The Roux at the Landau restaurant, in the refurbished Langham Hotel in London, was a suitable and intimate setting for The MBS Group’s breakfast conversation with Jessica Herrin, CEO and founder of Stella & Dot. 18 businesswomen working in consumer industries around the world attended the breakfast, all eager to hear what Jessica had to say about building her business from scratch, into a company with a turnover of nearly US$300m.
I first met Jessica in 2011, when she arrived from the capital of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, to brief me on her search for a European president to launch Stella & Dot outside of the US. Bright, engaging and inspiring, Jessica graduated from Stanford Business School – a well-known breeding ground for digital entrepreneurs – and has grown her business based on the principles of social selling and creating flexible entrepreneurial opportunities for women. She is passionate about empowering women, offering them an alternative to the corporate world of work, especially for budding entrepreneurs with small children or other pressing commitments.
Stella & Dot is a social accessories and jewellery retail concept that sells online and through more than 10,000 independent, home-based stylists. It’s backed by private equity giant Sequoia Capital, whose track record of investment includes WhatsApp, Google and LinkedIn, to name but a few. Jessica’s first digital venture was WeddingChannel.com, an online wedding planning resource, which she sold to TheKnot.com for US$90m.
Jessica kicked off by telling us that she was lucky to be at Stanford just as the internet boom was beginning – her classmates have gone on to become some of the most influential digital entrepreneurs and investors of today. Her inspiration, though, was serendipitous, coming when she met some of the ‘pink Cadillac ladies’ from the Mary Kay Company. Mary Kay hails from Dallas and founded her direct selling cosmetics business in 1963. Today, it is a US$2.5bn company with three million beauty consultants all around the world. Jessica says: “I realised that Mary Kay was not a cosmetics company but a company about women. As a mother with two children, my mission for the women that work for me is for them to have bold and joyful lives.” She calls Stella & Dot ‘flexible, democratic entrepreneurship’, and says that the company belongs to its stylists: “Women can flex in and out depending what is happening in the lives that they are juggling around their families.”
Sian Westerman, MD at Rothschild & Sons, a founding member of Helena Morrissey’s 30% Club, said great strides have been made towards putting more women on FTSE boards. In line with these initiatives, Jessica is currently setting up a re-entry programme for women returning to work. Vogue editor-at-large Fiona Golfar said that in her generation women had no choice but to have their babies and go straight back to work. Progress from this state of affairs is just beginning, but there is still a long way to go, and it must be led by inspirational women who aren’t afraid to break from the status quo and campaign for reforms that change the lives of working women for the better.
After one and a half hours, we all had to leave for our day jobs; we did so feeling inspired, uplifted and proud to have been in the presence of a shining example of an empowered woman.