's Sarah Curran on building an online brand

There is no glass ceiling if you create your own company. Sarah Curran, founder of the online fashion retailer, talks to Nicola Kemp about her personalised approach to business

If the complete stock of were the contents of a real-life wardrobe, the owner would possibly be the best-dressed woman alive. Sarah Curran, founder of the global online retailer, has built the ecommerce brand from scratch, and introduced shoppers to a host of fashion designers, by selling the work of brands from Acne through to YMC.

While the British high street has suffered from disappointing sales, has gone from strength to strength, with no sign of slowing down.

Marketing caught up with Curran ahead of the MT Inspiring Women 2012 conference, to be held in London on 18 October, where she will share her entrepreneurial story.

What is the best decision you have ever made?

There have been a few (good decisions), but making the right appointments, especially investing in a quality executive team, has been vital. In 2008 we made a big investment and (my husband and co-founder) Andrew and I made the decision to pay people more than we were taking from the business. Building the right team is crucial.

What has been your biggest mistake?

Sometimes as an entrepreneur you want to run before you can walk. Learning to be strategic with our growth plans and not going too fast has been key.

You went straight into work after school. Do you think formal qualifications are less important for success in the fast-moving world of ecommerce?

It depends on the sector. I really wanted to come to London and start working. If you want to be a surgeon, then, obviously, university is vital, but many students have been pushed into going to university.

When I left school, I was seen as a drop-out, while my sister, who went to university, was the golden child, but it doesn't necessarily pan out that way. I don't think university is the key to success and, for an entrepreneur, it might not be the be all and end all.

Is it true that you personally phone customers if they have any customer service problems? How important is customer service to your brand?

Yes, I do. Customer service is at the heart of what we do, which stems from Powder (the boutique Curran set up in 2003). I still get involved in any problem. Even recently, I have picked up an issue for a customer. It's a real myth that a global business means you can't maintain a personalised approach. It's an absolute priority for us.

In light of the growth of emerging markets, how do you balance global growth with this level of service?

We have someone on the ground in all our territories to ensure nothing gets lost in translation. We have multilingual customer service (agents) and the ability of our local teams means we never lose that approach.

What are the most important marketing trends having an impact on your business?

Mobile is a huge growth area for us, particularly in international markets, and it is important to understand the level of engagement, particularly when it comes to dynamic merchandising and social media.

How has social media changed ecommerce?

The growth of social has taken a lot of corporate brands by surprise, but it's a two-way dialogue and it's important to remember that. A lot of (brands) don't put the right people in charge of social; you need to have a consistent tone of voice and if you make mistakes, learn from them.

From your experience at News International, how important do you think editorial skills are in building an online fashion brand?

Editorial is important, but the end goal is always to produce sales; it is important not to deviate from that goal.

Working at The Times, I learned the importance of a consistent brand. Sometimes more visual content is required, but it's about ensuring the right balance.

What advice would you give to marketers looking to launch an ecommerce brand?

If you come from a marketing background, you have already done your research and understand your consumer.

Ecommerce is an incredibly competitive market, and everyone wants to be in it. Understanding what differentiates you from the competition is key.


1997-2002: Various roles, including sub-editor, Times Online, News International

2003-07: Owner/buyer, Powder Boutique, Crouch End, London

2006-present: founder and chief executive,


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