Going It Alone… to VC or Not to VC?

Written by Ryan Hill on Apr 07, 2017

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As an Associate Director and Head of the Commercial & Technology Practice at EO, I get the opportunity to regularly meet with leading industry experts and uncover the key trends and movements that are happening in the market. It is no secret that launching a businesses is a daunting and challenging process.

So, to uncover the true secrets that come with that journey I met with Sarah McVittie- co-founder of Dressipi, a London based fashion technology start up that offers women a truly tailored shopping
experience.

Through owning an unrivaled and comprehensive view of how millions of women shop and dress, Dressipi is a data-driven business which provides its personalisation technology to some of the UK’s leading retailers including Shop Direct, John Lewis, Arcadia Group and M&S.

A serial entrepreneur, Sarah built her first business (Texperts) inspired by her first job working as an analyst at an investment bank. Texperts sold in 2008 to its largest competitor (kgb), but after moving to New York to work for the acquiring company, Sarah quickly realised she missed the excitement that came from building her own business. She resigned and came back to the UK to start Dressipi in 2009 with business partner Donna North.

Sarah reflects on her journey:

How did you manage to fund rapid growth without help?

Since we launched Dressipi in 2011, we have doubled our revenue year-on-year and we are now a multi-million pound business. So far, Donna and I have decided against pursuing the VC route to fund our growth and, instead, have focused on building a product that is genuinely “best of breed” in our space and on our network of amazing angel investors. It's not as if we haven't raised money, we have. We've raised over £3m of angel funding but this has been the most appropriate route for us given how we have chosen to build our product and grow our business.

We have a truly brilliant team of very dedicated people, most of whom have been with us since the early days. We have a clear and shared vision for the business and the product that we are building and keeping really focused on those quarterly goals has been key to our success. We won our first few clients pretty early on and then spent quite a bit of time and money really investing in the team, the product and services that we offer to our client base. We now have one of the best products on the market and so we are now starting to scale out our commercial operations.

Who did you / do you turn to for business advice?

Both Donna and I have different people that we go to for business advice. Lord Stuart Rose is our Chairman and is always a good person to get advice from. Within our angel investor group, we have some brilliant and very experienced individuals who have worked very closely alongside us and have given us some excellent advice along the way. On a personal level, I also have some network that I am part of, for example, the Female Founders network of incredible women that I met on a trip to Silicon Valley last year as part of Sherry Coutu's SVC2UK programme - we are still in touch daily and they are an amazing source of advice and friendship.

What would be your 3 top tips for aspiring female entrepreneurs?

  1. Be true to your vision
  2. Follow your gut
  3. Tenacity is key

How did you BD into key retailers without having a strong network / relationship?

We have been lucky that between Donna, Lord Rose, our other investors and myself, we do have a pretty strong network. We are also bloody-minded and determined, and this is where the tenacity comes in. We have really worked on the value proposition and on how we target and approach the retailers for whom we are pretty confident we can make a big difference to. We have also had some excellent mentoring from someone who is very well respected in the sales enterprise SAAS industry, that has made a massive difference to how we run our sales process and the results that we are now getting! Still a long way to go but we are making great progress.

What are the key benefits of managing your own business?

There are so many. You get to work with really excellent people who are all as invested in the vision of what you are building as you are. You get to wake up in the morning feeling excited (and sometimes a bit scared!) of what the day holds - no one day is ever the same! You have the ability to build a culture that you believe in and that represents values that are important to you. It is incredibly rewarding to build something from scratch, especially when all that hard works starts to payoff...

What are the challenges?

It is hard! You don't know what you don't know and even when you surround yourself with excellent advisers and mentors, things can often take longer than you hope! It is also key is to keep focused and not to be distracted.

If you would like to learn more about Sarah's journey, connect with her on Linksarah.jpgedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-mcvittie-61884a7/

My meeting with Sarah truly showed that with drive, focus and execution, you can take a simple idea and make an amazing product. She is an inspiration to any young female entrepreneur looking to execute their ideas. 

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