Always be networking. When I started Happily Ever Borrowed, I was attending at least 1 meet-up (sometimes 2 or 3!) per night to get feedback on the idea and learn from others. I would frequent tech meetups, bridal shows, general assembly classes, female entrepreneur events; anywhere I thought I could learn from others. Those initial days of starting the company I met so many amazing people who either had one thing to teach me or someone to introduce me to. Without those connections, we would never be where we are today.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Finkle. Brittany is the Founder & CEO of Happily Ever Borrowed. Always drawing and designing, she graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Fiber Science & Apparel Design. Over the past 10 years, she’s worked as a merchandiser for top luxury companies such as Ralph Lauren, Hermes & Chanel. She launched Happily Ever Borrowed in 2012 to help women to rent their bridal accessories for their wedding day. Happily Ever Borrowed’s mission is not only to help brides save money, but to also help reduce the waste of the wedding industry.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I had a very idealistic childhood growing up on Long Island, NY. I’m the youngest of four girls and was much younger than my siblings, otherwise known as the “Gift From God”. From a young age, I was always creative and had an entrepreneurial spirit. Anything from painting nails at summer camp to drawing caricatures to selling friendship bracelets, I loved to make my own product and money. I started working as a waitress at age 14 and was always working long hours; saving for college or for big travel plans.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I launched Happily Ever Borrowed in 2012 when the NY startup scene was exploding. I was working in luxury fashion, and while it was exciting, my creative and entrepreneurial spirit got the best of me. My friend and I were out for drinks, talking about what really drove us, and the idea of Happily Ever Borrowed popped up as I had really conceptualized the idea in college, but never moved on it. Her encouragement and background in the bridal industry (she’s now the quite famous Hayley Paige) pushed me to start making the dream a reality.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
To be honest, I saw other people doing it! Rent the Runway had just launched and I thought, if they could do it with luxury fashion, I could do it with bridal.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
Stay reluctant…for a long time! Again, I’m definitely driven by money and quite risk adverse, so entrepreneurship wasn’t something that I thought would be full time for me. When my husband’s job moved us out to Portland, OR, I was pretty much forced to take the leap. Unless you have the means to make the jump, try to side-hustle as long as possible.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I’m learning something new every single day. Having your own business forces you to try new things, so that certainly keeps it fresh!
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
I definitely love the ability to make my own schedule and work from home. Some people can’t thrive at home because they get distracted, but after years of working in corporate culture where I spent more time in meetings than doing actual work, I find it refreshing to be able to manage my own time. The downside is that it’s hard to pull yourself away and to turn it off. I do make time for dinner every night with my husband, but there are times when I get drawn back to the computer late at night.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
I still have these thoughts EVERY DAY! It’s hard coming from a high-paying job to going it on your own! I’m constantly reflecting and reimagining what my life should look like based on where I am in life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
For people who are afraid to tell their employers about their side hustle, don’t be! When Chanel found out that I had an ecommerce site, they asked me to move departments to help run their e-commerce division! They were super impressed that I was able to manage my own business on the side and had a skillset that could help them on a larger scale.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning, I highly overestimated the reliability of the USPS. I had a very short time-frame of how many days it would take for the bride to ship the piece back to us and for us to get it to the next customer. I have many recollections of running from my office to wait for the mailman, to then run back to the post office before it closed to get it back in the mail to the next bride. It took some trial and error, but we have the lead time down pretty good now!
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
I learned SO much from my first boss at Chanel, Richard. He let me shine and helped me navigate corporate culture without telling me how to do the tasks of my job. He gave me a lot of trust and was the best boss I ever had. He taught me everything I know on how to be a great leader.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Every day we’re helping brides save money and we’re reducing waste in the bridal industry. Our whole ethos is to make the world a better place.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Always be networking. When I started Happily Ever Borrowed, I was attending at least 1 meet-up (sometimes 2 or 3!) per night to get feedback on the idea and learn from others. I would frequent tech meetups, bridal shows, general assembly classes, female entrepreneur events; anywhere I thought I could learn from others. Those initial days of starting the company I met so many amazing people who either had one thing to teach me or someone to introduce me to. Without those connections, we would never be where we are today.
- Don’t be afraid if you’re too early. Many people told me that the industry wasn’t ready for rental. And in year one, it was maybe a little early. But because we continued to believe in the brand and the concept, when people were ready to rent, we already had the name and prestige of having years of experience. Being the first to market and being early was a win for us.
- Find the social media channel that works best for you. Pinterest is a huge driver of traffic and sales for us. Because the concept of Pinterest works so well for weddings, it was a natural fit for our brand to exceed. But maybe for your brand, your customers are more engaged on Facebook or Instagram. Put your efforts where your customer is and don’t try to appeal to everyone or try to be the best on every social platform. It’s better to focus your efforts and drive conversion.
- Don’t quit your Day Job (yet!): TAKE TIME to save money and figure out a plan of action. It may be tempting to go full force into your start-up, but side hustle as long as possible.
- Don’t be afraid to Pivot: Our original idea was to rent bridal gowns! When we saw the capital it would take to have that many gowns and how operationally difficult it would be, we pivoted to accessories. Listen to the feedback you’re getting and apply it in a way that makes sense for the business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way” — Carl Sandberg My dad always used to say this to me. I’m always moving in a direction and I might not know where I’m headed ,but I know wherever I end up is where I’m meant to be.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Serena Williams. She has her own brand, launched her own VC fund investing in amazing female businesses (including Floravere — a bridal start-up) and I think her drive is incredible. She’s the epitome of a multi-tasking, bad-ass, woman and mother and I’m super inspired by her.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
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About the author:
Phil La Duke is a popular speaker & writer with more than 400 works in print. He has contributed to Entrepreneur, Monster, Thrust Global and is published on all inhabited continents. His most recent book is Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention listed as #16 on Pretty Progressive magazine’s list of 49 books that powerful women study in detail. Follow Phil on Twitter @philladuke or read his weekly blog www.philladuke.wordpress.com