Stella & Dot founder Jessica Herrin is, in many ways, an entrepreneur in the traditional sense. After completing a bachelor’s degree in economics from Stanford University, she dropped out of business school to co-found her own e-commerce start up, WeddingChannel.com.
As a young female founder, Herrin found herself fielding questions from other women looking to start their own businesses.
“I found that when I was asked for advice, I would think to myself: ‘Whatever you do, don’t do what I did,’” Herrin told CO—. “It takes so much time and money and [many] obligations, you can end up with a business that runs you rather that you running it.”
Herrin became obsessed with the idea of creating another, better way for women to earn money on their own terms, without sacrificing too much. Now, she’s the founder and CEO of Stella & Dot, a family of e-commerce brands and over 30,000 ambassadors that aims to redefine social selling for a new generation.
Previously focused on in-home events, Stella & Dot disrupted its own business model last year, with a strategic pivot into digital-enabled selling and the merging of its three distinct sub-properties: its namesake accessories brand, jewelry brand Keep and skincare brand Ever.
Though the move was inspired by the consumer trends Herrin observed around online and mobile shopping, it has also put the business in a much better position to weather the coronavirus pandemic.
Never has digital been more important than it is now, Saisangeeth Daswani, head of advisory, fashion, beauty and APAC at trends intelligence firm Stylus, told CO—. “Beyond physical points, such as in-store spaces, pop-ups and trunk shows, social-selling tools will emerge as a powerful way for brands to virtually bring communities together to buy.”
At this time, we’re doing everything we can as a business to keep our employees safe.
Jessica Herrin, founder and CEO, Stella & Dot
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“Stella & Dot came to me out of my desire to reinvent flexible work for women,” Herrin explained.
“When I looked around at the world, I found what I thought to be pretty dated approaches to work-from-home businesses. [I thought], if you had both a great product and great technology, could you help people earn more in less time?” And a new approach to social selling was born.
Part of the challenge for Stella & Dot has been disabusing people of the notion that it’s a multi-level marketing company. Unlike those companies, many of which saddle sellers with more merchandise than they can realistically sell, Stella & Dot requires just a small investment for ambassadors to start taking orders, she says.
After an ambassador’s initial $199 buy-in, the company then handles all inventory, fulfillment and returns directly with the end customer. Ambassadors receive a 40% commission on each purchase, as well as incentives related to sales goals and referrals, paid out weekly.
“It used to be that people thought of this as something for a 1950s housewife,” Herrin said, “but now you’ll find professionals at all levels realizing that having another income stream is a smart way to operate.”
Community and caring amid the coronavirus
According to Herrin, Stella & Dot owes much of its success to the power of community. For one, its ambassadors, she said, don’t need to be skilled salespeople. In fact, they drive more sales with product reviews and personal recommendations to their social circles.
The broad community of sellers, only 10% of which are full time, support each other in online communities, and the company offers courses via its “Self-Made University” on everything from time management to TikTok.
“Consumers want to feel a part of the brands they buy from, and in the current climate of living and socializing virtually, community has never been more important,” Daswani said. “Brands need to be asking themselves what their proposition is, how they can engage and empower their consumer bases and show they are about more than Instagram-friendly product.”
The impact of the global coronavirus outbreak makes Stella & Dot’s business model particularly relevant. With over 20,000 new unemployment claims filed in the U.S. over the past few weeks, people are looking for new and more flexible sources of income.
Just months ago, customer messaging was about the value of having a fun and flexible side gig. Now, Stella & Dot’s ambassadors are coming to the company with an urgency that reminds Herrin of the recession in 2008. To cater to new ambassadors looking for a low-risk way to make money as quickly as possible, the company is promoting a popular six-month financing option, with no interest and plenty of community support along the way, she said.
When it comes to future growth for Stella & Dot, Herrin makes it clear that she is intensely focused on weathering the present moment. “I think all businesses are engaged in future-proofing right now, and making a lot of difficult decisions about what’s right for the business and the employees,” she said. “At this time, we’re doing everything we can as a business to keep our employees safe.”
However, that’s not to say that she doesn’t have big goals in mind. Among them, Herrin hopes to build Stella & Dot into a more open-source platform for other brands to use as a new sales channel. Theoretically, she says, brands unhappy with sales at more traditional channels, such as brick-and-mortar merchants and department stores, could tap into the Stella & Dot ambassador base to grow their own audiences.
Regardless, she believes future success for any business will be largely reliant upon smartly leveraging technology to build personal connections with customers. “A lot of businesses aren’t asking the question, ‘Is this experience good enough for the customer?’” Herrin said. “‘Are you doing something that Amazon cannot?’”
“The joy of in-person connection will never go away, but the world is forever changed,” Herrin said, predicting that the more people realize they can be productive from home, the less they may be interested in returning to the office five days a week. “More people will want to be reliant on their own plan B.”
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Published April 29, 2020