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Interview With Corie Hardee, Little Borrowed Dress CEO

Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) interviews female founders about success stories, inspirations and motivations as women entrepreneurs.

By Kelly Hoey (Co-Founder & Managing Director, WIM)

Corie Hardee is the Founder and CEO of Little Borrowed Dress, the first online dress rental company to focus exclusively on bridal, offering bridesmaids dresses for rent at a quarter of the cost.

Here we get some insight on CEO Corie Hardee’s personality in her interview with WIM:

Kelly Hoey: Who inspires you? 

Corie Hardee: People that tell me no. My best motivation comes from when I get rejected from something I really want. Yes, initially I am a little bummed, but then I brush myself off and am extremely motivated to prove them wrong!

Kelly Hoey: Why have you decided to become an entrepreneur?

Corie Hardee: Growing up I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. My parents had started a software company in the early 80’s and I saw firsthand how tough it was to start your own business. I thought anyone that chose that path was crazy, why give up a perfectly good salary to work a lot harder for little money (at first) and a lot more stress? I even wrote my final paper in “Discovering Entrepreneur Opportunities” (a required class) in business school about how I thought this class was probably useful even for people NOT wanting to start a business.

But after I graduated, I went back to management consulting and was stir-crazy. I was frustrated when we would come up with strategies to launch new products or enter a new market and then the project would end. I wanted an opportunity to see if I could actually build a business.

So when I came up with the idea for Little Borrowed Dress, I knew I had to take the chance! I now understand and appreciate my parents on a whole new level and really admire all they’ve accomplished. And I’m thankful I don’t have three kids I need to feed while starting a business!

Kelly Hoey: Where do you see your company in the next five years?

Corie Hardee: I see Little Borrowed Dress as a leading brand in the bridal space. I see renting bridesmaid dresses as common as renting tuxedos. And I see us helping brides outfit their entire bridal party – making it an easier and more practical process, without sacrificing quality or style.

Kelly Hoey: Who is your competition and how is your company different from other competitor companies?

Corie Hardee: Our competition is large bridesmaid / bridal brands like David’s Bridal and Dessy and other large brands who offer bridal lines, like JCrew. We offer a Jcrew or Dessy quality dress at a price point which is less than David’s Bridal.

Kelly Hoey: What is your next step within your career?

Corie Hardee: My next step is to continue to build the team and infrastructure required to scale this business.

Kelly Hoey: How did you finance your business when it was at the early stage? (ie. self-funded, crowd-funded, angel investor, VC)

Corie Hardee: We were self-funded through launch until we reached a proof-of-concept. Bootstrapping has made us extremely scrappy and very smart about where we spend our money. You are always a lot smarter when you are spending your own money versus someone else’s money.

Earlier this year, we raised a very small seed round and were lucky enough to attract some great investors like Joanne Wilson. The value she provides in terms of mentorship, advice and introductions has far exceeded any dollar amount that she could invest. This small investment has enabled us to launch a new collection, figure out our customer acquisition strategy and the related costs and gain enough traction to attract more investment.

I’m very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish with so little money. It is very rewarding talking to potential investors and seeing their reaction when I tell them how much we’ve been able to accomplish with under $100k. That reaction is priceless.

Kelly Hoey: What is your favorite color?

Corie Hardee: Anything bright and happy! Probably yellow, but not to wear, I look horrible in yellow!

Kelly Hoey: What is your guilty pleasure?

Corie Hardee: Birthday cake pops from Starbucks! Instant pick-me-up when I’m having a bad day.

Kelly Hoey: How do you define success?

Corie Hardee: I define success as being happy. Getting to do something you love everyday which will also make a difference in this world.

Kelly Hoey: If you had one year that you could say was the best year of your life, what year would it be? Why? How old were you?

Corie Hardee: I think it is a good sign that I can’t just name one year! The last five years have just gotten better and better. The start to it all was moving to London in 2006 to go to business school at London Business School. Being surrounded by a class full of people who were all doing so many amazing things was very inspiring. That first year, I learned the world was very big and the US is only a very, very small part of it. The remaining four years I lived in London just kept getting better – I was able to temporarily call home two amazing cities – Hong Kong and Antibes, France (yes I know I’m very lucky!) and to travel to around 25-30 different countries.

Saying I caught the travel bug doesn’t even start to describe that time in my life. But it also taught me that anything was possible. If I was able to land in Accra, Ghana and navigate my way around the country to create a market entry strategy for one of Africa’s largest mobile phone companies, I can really do anything. That was hands down the coolest experience I had during business school.

Since coming back to the US, my life probably doesn’t sound as glamorous as my travel has been totally curtailed. But day-to-day life just keeps getting better. I’m able to live my dream and I love getting up every morning. I feel very thankful that I’ve been able to turn this idea I had into a real business. My favorite part is when customers send in pictures of their weddings with their bridesmaids in our dresses!

Kelly Hoey: Describe a time you failed. What did you learn from that experience?

Corie Hardee: Naming just one time for this is tough too! I fail every single day. Which I think is a very good thing. Starting a business is signing yourself up for more rejection than you could ever imagine.

If you’re not failing or getting rejected on a daily basis you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough. When I launched my website, I very naively thought that everyone who was getting married would obviously use our service. If they heard about us, they would rent.

Well, truth is that conversion rates for an e-commerce business are between 2-3%. So 98 people have to say no to you to get 2 that end up as paying customers. The same applies to pitching to journalists, investors, etc. The best advice I have to people starting businesses is to get used to rejection quickly and learn how to not take it personally!

Kelly Hoey: What do you do fun?

Corie Hardee: Spending time with friends and family. Relaxing when I have the chance and exercising to de-stress!

Kelly Hoey: What is your favorite mobile app?

Corie Hardee: AppyCouple! Brides can create their own wedding apps which all their wedding guests can download. Perfect for guests like me who always forget the invitation at home and need to know all the important details while on the go.

Kelly Hoey: Any words of advice for up & coming designers who are trying to get their brands noticed?

Corie Hardee: Getting noticed is hard, so it helps to start a business that is solving a major customer problem. Then don’t give up!

This was originally posted at Women Innovate Mobile.

About the guest blogger: Kelly Hoey is Co-Founder and Managing Director of Women Innovate Mobile, the first accelerator program for women founded (or co-founded) startups focused on mobile technology or mobile applications. She sits on the Women’s Advisory Board for mobile and social gaming company, Stone Creek Entertainment and the startup advisory boards of Lion’esque Style and The Levo League. She is a business strategic and connector. Follow her on Twitter at @jkhoey.