If you can quickly move past failure and learn from your mistakes, your company will become significantly more useful for customers and resilient going forward.
Brett Northart, Co-founder and President of LE TOTE, has established himself within the start-up ecosystem as both an investor and advisor. Northart’s career has been highlighted by his extensive work with entrepreneurs and rapidly growing companies within the eCommerce, mobile and digital media spaces. He counts over six years of experience in technology-focused investment banking and private equity.
Prior to founding LE TOTE, Northart worked as an investment banker at Ridgecrest Capital Partners. The private, San Francisco-based investment bank provides M&A, capital raising and financial restructuring advisory services for leading technology companies. He also previously worked as an analyst in the private equity group at Bainbridge Capital, followed by his role as and analyst in the Technology Investment Banking group at Nollenberger Capital Partners (Sterne, Agee & Leach, Inc.).
Inspired by the numerous entrepreneurs he had the opportunity to work alongside, Northart wanted to pursue his own entrepreneurial aspirations, prompting the 2012 launch of LE TOTE, a fashion rental service for women. “I’m no longer content standing on the sidelines. I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to dive in and start a company myself,” says Northart. “At this point, I’m both personally and professionally ready to create a meaningful business.” His passion for the ecommerce space coupled with his long-time interest in fashion lead to the creation of a business at the intersection of the two dynamic industries.
A lifelong entrepreneur, Northart established a company offering CPR education and certification to local businesses and community members while still in college. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science & Economics from the University of California, San Diego.
An avid skier and traveler, he currently lives in San Francisco, CA.
What are you working on right now?
Right now my focus is on LE TOTE, an online women’s fashion rental service offering access to unlimited designer quality apparel and accessories for only $49 a month.
Where did the idea for Le Tote come from?
Between work, brunch, parties, and big events I saw my girlfriend constantly buying a stream of clothing that she would wear once and then it would forever disappear into the abyss at the back of her closet. I started asking a number of women if they did the same thing and the resounding feedback was that they constantly felt like they had “a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear”. We thought there had to be a better way to provide variety without adding to the clutter in your closet. Thus the idea for Le Tote was born.
What does your typical day look like?
What I love about working at LE TOTE is that there’s no such thing as “typical”. Each day brings a new adventure from arranging a photo shoot, to creating content for the website, to designing a better system to fulfill orders for our members. I’d say that the one constant is our team, and we’ve done a great job so far of building a team of amazingly talented people that bring unique abilities to the table.
How do you bring ideas to life?
We have a really collaborative workspace, which is so helpful for turning ideas into reality. Our team is constantly discussing new features, laying out goals on one of our many whiteboards and planning where to devote our time and energy. There’s a fine line between thoughtful analysis and just plain overthinking. We’re firm believers in making informed decisions and then iterating quickly based on user feedback.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The rise of collaborative consumption has been amazing to see. The idea of having access to something without the need to own it has really taken hold over the past few years with the rise of services like Airbnb, TaskRabbit and GetAround.
For LE TOTE, we noticed that most women grew up sharing clothes and loved borrowing pieces from their friends closets. Whether for a night out or special occasion, the idea of a shared closet wasn’t foreign to them at all. Our target demographic is extremely enthusiastic about accessing an infinite closet with the opportunity to get clothing and accessories on demand as often as they like.
What was the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
I spent a summer doing inside sales at a real estate firm and it was the toughest job I’ve ever had. Knowing that 99% of the time you get someone on the phone they will turn you down, hang up or go on a profanity laced tirade is extremely daunting. However, learning to move past that rejection and persevere was one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in business. Starting a company is about fighting a constant uphill battle strewn with naysayers and rejection. I definitely would not be nearly as well prepared for the ups and downs of entrepreneurship without that experience under my belt.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
So many things I don’t even know where to begin! But the trial and error process is the best way to refine your business. If you can quickly move past failure and learn from your mistakes, your company will become significantly more useful for customers and resilient going forward.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
For a business like ours, customer feedback is extremely important. Co-founder Rakesh Tondon and I answer a lot of customer support emails ourselves because it help us understand what people enjoy about the service and where the pain points are. Directly interacting with paying users gives us the knowledge to make better decisions regarding the future of the business. I would highly recommend that execs in any size business spend some time with users getting direct feedback, whether it is in person, on the phone, or via email. We’ve made some of our most important decisions based on comments received directly from customers.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In the earliest stages of building LE TOTE, we were definitely over-planners. At a certain point we realized that the only way we would be able to test our hypotheses was to let people use the service and figure out what worked. Once we stopped focusing internally and ran an alpha test we were able to considerably improve the business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
http://itsthisforthat.com/ Tells me “New Social Platform for Pandas” is pure gold
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Right now we’re 100% focused on changing the way that women think about their closets.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
Google Apps – The one online tool I use the most would have to be Gmail. Our whole team is also always on gchat and we can stay in touch quickly from anywhere.
Asana – Asana is an awesome task management tool that keeps our whole team organized. So much would fall through the crack if we didn’t use it. Oh and its free, which is a huge plus for a fledgling company!
Instagram – Keeps me connected with friends and there’s awesome behind the scenes pics from leading fashion brands. I love the UI and there’s way less noise than FB.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky is an amazing book outlining how to get things done day in and day out. It focuses heavily on releasing products and iterating based on user feedback, which is something we believe in strongly.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Jason Goldberg from Fab is one of the brightest minds in ecommerce today @betashop
Steve Parker has amazing insights into the retail / fashion world and is constantly posting relevant articles @retailsails
Also, everyone should obviously follow @le_tote :)
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I’m pretty much laughing all the time. Life gets way too boring if you can’t find humor in the little things.
Who is your hero?
My grandmother who recently passed was an amazing woman with such a passion for life. I try to approach each day with the same enthusiasm that she had.
What gets you out of bed each morning?
The opportunity to work with amazing people on a service that I’m incredibly passionate about. I love that there’s new challenges every day and I can’t wait to tackle them.