By Doreen Bloch (Author, The Coolest Startups in America) Sarah McIlroy is an entrepreneur based near Boston (specifically Salem, MA) who launched FashionPlaytes over three years ago. FashionPlaytes’s first product enabled girls to design clothing through FashionPlaytes’s online tools and then purchase and receive the customized garments.
She has raised over $5 million in venture capital for the business, after leaving a steady job and having a house full with three children.
I interviewed her for my book, and felt that a separate interview is warranted with this amazing female founder. Read on for Sarah’s views on user engagement, online-to-offline businesses, and balancing career and kids. Here are 10 questions (and answers!) with Sarah:
Women 2.0: What is FashionPlaytes? Sarah McIlroy: FashionPlaytes is a platform for girls. It's a fashion and style destination that merges community, content and commerce. It’s a new way for girls to shop [because FashionPlaytes enables girls to design their own clothing].
Women 2.0: Where do you hope FashionPlaytes will be in one year? Sarah McIlroy: I want FashionPlaytes to develop as a lifestyle brand. We're gaining momentum. We’re looking to increase the product line and reach more girls.
Women 2.0: What was it like quitting your day job to launch a company? Sarah McIlroy: It was crazy. My family couldn't believe I left a well-paying, stable job. It was a wild ride. It's a roller coaster. It required courage, drive, and perseverance. You have to be willing to risk a lot to start a business. It takes so much work before getting the wheels in motion, and you must rely on yourself.
Women 2.0: What was the process like to raise funding? Sarah McIlroy: First funding happened six months after the concept for FashionPlaytes. It takes a long time to build a business plan and get the mechanics in place. We proved it out with initial seed funding from VC and then the investors came in again at the next round. If you’re new to the industry, you must network. Get to folks who understand your business.
Women 2.0: How do you think about customer engagement? Sarah McIlroy: For us it's incredibly important. We’re seeing our KPIs [Key Performance Indicators] trend well because of engagement. Without having girls come back to FashionPlaytes, it would be specialty purchase, so engagement is critical to our success. To keep FashionPlaytes top of mind, we launched social games, weekly contests, virtual currency, avatars, and creating elements kids can share. Our time on site is now over an hour for repeat visitors. Engagement is so important to be successful. FashionPlaytes gives girls who are creative and love designing a way to translate that to the real world.
Women 2.0: You have an online-to-offline business. Can you tell me more about that model? Sarah McIlroy: The lines between virtual and physical worlds are becoming more blurred, especially for the young generation. There is not a lot of online creativity to offline products, so it’s a major element that makes us unique. We enable kids to create a customized, quality product at a reasonable price.
Women 2.0: What entrepreneur do you admire? Sarah McIlroy: There are a lot. Everyone has an amazing story whether they're raising their first round or entrepreneurs trying to bootstrap. We’re all working countless hours to drive our businesses to the next level. I’m inspired by Jules Pieri who runs Daily Grommet.
Women 2.0: What’s the best thing about being a female entrepreneur? Sarah McIlroy: Being able to craft your own success. It's a challenge balancing it all: family and career. I see it done well by peers. It's empowering. Your children can see your dream come to reality.
Women 2.0: What’s the hardest thing about being a female entrepreneur? Sarah McIlroy: Balancing career and family.
Women 2.0: What is your best tip for new entrepreneurs? Sarah McIlroy: I try really hard to be home in the evening to be with my kids. All entrepreneurs work the second shift [from 8pm to 2am] anyway.
Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. Photo credit: Jenn Vargas on Flickr. About the guest blogger: Doreen Bloch is the author of The Coolest Startups in America, and Founder and CEO of Poshly (launching in 2012). Doreen is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, where she was awarded the Jack Larson Fellowship for Entrepreneurship & Innovation. Doreen is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council, and she regularly contributes to Forbes Women, The Huffington Post and more. Follow her on Twitter at @DoreenBloch.