You have to try out many different avenues before you find a few that work. Whether it’s for marketing, PR, or recruiting, you typically have to try out many different ideas before you find a few that work for your business. This is especially true if you’re a first time entrepreneur and don’t have as much experience or connections.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Vanessa Youshaei who is the founder and CEO of Petite Ave, a one-stop shopping destination for women under 5’5’’. Prior to starting Petite Ave, she worked at Google for 3.5 years in sales, marketing, and program management. She’s a graduate of Emory University with degrees in marketing and finance.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
For as long as I can remember, business and fashion have greatly interested me. I love the action oriented and practical nature of business and the artistic aspects of fashion. This in combination with the challenges I faced as a shorter woman (I’m only 5’0’’) have led me to where I am today. I spent most of my adult life getting items tailored, wearing clothing that was too big, shopping in the kid’s section, and struggling to find things in the limited petite section. After talking to many other petite women and realizing how widespread of a problem this was, I knew I had to do something about it.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
I would have to say it’s the fact that my developer and I have never met in person (he lives in Russia and I live in San Francisco), yet he’s become a good friend and permanent part of my team. We’re both entrepreneurs at heart and have complementary skill sets and personalities, so it has worked out really well for us.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting and what lesson you learned from that?
Hmmm…not sure if ‘funny’ and ‘mistake’ go together, but I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes that I learned from. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to put everything in writing so there’s no miscommunication and issues later down the road. I learned this after spending many hours putting together a photoshoot and then never receiving the photos from the photographer. This lesson might seem obvious, but sometimes when you’re moving quickly or just building rapport with someone, you might not think to do so, but it helps save a lot of time and agony later down the road.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
Above all else, we’re providing a solution that hasn’t been offered before to women under 5’5’’ and building an empowering community for this underserved demographic. By expanding the clothing options available to petite women, they no longer have to resort to getting items tailored, wearing things big, or shopping in the kids section. We do this by helping them discover new brands that carry petite sizes, but also do a lot of legwork to find clothing with appropriate measurements for shorter women that aren’t labeled as ‘petite’. Although my goal is to help make the shopping process more convenient for petite women, my vision is to create an empowering community and ultimately a movement for this underserved demographic. One of the best parts of building Petite Ave has been the petite women we feature every week. A lot of thought goes into the women we feature, so I truly find all of them inspirational, but perhaps the most inspirational of all has been Chelsea Werner who is an Olympian with Down Syndrome who is now a petite model who has walked in NY Fashion Week. My vision is to create a movement where women under 5’5’’ are celebrated rather than treated as an afterthought.
Which tips would you recommend to colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?
I would suggest that you carve out time on your calendar at least once a week to do something you love and find a way to hold yourself accountable by paying for it in advance (exercise class) or doing something with a friend (a movie). Many founders feel guilty when they’re not spending time on their business, but taking time for yourself is not only beneficial for your business, but it’s really the only way to sustainably deal with the ups and downs of a business for a long time.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are?
I’m tremendously grateful to my parents for their continuous support and encouragement. I would absolutely not be where I am today without them. They are both immigrants who came to this country with very little money, no connections, and barely knowing the language and made it. Their story inspires me everyday. My dad in particular is someone who believes in me more than I believe in myself. I never forget the day I completely bombed my interview for a summer internship with Deloitte when I was in college. I called my dad completely frustrated. My dad immediately said, “I understand you’re upset, but one day, you’ll be running a company like Deloitte”. I will never forget that conversation.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Always — anything related to Petite Ave is exciting because we’re making progress as a company. Right now, something I’m personally very excited about is offering style consultations to customers. After learning about our customers’ preferences, my team and I do all the work of picking out pieces that fit their budget and style requirements. It’s super fun and satisfying to offer a more personalized service to our clients.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I really hope to use my success to be a motivational speaker specifically for children with learning disabilities or parents of kids with learning disabilities. This topic is near and dear to my heart because I struggled tremendously in school due to an undiagnosed reading disability, so I’d love to share my story with others and hopefully inspire them to reach their goals.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I honestly don’t have time to read many books, but I read lots of articles. One of the best articles I’ve ever read is titled The Most Important Question of Your Life by Mark Manson. The basic message is that the amount of success in life is directly related to how much discomfort you’re willing to endure. Everyone wants to achieve financial freedom or be in a great relationship, but not everyone is willing to put in the time, energy, and risk that these things require; the ones who do are the ones most likely to succeed. Put simply, you can’t win if you don’t play.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why?
- It’s a very long and lonely path. You spend a lot of time by yourself working and tinkering with different ideas, and success takes much longer than you expect.
- Know exactly who your target market is. Although you’re very likely to know who your general audience is (in our case ‘petite women’), you need to drill down deeper to understand their age, career, lifestyle, habits, etc. Understanding this is critical to the business you build — everything from your site aesthetics to your brand voice will be informed by this.
- You have to try out many different avenues before you find a few that work. Whether it’s for marketing, PR, or recruiting, you typically have to try out many different ideas before you find a few that work for your business. This is especially true if you’re a first time entrepreneur and don’t have as much experience or connections.
- Find a veteran entrepreneur who can become your advisor. Finding someone who understands your industry inside and out and can make important introductions to top talent and prospective investors. This will help expedite things tremendously and is especially important for first time entrepreneurs.
- Only meet with someone if it’s in line with your current priorities.There are so many people you could meet with about a variety of topics, and this list only multiplies as your company grows. At the beginning, you might be tempted to take the meeting thinking it might help you. Before hopping on a call or meeting with someone in-person, do some research to assess whether the meeting is in line with you current priorities. If it’s not, then skip it or ask to meet at a later date. If you’re unsure, always take a phone call before agreeing to meet in person since that’s a lot more efficient.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
My goal with Petite Ave is to create a movement for women under 5’5’’. Nearly 40% of women in the US are under 5’5’’ (petite), yet they are one of the most underserved and overlooked demographics. My goal is to create an empowering community and ultimately a movement that will call more attention to this group of women in the fashion industry and beyond.
In addition to this, as mentioned earlier, I’d really like to use my influence to bring about good for students with learning disabilities. These students often go under the radar and are incorrectly labeled as “stupid” very early on which causes them to not receive the help they need, lose confidence, and therefore not reach their full potential. I’d like to start a movement where we better educate parents and teachers on how to work with and empower students who learn differently; if we’re able to instill confidence in these kids from an early age, there’s nothing they can’t do.
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