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Debora LaBudde of MEMO: “Humanizing the retail experience ”

I have always been a supporter of entrepreneurship and helping individuals to think bigger. I have always enjoyed meeting new people, learning about what they do and often hearing from them what they wish they could do. Often times, people feel they can’t pursue something new out of fear or uncertainty; sometimes just having this […]

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I have always been a supporter of entrepreneurship and helping individuals to think bigger. I have always enjoyed meeting new people, learning about what they do and often hearing from them what they wish they could do. Often times, people feel they can’t pursue something new out of fear or uncertainty; sometimes just having this conversation and asking a few questions is enough to help someone to feel inspired, think bigger and go after a new goal. It’s a very powerful thing that can change someone’s life.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Debora LaBudde.

Ms. LaBudde is the founder and CEO of MEMO a retail technology company serving the luxury goods and fine jewelry industries. Prior to founding MEMO, Ms. LaBudde was founder and Managing General Partner of Envoi Ventures, a closely held venture capital fund making investments in seed and early stage companies in the life science and technology sector. Earlier in her career, Ms. LaBudde was Director of Business Development for Bausch & Lomb, Inc. where she was involved in over a dozen successful M&A and licensing transactions for the company. She was also a co-founder and head of business development of a venture capital backed B2B ecommerce/supply chain company spun off from Bausch & Lomb. Ms. LaBudde has served on the boards of several early stage technology companies and has been an active advisor to numerous start-ups, establishing The Entrepreneurs Network, a non-profit training and networking organization for technology entrepreneurs. She previously served on the Advisory Board for Syracuse University’s Newhouse Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship and is a frequent speaker and panelist on entrepreneurship and early stage investing. Ms.LaBudde received a BA in Economics, Magna Cum Laude, from the University of Rochester and an MBA from the William E. Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My early career was as a corporate finance executive, and I later ran a closely held venture capital fund where I worked with a number of young innovative companies. Jewelry was a personal passion of mine, but identifying an opportunity in the market undoubtedly came from my experience in looking at other industries and market opportunities.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I have had a varied career working for a public company doing mergers and acquisitions, founding a non-profit organization to assist entrepreneurs, running a venture capital firm and now starting my own company, MEMO. The idea to start a company in the luxury and fine jewelry industry came to me just over 20 years ago while I was working as a corporate executive, and I worked and did research on my business plan on nights and weekends for several months. My career then took me in a different direction, and I put my initial business plan on the shelf. I learned a lot about entrepreneurship, investments and running a business in the years that followed, and although I didn’t pursue the business until many years later, my passion for the original concept stayed with me. When the opportunity presented itself again, I knew I was ready.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

During a meeting with a potential investor, when I was raising capital for a new venture fund, I realized that I can’t make assumptions about other people. In the past, I had met with several prominent individuals, but on this particular occasion, the investor was very quiet and barely asked any questions. I interpreted that to mean that he had no interest; it impacted my presentation and rattled me a bit. My voice cracked, and I was noticeably off of my game.

I really beat myself up for not being able to perform well in the meeting, and it continued to bother me for a while, impacting my work and productivity in the days that followed. I realized, however, that I need to try to learn from disappointing meetings instead of feeling bad about them. In this case, I realized that the individual was actually just quiet and perhaps even somewhat shy, and what or how I presented wouldn’t have changed that. Armed with this new information, I reached back out to him several years later on another venture, and we’ve actually stayed in touch since.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

MEMO was one of the first websites to uniquely offer a luxury home try-on service for fine jewelry. We recently launched and are continuing to add new features to an interface, so other brands and retailers can now offer our white glove service on their own websites. While having access to fine jewelry and other luxury goods with a home try-on service may not appear to be helping people in a significant way, the service we offer removes a number of existing barriers that women often face while purchasing luxury products and provides the luxury of shopping for high value goods in a secure, efficient and enjoyable way in the comfort of their home.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Working during these very different times of COVID-19 has taught us all that sometimes some things are out of our control. Understanding that — and staying more flexible, open, and positive about changes that occur in our lives, both personally and professionally — can alleviate stress and even expose new opportunities for growth.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

A number of people have helped me throughout my career — in many cases opening doors for me to new opportunities or allowing me to learn by their example. When I first considered launching MEMO, however, a top jewelry designer met with me over a number of months and gave me feedback on the original concept and insight on the industry. Each time we met, usually over coffee, I would share my latest research on the market and my current thinking with respect to our business model or go-to market strategy, and each time the designer would provide constructive feedback and some words of encouragement. Although she was functioning as a very early and valuable advisor to me and the company, she never asked for anything in return for her time.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I truly feel that with MEMO, we have brought some goodness to the world by delighting our customers and removing the barriers to discovering and purchasing fine jewelry. Personally, and because I’ve been fortunate to have had many rich career experiences, I always look for opportunities to help others or share my experience or network, to the extent it can be helpful to them.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?

  • A further proliferation of ecommerce — with so many brands building or augmenting their own ecommerce capabilities, particularly through the pandemic, the number of online options available to consumers will continue to increase. Retailers will need to understand what they can uniquely offer consumers to set them apart and both attract and retain consumers.
  • AI-driven personalization — while data-driven personalization of the consumer shopping experience already exists, new, even smarter forms of personalization should be expected and explored as new retail shopping technologies provide additional rich data streams.
  • Humanizing the retail experience — with the explosion of retail technologies and digital experiences, retailers must find ways to humanize the customer experience — how, when and where the consumer desires.
  • Humanizing the brand — similar to humanizing the retail experience for consumers, in order to be successful, retailers need to be transparent about their goals and values and have their actions and interactions with clients reflect this at every touch point.
  • Curated online experiences — while the number of online shopping options continues to grow, it will become increasingly important to create curated experiences to engage consumers and assist with product discovery and purchases. This will also allow retailers to further differentiate themselves and present a unique point of view to their consumer offering.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have always been a supporter of entrepreneurship and helping individuals to think bigger. I have always enjoyed meeting new people, learning about what they do and often hearing from them what they wish they could do. Often times, people feel they can’t pursue something new out of fear or uncertainty; sometimes just having this conversation and asking a few questions is enough to help someone to feel inspired, think bigger and go after a new goal. It’s a very powerful thing that can change someone’s life. If there was a way to change someone’s attitude, allow them to become a better version of themselves, or impact their future even through a chance meeting simply by asking a few questions or providing supporting advice, I think the good that could come would be endless. We often hear people talk about giving back, but regardless of the stage of your career, everyone has the ability to #liftup another person.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @MemoJewelry

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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