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The Gilt Factor

Q&A

If you had to short list female powerhouses you’d love to sit down to lunch with, Alexandra Wilkis Wilson—co-founder and chief merchandising officer of Gilt Groupe—is definitely one of them. Although this exec is probably too busy to ever sit down to lunch, she did make enough time for a quick chat before heading down to Miami (where she spends lots of time with her family) to give a talk at Books & Books, followed by a sold-out dinner at Makoto. We caught up with Wilkis Wilson to discuss her new book, By Invitation Only, which she wrote with Gilt Groupe co-founder Alexis Maybank.

By Tali Jaffe

What motivated you to write By Invitation Only?
We took the time to write this book because we really feel very passionately about entrepreneurship, and inspiring entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinking within larger organizations. And we hope in putting together in a very honest account our thoughts for readers, our dream is to help improve the chances of success of more businesses. And nothing excites us more than to see more women start businesses. We hope they get the funding they need and the support they need. And we hope we can help with that.

It’s a great read! Did you enjoy writing it?
Thank you. We had a lot of fun writing the book together. It actually took us a long time—it was about two years—which is really long for us because we’re used to working in an environment where things move a lot faster.

And what was the process like?
Alexis and I worked with a third party who helped to organize us, and help us find the voice. It’s quite hard to write a book with two voices. But it was definitely collaborative, and we hope we struck the right tone.

And with your very busy schedules, how did you make time to work on the book?
We met every Thursday morning—that was our special day. We met very early for a few hours. And then we devoted weekends to writing and rewriting.

And how did you refine the chapters. It’s organized in a very unique way.
Well, the person we worked with would often ask us questions to get us thinking sort of free form. And then we’d write down our thoughts, and sometimes those answers would lead to other stories that we knew we wanted to include, and that we thought the readers would enjoy.

One of the things you touch on throughout the book is how rewarding the success of the company was having achieved it with someone you’re so close to.
Building a business with a friend has been an amazing process. We also acknowledge the fact that it can’t be any friend. Our relationship really developed in business school, which was a great environment to develop a business mind in. You definitely have to think about whom you’re looking to start a business with.

Do you think you woud have the same success with Gilt if the two of you didn’t have the established relationship beforehand?
I think it was a great asset to the company to have that level of trust from day one. It’s certainly not the only way to start a successful business, but it definitely helped to be starting from a secure place.

It was fun to read about your sample sale adventures in New York. Are you still a bargain hunter?
Oh yes! Absolutely. I still love a sample sale as much as I ever did. I don’t get to go as often as I’m much busier. But I still indulge.

Can you take us through the stages of development at Gilt?
Initially we launched with women’s fashion in November 2007. Six months later we launched menswear. Summer 2008 we tested children’s and home. Then we went into Spring 2009 in Japan. Then Jetsetter in the fall. Local city experiences through Gilt City, then Gilt Taste, Park & Bond and really what we’ve been doing is expanding across luxury lifestyle categories and just following our consumer in all of the areas where he or she spends money. Currently we have more than 5 million users.

What part of the company is seeing the most growth now?
Mobile is an incredibly important part of our business. It’s growing at an exponential rate and is one of the most exciting parts of the business.

You’ve credited timing as being a large part of your success when Gilt Groupe launched. Can you recall any time where it worked against you?
I think we’ve been very fortunate with our timing. I will recognize that we have had a lot of competition in all areas. They came quickly after we launched. It’s not something we can control, but it keeps us on our toes and stay innovating, experimenting, delighting and surprising our customers.

Quickly:
Seasonal staples: White jeans, Sunglasses and new summer wedges
 
Summer must-haves? Bright colors even a touch of neon if you are bold!
 
Favorite designer? That's tough. I am spoiled by all the access I have from Gilt Groupe, but Vera Wang, Marc Jacobs, Lanvin, Posen and Valentino are some of my faves
 
Weekend uniform? Ballerina flats, jeans and jersey tops.
 
Fitness regimen? I just started FlyWheel. I love it!
 
Travel essential? My mini travel steamer.

Beauty tricks? Facial once a month, sunblock, glycolic pads and Bobbi Brown makeup galore!
 
Last book you read? By Invitation Only! I still can't believe we wrote a book!
 
Paper, Kindle, iPad? Paper. With books I am old school.
 
On Sunday morning, you are... Super mom! "Up and at em" early with my family!
 
This summer you'll be... In Key Biscayne as much as possible!

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