Learning from Nasty Gal and the best of Generation Y



Nothing excites me more than young founders and companies making a real impact in their industries. I find that individuals who aren’t shackled by established processes, feeling free (as Facebook says) to “move fast and break things”, are naturally more inclined to practice innovative and groundbreaking ways of doing business. In many ways, the poster girl for this new breed of digital-savvy entrepreneur is Sophia Amoruso, CEO and creative director of fashion etailer Nasty Gal, an enterprise truly flying the flag for exciting, wholly multichannel businesses. I want to look at some of the factors that set Nasty Gal apart, and which other businesses are at the vanguard of what Generation Y has to offer!

There is nothing quite like constructing a business from scratch, and all the risk and reward that involves. As such, Sophia – who started Nasty Gal from her bedroom and built up a business with revenues of around US$100m – is a role model for young people everywhere looking to turn their passion into something profitable. The economic situation in recent years has not been kind to younger people – who are becoming known as Generation Y – leading many to seek non-traditional ways of making money and exhibiting their creativity. Like Sophia, Jamal Edwards started SBTV from a single laptop, and today runs an empire spanning videomaking, clothing, e-books and music – all by the age of 23!

With conventional career avenues harder than ever to break into, more and more young people are proving themselves by exploiting areas where they have an inbuilt advantage – namely, social media and other online opportunities. So-called ‘digital natives’ are naturally more agile and responsive to social media’s potential than older generations. The mammoth fan bases of Sorted Food, (whose cookery programmes boast 700,000 subscribers on YouTube), and Andrew Bachelor, who has an astonishing 5.6 million Vine followers as @KingBach, are testament to the massive potential of new media in attracting increasingly influential young demographics.

Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal founder and owner
Sophia Amoruso, Nasty Gal founder and owner, Photo credit Courtesy of Nasty Gal

However, despite these incredible exceptions, turning social currency into hard cash is not yet an established science. Instead, it seems to be pioneering venture capital firms such as Index Ventures who are becoming reliable predictors of success for young businesses. Index, which was among the first investors in Nasty Gal, has made its name investing in soaring start-ups such as Dropbox, Etsy and Flipboard. In the tech space, Summly (founded by teenager Nick D’Aloisio) was acquired by Yahoo! last year, but not before it attracted VC funding from billionaire La Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures. When it comes to looking for potential break-out stars of the future, it seems as though venture capital firms are at the forefront of thinking in this sphere!

I love the work that Nasty Gal and companies like it have done to democratise the business world, proving to young people that opportunities are out there if they work hard and take chances. Which Generation Y entrepreneurs and businesses have I missed out here? Let me know at moira@thembsgroup.co.uk, and have a lovely weekend.