, we became a resource to them to help them figure out the best ways to move their inventory while their doors were closed.
We provided advice about how to digitize their businesses, market to an online consumer, sell through social media determining what items sell best on different platforms and even consulted on how to apply for small business loans to keep their business afloat. While LePrix Wholesale is our main focus, during the initial months of the pandemic, we put more muscle and technology behind leprix.com. This fast shift enabled leprix.com to have our highest GMV in April and again in May, even bigger than the entire holiday season of 2019 which is typically our highest selling period.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
The “a-ha” moment came to us when we revisited our core vision of helping small businesses. The best way we could support our store partners during a time when no one could come into their physical stores — quickly grow their online sales.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Things are going great. We are lucky to be in the resale industry, which pre-covid was already growing quickly and Covid just accelerated this growth even more rapidly.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ll always be grateful for my sister and co-founder, Elise Whang. Like, our grandma, she is a force to be reckoned with and a constant source of inspiration. She was the one who initially came up with the idea to launch LePrix and also the one to first take the leap during a time when we had little funding. She believed so deeply in this company that she encouraged me to leave my previous career to pursue our passion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I think ending up in this industry was the biggest and most interesting surprise! I grew up obsessed with fashion magazines and would spend hours cutting out images from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar to paste all over my room. In later years, my hobby became thrifting and shopping for “unicorn” vintage finds. Despite my passion, I never dreamed that working in fashion was even an option. I always thought I would become a lawyer (funnily enough it was my sister and LePrix’s CEO, Elise, who became a lawyer (or as she calls it a “recovering” lawyer!)
The reason I think this is the most interesting story is that I’m risk-adverse and was working in consulting before embarking on the journey to become an entrepreneur. Thankfully, I decided to take the risk to pursue what I loved because now I’m doing it everyday!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Start-up life is harder than you think
While we hear this a lot from entrepreneurs but you don’t really understand the demands and pressure until you live it. It’s the opposite of glamorous and it definitely isn’t for everyone. You need to have deep-seeded drive and determination and be willing to sacrifice. Our team has worked countless late nights and weekends which is why it’s crucial to hire people who share the same vision and are willing to hustle to make the company a success.
Hire people smarter than you
Don’t have an ego — focus on hiring the best, most capable people. Hiring people who are smarter than you means that you can trust them to lead a team, take your business to the next level and, ultimately, you can learn from each other. They bring a new perspective that can solve problems and make everything more efficient allowing you as a leader to focus on growing your business and hiring more amazing people. For example, we have a team member who is incredibly smart and her expertise is helping us grow the business internationally. Another team member is process expert and has increased our efficiencies ten times over.
Figure out how to delegate
When starting a company, it’s your baby and sometimes it can be scary to let go. At first you want to do everything yourself but in the long run, it’s not the best use of your time. We have a stellar team who knows how to get things done. I know I can trust them and that they have the company’s best interest in mind. For example, our team comes up with creative marketing campaigns and are always bringing fresh ideas. Having smart, dedicated people to bounce ideas off of and who take projects and run with them has been crucial to building LePrix
Pick up the phone
We have a new rule at LePrix: if it takes more than 2 sentences on Slack to write, pick up the phone.Clear communication is key especially now while we’re all working remotely. I find tasks can be misconstrued or lacking details over Slack. Personally, in a leadership role, I try to slow down and think about my ask from the receiving end — was I clear? Did my team understand what I am asking for? This was a result of a time I realized one of my team members was working on a project in a different way than I wanted. It wasted her afternoon and we had to start from scratch when it could have easily been mitigated by jumping on a call.
Grow your people
Investing time in your team members is crucial. As a small business, we are always hitting the ground running so this is something I have to constantly remind myself about. Carve out time in your day to dedicate to career development. Setting goals with your team inspires and motivates them which, in the long run, results in a happier team.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
Yes, I have a few tactics that have helped my mental wellness during this time. The first is exercise. I love riding my Peloton. Take Alex Touissant and Tunde Oyeneyin’s Beyonce class — you’ll thank me! Second, take a break from social media and the news when you can. I ask my husband to let me know if there’s anything urgent happening if I need to take a day for a mental break from the ongoing news cycle. Finally, talk to friends. Everyone is going through this and, while it’s cliché, we are all in this together. It’s important that we show up for each other. When you hear someone else is also having a tough time, oddly enough there is a certain sense of relief that you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. Humans are social creatures — we’re meant to be with each other. If we can’t do so physically, we can virtually and that connection makes all the difference.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Approach everyone with kindness because everyone has a story, whether or not you know it. Right now, it feels like there is so much ugliness and divide in the world. I find listening and having empathy help to bring understanding and healing.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
While she’s no longer with us, if there was anyone in the world I would have loved to meet, it would be Ruth Bader Ginsberg. She fought tirelessly to give voice to the voiceless by protecting the marginalized and speaking up for women, minorities and the LGBTQ community. She was the ultimate trailblazer who persevered when men tried to hold her back. Unfortunately for them, nothing could hold her back! RBG truly changed the world for the better.
How can our readers follow you online?
On Instagram it’s @emilyerkel! Sometimes I make a cameo on LePrix’s Instagram @leprix and Tiktok @leprixofficial
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!