'Roll your sleeves up and muck in': The Outnet.com's Stephanie Phair on start-up life

Stephanie Phair, president of The Outnet.com, was hired to launch the Net-a-Porter spin-off site in 2009. She reveals some of the lessons learnt from driving The Outnet's growth into a leading ecommerce destination.

No doesn’t mean no – it just means yes, but later. When The Outnet.com started we faced several challenges in getting the ‘buy’ for the site. However, brands started to realise they couldn’t pretend that side of the business didn’t exist, and they had to embrace it. Everything online is visible – so it is better to have control over your image and put the product into the right context. The discount world can support the full-price model by educating the customer about what a great brand they are buying. Today, we stock more than 250 top designer brands.

When I hire someone, I love to hear they have experience in a start-up because it shows you know how to roll your sleeves up and muck in.

Be open-minded. The future is online and mobile – it’s such a dynamic and fast-paced environment, and the place to be now. The speed of innovation is remarkable and something that motivates and inspires me on a daily basis, as it is so exciting and full of choice.

There is a lot to be learned from working in a start-up company. About 10 years ago I was head of product merchandising for a start-up company, so I had many hats to wear. It was an invaluable experience and today when I hire someone, I love to hear they have experience in a start-up because it shows you know how to roll your sleeves up and muck in.

Never underestimate the power of PR. PR done well is like telling a story; it is a very effective tool. You can translate this to many other business needs.

Believe in yourself. When I started at The Outnet.com I was employee number two and quite a young manager. Everyone I managed was older than me, so I remember being a little intimidated but trying not to show it. One of the things I have learned is that being a manager doesn’t mean you have to know everything.

Treat others as you would like to be treated. Kindness and trust are invaluable attributes. When hiring, the question I always ask is: "Are they a nice person?" For me, having a nice personality is really important. Someone can have great skills and performance, but if they can’t build a relationship, then no one will want to work with them – and without relationships you can’t get ahead in business. 

You can only do well if you surround yourself with skilled people, and it is important to recognise and reward this. Some of the people around me do their jobs much better than I could.

Give credit where credit is due. My job is all about interacting with different people and learning from their talents. You can only do well if you surround yourself with skilled people, and it is important to recognise and reward this. Some of the people around me do their jobs much better than I could.

Always have a goal and ensure that it is well verbalised. A good leader is someone who helps people keep on the right track, knows where they are heading and sets the agenda. If you put your trust in employees and give them a longer leash, it is amazing what they will come back with.

Take any opportunity you can to travel. After university I moved to New York for 10 years. This was a big game-changer for me both on a personal and professional level. If you are fortunate enough to get the chance to travel, grab it with both hands. I love immersing myself in different cultures and, without a doubt, I am the person I am today because of my experiences overseas. Travel is something that inspires me and gets me up in the morning.

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