Gilt’s Founders Talk Entrepreneurship, Book Tour, and Sample Sales

Can you believe Gilt Groupe has only been around since 2007? The 12PM weekday sales have become as much a part of our daily rituals as brushing our teeth, so it’s a bit staggering to think that the luxury flash sale mecca is a mere toddler of a website.

Last night the dynamic duo behind the e-commerce powerhouse that was valued at $1 billion last year, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson and Alexis Maybank, hosted a launch party and book signing for their new tome By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop at the W Hotel Downtown. We spoke with the pair about their motivations for putting pen to paper, their best advice for female entrepreneurs, and their book tour, which is now thoroughly underway.

We also learned an interesting tidbit about our own relationship with the site: turns out the woman who introduced (or, rather, invited) yours truly to Gilt was Wilkis Wilson’s college roommate. To which we say: New York has to be the smallest world ever. It’s rather frightening, actually.

When did you decide you wanted to write a book about all of your successes at Gilt Groupe?

AM: Two years ago, basically. It was a two-year project from start to finish. The reason we decided to write it was we were starting to get asked so many of the same questions when we traveled – from members, from other entrepreneurs, from head of householders who wanted to start something – they really gave us that moment where we thought, ‘Wow, we should really sit down and just document everything from the past four years.’ It was also a great exercise – every year at Gilt feels like 7 years, so it feels like a decade of transformation that we’ve been through.  But essentially we wanted to do it in the interest of spreading our stories and our experience we could help others with similar ideas.

Was there anyone in particular that inspired you while you were starting the business and working through all of the initial challenges?

AWW: There are so many people who have mentored us and inspired us along the way, but the genesis of Gilt Groupe in many ways was our love of sample sale shopping. We are customers of the site that we co-founded and we wanted to create a shopping experience that was designed for ourselves and for our friends who love designer fashion for amazing prices. Over the years we have expanded into pretty much all luxury lifestyle categories, which has been so fun and exciting – but it has only been four and a half years, which is always surprising.

Was it difficult writing collaboratively?

AWW: Well, we’ve done a lot just the two of us, so that’s part of why it took a while, too. We both have full-time jobs – I have a son, Alexis now has two children. So it is a lot, but it was important to us to get the message across to inspire other entrepreneurs, inspire entrepreneurial thinking in larger corporations, and really inspire thinking about women and women’s leadership.

Is there any advice you would like to give to women entrepreneurs specifically?

AM: Sure! In the book we go through many, many items and we use kind of a checklist format throughout from things like ‘how to raise capital’ to ‘forming your initial team’ to ‘thinking about how to manage a company that’s growing really, really quickly’’ to even how to think about your own personal style. We touch on a lot in there. One of my favorites, though, is thinking about how to develop your own personal ‘board of directors’ – not the official one, but those are the people in your life who can help give you really, really good advice. There are going to be a lot of hard topics, a lot of high moments, a lot of down moments, but you are going to need help for every one of them. So build that personal ‘board of directors’.

So this is the start of your book tour – is there anywhere you are particularly excited to visit?

AM: We’re so excited! We’ve been meeting so many people, many of them customers, many entrepreneurs, many people who work in technology, in retail, in marketing. There are nuggets of info for so many different types of people in different industries. We both love meeting people and I think we have about 15 or 20 cities to process so we’re looking forward to getting exposure not just to people who are interested in starting a business, but to members in all different parts of the country.

Anywhere you’ve never been?

AWW: Yes! To Seattle. I’ve never been to Seattle. Which is embarrassing to admit but I will admit it. So I can’t wait.

AM: I can’t say there are any first places but I never thought I’d be doing a book tour in London, where I’ll be for the Fourth of July.

AWW: We have gotten so fast on our signatures. We’ve signed several thousand books and it’s becoming more and more of a routine.

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