Vivian Weng



Princeton - Engineering + Finance

Harvard Business School - M.B.A.

After graduating from Princeton in 2005 with a joint degree in engineering and finance, Vivian Weng took to Wall Street. After a few years working at McKinsey & Co. and Goldman Sachs, she realized she was less passionate about finance than she was about business, particularly retail. So, she went on to consult for various retail companies (from Elie Tahari to ESCADA) and worked with independent designers like Issy Salomon and Jeffrey Monteiro. After realizing this was the path she wanted to pursue, Vivian obtained her MBA from Harvard Business School, where she met the co-founder of her company FashionStake. As a leading online destination for consumers to discover and shop the most unique fashion from the world's top emerging designers, Vivian and her team work with more than 250 independent designers from 15 countries. And lately her hard work has paid off. InStyle recently rated FahionStake 'Best of the Web' for fashion in 2011. (Check out the magazine's November issue!)

Life’s too short to have a job that you’re not passionate about.

How did you discover your current job?

I kind of ‘fell into’ entrepreneurship at business school. My business partner has a really impressive background in entrepreneurship, and had started a handful of companies before Harvard Business School. I had a strong background in retail and knew that I wanted to have a role in the retail/apparel industry. When we met, we looked at the industry and thought it was an exciting landscape; fashion has been a really old-fashioned industry for a long time, but in recent years, there have been great businesses started (many by women!) that have really changed the dynamics -- for example, Gilt Groupe and Rent the Runway. We both felt passionate about helping independent designers have a channel to sell their collections and about telling these amazing stories. Once we came up with the idea, I was hooked.

What is your typical day like? What types of things do you do in your job?

I spend a large part of the day meeting with designers and working with our merchandising team. Even though we’re a marketplace, we spend a LOT of time thinking about what types of designers and clothing we want to bring onto the site. I also meet a lot with potential partners, from magazines to retailers to other start-ups. The benefit of being a super small company is that we move quickly and can be really creative in terms of the types of partnerships we get involved in. Daniel and I also meet once a day to talk about ‘founder stuff' -- things like our technological road map and our team/recruiting.

What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?

I love meeting with new designers and hearing their stories. Everyone is so unique, and I’m constantly impressed by how many talented designers there are. Our goal is to provide an e-commerce platform for designers who wouldn’t have been able to sell online otherwise, and it’s extremely rewarding to give those designers an opportunity to have their stories heard and connect happy fashionistas with happy designers.

The most challenging aspect is that online retail literally never stops! Especially for a business like ours, where we want to eventually work with thousands of designers, there is always more work to do, more designers to speak to, more customer service to take care of. I’m still learning to draw a line between work and my personal life, in order to keep sane. I’m notorious for checking and answering emails during dinners, although I’m trying to get better.

What is one lesson you've learned in your job that sticks with you?

Test, then invest! I think that even the best business ideas need tweaking when you first start, so if you’re thinking about starting a business, do it in a super lean way so that you learn cheaply before you put money and time into building out the entire business.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge for women today, particularly females in your industry?

I think women are often too modest and aren’t comfortable with talking about their successes compared to their male peers. There also aren’t that many women in tech start-ups, although that’s quickly changing (particularly in retail/consumer-facing start-ups), which is very inspirational.

Who are your role models?

Coco Chanel was one of the most influential pioneers in the fashion industry. She has an inspirational story with both a great eye for design and also great business sense.

What are some of the rules you live by?

My dad always told me, “Life’s too short to have a job that you’re not passionate about. If you work hard and do what you’re passionate about, you’ll be successful.” I’ve taken that lesson to heart and have let that rule guide me throughout my career.

Have a sense of humor. There are days when everything seems to be falling apart, and we just have a laugh and hope that the next day is better.

What advice do you have for girls who want to be in your industry?

Fashion is about so much more than just shopping and beautiful clothes! It’s a legitimate industry, and there are so many exciting things happening today in the industry. The industry needs more smart business women who are interested in ‘Retail 2.0’ so don’t feel intimidated if you don’t have a traditional background in fashion. And think outside the box: You don’t have to choose between merchandising, design and PR anymore -- there are lots of other business roles, like social media, that you can give you a taste of the industry.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I would love to be able to look back and know that I had an impact on the fashion community and on individual designers’ lives. I’d love for FashionStake to be the online destination for customers to shop indie fashion and for designers to list their collections.