Gilt: Co-Founders Who Built Their Billion Dollar Company on Respect and Implicit Trust

May 22, 2012

Alexandra Wilkis Wilson

Today I got to attend the CRAVE Seattle event which featured entrepreneur Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of Gilt Groupe. The event was packed with 150 (mostly) women entrepreneurs. CRAVE founder Melody Biringer puts on amazing events and I’m thankful that she extended the invite out to me. Gilt Groupe – launched by Alexis, Alexandra, and three colleagues in 2007 – is one of the most fascinating start-ups of recent years, with a valuation of more than $1 billion. And it all began with one bold idea: to bring sample sales online and change the way millions shop.
The co-founders Alexandra Wilkis Wilson and Alexis Maybank are authors of the book “By Invitation Only“. I have to say that it is the best entrepreneurial book that I’ve read in 2012 so far. The book is a fascinating journey between two people who were friends before they were business partners. The book does a good job sharing how the contrasting personalities worked well together. While the success in terms of revenue generated year-over-year is off the chart amazing, the part the interested me the most was the partnership between Alexandra and Alexis. I wish there was more time at the event for Alexandra to expand upon the true meaning of friendship and how their relationship was able to flourish through a start-up. In the book “By Invitation Only”, there are many chapters that go into relationships and the team. I’ll highlight a few quotes from the book:

Focus on Relationships and Execution

“We believe that Gilt Groupe is powerful proof that strong preexisting relationships between cofounders-coupled with a focus on relationships with customers, vendors, and employees– is a potent formula for both success and personal fulfillment.”

“Bring complementary skills and personalities to the table and both happen to value each other more than any enterprise you could start together– makes you more effective, and makes the adventure more meaningful.”

“From the beginning of our friendship, our different personalities made us a great pair, because we approached the same challenges from different skills and perspectives.”

“We believe that our relationship helped us execute better than our competitors. Ideas are cheap and easily replicated these days; its the execution that really matters.”

“In start-ups, the execution is much more important than the idea. No matter how brilliant or timely your business proposition, if you don’t have a team capable of effectively executing it, and executing it together, it will never work.”

Respect and Implicit Trust

The thing that I picked up on from Alexandra and through the book was an incredible amount of respect that each had for the other. They both knew that the other had skills that the other could not touch. They also were able to be responsible for completely different areas of the business. They were both self-starters and would be free to do their own thing, trusting each other implicitly. It’s this level of humanity between these co-founders that I admire and aspire for. What is the backbone of your business partnership?