The Real Story About The Gilt Book "By Invitation Only"

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These women not only took an opportunity and made it happen, but they navigated successfully the hyper-growth phase that brings a whole new set of challenges to early stage companies.

By Deborah Jackson (Founder & CEO, Plum Alley)

At JumpThru, we have a bookshelf full of business books that cover topics such as entrepreneurship, game theory, lean start-up methodology, innovation and disruption.

These books have provided us with guidance, inspiration and new thinking on a broad range of topics. Many of these books have been released in the last 12 months and most are written by men and some are written by women like Dr. Louann Brizendine who wrote The Female Brain, a must read to reset your thinking about how the male and female brain work.

Another powerful book is by Stanford Professor Tina Seelig, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, which helps us to see the myriad of business opportunities around us.

This past week, I read By Invitation Only: How we Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop by two of the co-founders of Gilt Groupe, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. While this book is inspirational, it is first and foremost a business book about the founding of Gilt Groupe.

Gilt Groupe is probably the greatest success story of a female founded technology company to date. In less than four years, these two women built a company that is currently valued at over $1 billion. Millions of women worldwide now shop online for high-end clothing and other items at a steep discount. Gilt had an estimated $500 million in revenue in 2011 and had over 5 million subscribed members. These achievements qualify as success not matter how it is defined.

This book has all the ingredients to be a good read. Two female Harvard undergrads and Harvard MBA’s who were smart, gorgeous, with relevant professional experience and had access to opportunity by nature of their education and hard work.

So what makes this book noteworthy? It is not that these two women are young or even that they are moms. That is interesting in and of itself. But what struck me the most about the book is that it is one of the top business books I have ever read, including all that I read in the process of getting my business degree.

Why do I give this book that distinction? Because there is no other story of young women founders who achieved this level of success in the short period of four years. These women not only took an opportunity and made it happen, but they navigated successfully the hyper-growth phase that brings a whole new set of challenges to early stage companies.

These two women had extraordinary business acumen and instinct. They had gut reactions that turned out to be right on a regular basis and that made all the difference. There are plenty of business books out there that point to empirical evidence or research to come up with conclusions, but these women just had that “gut feel”.

Take the few sentences of page 171 of the book:

“The buyer said, essentially, “How can we commit to this then? This is ridiculous.” Alexandra knew she was right; it was ridiculous. But her gut told her to buy it anyway.”

Alexandra did and she was right. How thrilling to see intuition, or a hunch, or a gut reaction, work on a regular basis for business success.

Alexis and Alexandra are obviously smart, but there are plenty of smart and educated people.

What sets them apart was how they laid each brick for their success: by keeping close friendships within their networks, doing everything they could possibly do to prepare for a successful launch, engaging the community in targeted cities and countries, strategically selecting top designers to establish their brand, and working out the technical challenges to the site.

The other special and unique aspect to their story, is how these two women found their own personal style and leadership skill.

From page 193 of the book:

“Alexis stopped taking cues from the people around her and learned to let her actual personal traits – femininity, directness, calm confidence, and yes, a dash of sportiness – shine through more at the office.”

This business book is not like any other book on that book shelf. It is different. It is how women set and implemented the strategy for a company and how they traveled on their own path to success. This book would be valuable to a wide variety of technology and business professionals, men and women alike. It offers keen insight and is a model example of how to build a company from the perspective of two talented women. A book like this was not out there before.

This post was originally posted at My Tech Letter.

About the guest blogger: Deborah Jackson is Founder and CEO of Plum Alley, a discovery site for female-founded companies and their products and services. Her first career was an investment banker for over 21 years. In early 2011, Deborah founded JumpThru to help women found companies, encourage more women to use and create technology, and promote women achieving wealth by creating successful companies. She is a co-founder of Women Innovate Mobile. Follow her on Twitter at @dbdj1007.