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Book Review: By Invitation Only

chacin-maybankBy Invitation Only is an excellent read for any woman interested in finance, fashion, technology, and start-ups. Told in the voice of Gilt Groupe founders and MBA Harvard grads Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilson, By Invitation Only is an enjoyable read that draws readers in with frank professional how-to tips based on business and life experiences.

Maybank, who came from the tech space, and Wilson, who worked in high-end retail, could not have been a more perfect team of founders for their startup Gilt Groupe. In just four years after its inception, Gilt revolutionized both the fashion and e-commerce industries, attracted five million members to its website, and earned a $1 billion valuation.

They created a unique shopper experience online where buyers through member-only private sales were given exclusive access to couture brands previously only accessible through close-knit circles and department stores such Saks Fifth Avenue.

Maybank and Wilson flourished by meeting the pressing needs of fashion designers and consumers that few realized existed. Following the sub-prime mortgage crisis of 2007 and 2008, the retail market was down and high-end designers needed a reputable space to discount their surplus that would not tarnish their name brands.

At the same time, consumers were pinched at the pocketbook, and Gilt was the happy medium which met both designer and consumer needs in a space that maintained the exclusivity and femininity of a private sale, yet was steeply discounted to the consumer.

What I personally find so remarkable about the company itself is how its founders developed a strategy to leverage their contacts and experiences in a downturn market to create a recession proof company while amassing loyal followers akin to a large social networking site.

Gilt’s founders found a need and met the need, which is why I believe they were so successful from the start. They catered to the needs of an already established clientele and simply created a new avenue for retailers to reach out to customers and make new ones altogether.

Today, Gilt is more than an e-commerce site. Gilt Groupe capitalizes on consumer data to market to each of their members individually based on their “likes,” “dislikes,” and buying patterns, almost as if assigning a personal fashion guru to each client and then sending them a shopping list of items which the consumer can peruse. Gilt Groupe has the finesse and unique knowledge to send out 2,000 different versions of its daily newsletter to its more than 3 million members in a unique way that only their consumer data could inform them.

Gilt is a very exciting fashion/tech platform from which students like myself can learn a lot from. By reading By Invitation Only, you’ll learn that while Maybank and Wilson are highly educated businesswomen and best friends, they started their academic career a lot like you and me.

As hard workers with many talents, both women knew how to keep things balanced and learned growing up that it was not always what they knew, but who they knew that determined just how far their business goals would take them.

I encourage any college student undergrad or MBA student to read this book because it almost allows the reader to put themselves into both Maybank and Wilson’s shoes for a moment to digest what it takes to be a businesswoman, grow an idea, and start a Fortune 500 company.

Nicole Chacin is a Chicago native and student at the George Washington University where she studies business administration. Nicole aims to obtain a dual masters degree in Law and Business Administration by 2017 and ultimately dreams of working in health policy and administration. This is Nicole’s 2nd year writing for Forté as she had the opportunity to learn about the organization through the first Forté C2B Leadership Conference.

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