Calling in the big guns
Being passionate about your business idea is critical, but unless you can back it up with industry-specific expertise, you won’t get far.
Luke Watson, founder and managing director of DashLuxe, knows how important it is to seek out established players in your sector and take full advantage of their street cred.
Based in Sydney, DashLuxe is an invite-only private sales club, selling men’s and women’s fashion and design products.
DashLuxe works with Australian and international designers to bring its members new collections every week, with regular sale events that typically run for 72 hours.
Watson launched the business after returning to Australia from the United States.
“I’d been in Silicon Valley for four years, building companies over there. I came back to Australia [in 2010] because I wanted to live here,” he says.
“I spotted an opportunity for a premium private sales club focused on fashion, design and lifestyle products, on the basis that I’m intensely interested in such products but couldn’t find a great place to buy them.”
“I had a career in tech and I’d grown up in the fashion industry, so I thought I was a well-placed guy to build this business.”
“The approach I took was to have a prototype for the site in 10 hours. And then I set out to secure partnerships with a whole bunch of designers.”
Watson says while he was “super passionate” about DashLuxe, he soon realised he would need to enlist experts if he was to get anywhere in the industry, particularly when it came to designers.
“In retrospect, it’s a very, very slow path to try and do it all, all by yourself… I was standing at a tradeshow once, talking to every single designer and pitching, pitching, pitching,” Watson says.
“I remember standing there and thinking, you could shorten so much of this by having someone on your team who has already dealt with this from their perspective.”
Watson then faced a major challenge – how do you get industry heavyweights on board?
“I think part of it is you’ve got to sell that vision - ‘This is why I’m doing it and this is how’. Get those people engaged,” Watson says.
“[I recommend] starting with a more advisory approach – ‘Here’s why I’m doing this. What are your thoughts?’ Sell them on that dream and you never know where those conversations can go.”
Within the first few weeks of starting his business, Watson had an opportunity to meet with Harry Hodge, founder of Quiksilver Europe and chairman of Australian fashion label Ksubi.
“I had a meeting with him and said, ‘This is what I’m thinking of doing. What are your thoughts?’ He started giving me feedback,” Watson says.
“It took probably 10 meetings – all in the context of feedback and suggestions – and then I said, how would you feel about joining our advisory board?”
“From there, he progressively became more deeply involved in the business.”
While this worked with Hodge, Watson is quick to point out that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach, describing an entirely different story about another advisor, Grant Pearce.
Pearce is the men’s fashion director at Condé Nast and, according to Watson, has a “strong sense of trends and direction”.
“The story with Grant Pearce is that he’s based in Hong Kong,” Watson says.
“I managed to get a meeting with him one day and knew this wasn’t a whole series of meetings – I had to close the deal on the spot.”
In this situation, Watson’s advice is to remain agile and flexible, and pitch hard.
“If you have an opportunity, grab the opportunity… Understand the nature of that conversation and make sure you [close a deal] quickly or let it grow organically,” he says.
In addition to Hodge and Pearce, DashLuxe counts Helen Robbins and Rebecca Horn as advisors. Robbins is the managing director of Diesel, while Horn used to work for Myspace.
DashLuxe employs eight staff and has managed to double its revenue month-on-month for five consecutive months. Watson says it couldn’t have been done if the current team was not in place.
“There’s no way we could have scaled the business as quickly as we have without the influence of these sorts of people. We’re engaging with more and more top Australian brands,” he says.
“The fashion world is happening quite rapidly now, so we’re making sure we stay on top of that by working with more key brands. We will also start introducing other products onto the site.”