Most people won’t care- you’re going to be so excited, and it’s going to take a long time for most people to catch up to you and really “get it”. I kind of thought every friend I had and the person I know would love it and buy things! Well, they didn’t. I took it personally at first, but then I quickly started shipping all of the US and Canada, and my husband said, “you can’t build a successful business for people you know; you need to do it for millions.”
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 Molly Hanten.
Molly Hanten is an ex-fitness professional with a passion for traveling and shopping abroad. As one of the founders of a previous fitness business, she was forced out by her two male founders in the midst of the pandemic, with no say in a company she owned and gave her entire twenties to. Rather than giving up, she created a brand new business called French Face — an online marketplace that is bringing authentic French brands and designers from the streets of Paris to the United States.
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?
Of course! I grew up in a suburb of the Twin Cities with parents in the travel industry. I was lucky to begin traveling as a little girl and quickly realized the joy in travel, and quickly fell in love with being out of town. I was a fairly average kid; I struggled with reading and school, and as an adult, I realized I had dyslexia. Regardless of learning challenges, my parents raised all of us to believe we can do anything we put our minds to. They were both entrepreneurs and ran two businesses together, so I was raised seeing you could carve your own path and be your own boss if you believed in yourself. But I also saw that meant even on vacation; you were working. I don’t think I have ever seen my parents take a full “off” vacation.
For college, I went to The Univerity of St. Thomas, where I took advantage of their abroad program. I studied as a Sophomore in London,as a Junior on Semester at Sea, visiting over 14 countries worldwide, and then South Africa as a Senior. Travel quickly became addicting, along with the shopping I would do abroad. I always came home with extra bags of clothing, jewelry, home decor, and more. That was where this whole idea began; someday I would figure out how to enable the travelers of the world to get anything they wanted from abroad, at their doorstep. After college, I spent a few years working in PR, which I was terrible at, then worked for Core Power Yoga and was lucky to move to D.C. to help open their new locations and after a hip fracture, moved home to start my own boutique fitness company with some friends in the Twin Cities. I got bit by the entrepreneur bug at age 24 and never looked back.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Tough times don’t last; tough people do. My Dad said this to me during my hip break. I was 24, and the doctors were not sure it would heal. At the time, fitness was my career and identity. I cried and cried after every appointment, and my Mom and Dad told me to buck up and be patient. I felt like it would never end, but it did, I healed, and it has changed my perspective on seasons of life. Out of that low time came a high time in my next career, and I am treating everything that has hit me in COVID the same.
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?
I have listened to every episode of “How I Built This” probably 10 times or more. I write down the quotes of when guests wanted to give up and how that was typically the point right after where things took off. I know that might be a cliche answer, but it’s been constructive to me as someone who grew up not always thinking they were the brightest in the room.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I was in fitness and was the COO of Alchemy 365. We have 7 locations in MN and CO, and then an online platform. The pandemic took a major hit on the fitness industry, and I had always had French Face as a long-term dream of mine. I suddenly had no hobbies (going out to eat, travel, and planning trips were my hobbies, haha), and I found myself sleepless. So I said “why not” and started a shop. I knew there would be downsizing at Alchemy, and many signs were telling me to make this shift to my new career.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
Well, I really pivoted by leaving Alchemy and launching a new business. I knew this would be the right time to test the concept, build a pitch deck, and start reaching out for funding. I knew the audience would be there, and I began my beta with just Paris. It’s been exceeding my expectations, and I am building out the new marketplace website to allow more cities, countries, and brands worldwide to join this travel shopping adventure. I want to bring the world closer together through travel and shopping while supporting small brands.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I had always dreamed of shopping worldwide without converting languages, dollars, and worry about tariffs or extra bags coming home with me. I never had the guts to do it, nor the time. I guess my aha moment was when the pandemic hit and I couldn’t sleep. It was more of a “why not” moment. I knew I had to go for it.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Really well. My current site is really a beta. Will people buy from new brands abroad, pay a bit more for tariffs, shipping, and fulfillment, and discover small brands, all based on the city it’s from? They will, and I have had many brands abroad reaching out to work with me. There is some pretty stellar stuff coming up to allow us to scale faster and easier around the world.
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?
My parents and sisters always believe in me. My friend Ellery, as she’s a genius in advertising and has always allowed me to bounce ideas off of her and support my ambitions as a female founder. My husband and my business partner Lou both believed in me enough to invest and really let me run the show without any mansplaining, which I cannot appreciate enough.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Male shoppers and ex-pats. I didn’t realize how many men get lost shopping for women, and I had so many emails and messages from men thanking me for making it easy over the Holidays. How good do they look getting her something from Paris? Ex-pats, I also didn’t realize how much this would impact them; there are very few companies connecting them closer to home.
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.
1. Most people won’t care- you’re going to be so excited, and it’s going to take a long time for most people to catch up to you and really “get it”. I kind of thought every friend I had and the person I know would love it and buy things! Well, they didn’t. I took it personally at first, but then I quickly started shipping all of the US and Canada, and my husband said, “you can’t build a successful business for people you know; you need to do it for millions.”
2. It’s hard to get a “warm lead” when you live in the Midwest and want to work with coast investors. I have always “heard” what people say, but usually ignored it. I was told how hard it would be to get in touch with big V.C.s living in MN, and it has been for sure, and I am still working on it, but I have had a few great and impactful connections through meaningful email and focused follow up. Warm leads, but still very hard.
3. Make your email communications very clear. You do not have to tell investors your entire vision in an email or even a deck; in fact, don’t. Some of my initial outreach was so insane. I wrote the longest emails, and my deck was like 15 pages. I quickly learned to tighten it up and leave them wanting more.
4. Doing it alone is going to be hard. I say this because I am the motivator, the shipper, communicating in different time zones, customers, and partners abroad more. I am learning so much, but I didn’t realize how quickly I would.
5. Be patient. I am the most impatient person I know. I basically want this to be Airbnb meets Etsy for small brands in just two months. But, I am learning to enjoy the process because what I am building is not only fun but meaningful.
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?
I was so glued to the news for the first two months, thinking a miracle would come. I had a conversation with a friend who said: “well, I just decided to embrace this new life and kick its butt. I turned off the news and started listening to positive podcasts only”. I took that approach too, and it dramatically changed the year for me. If something big like a vaccine or a shutdown happens, you’ll know.
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?
Saving small creators and ending the monopolization of big brands and fast fashion. Small creators work harder, with less of everything, and still get less in the end. They show us that passion matters, not to give up, and to focus on the small joys you can bring to people. I want to create a company that brings us all closer together with our favorite cities and PEOPLE, even when we can’t visit them. I want shoppers to be more patient, supporting passionate entrepreneurs and creators. We can’t lose them. They are the ones changing the world and bringing meaningful and slower purchasing to a world of go, go go, fast, fast, fast.
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!
I would say Brian Chesky (@bchesky.) Airbnb was a BHAG. They were told no a lot, and they didn’t care. I have been told a lot of “cute idea, sounds fun,” etc., and I keep telling myself. “It’s not cute, it’s going to be huge, and it’s your loss if you don’t get in on it now.” I think they dealt a lot with “cute idea” and “fun,” and then not only did they change the world of travel and capabilities for folks to travel, but they also brought a human connection to travel. They changed the world, and I will too, no matter how many “nos” and “cute”s I get.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow French Face on Instagram at @frenchfaceco, and visit my website at https://frenchfaceco.com/.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!