What do a fashion-forward Bikram yoga devotee and her sporty twin sister do when they can’t source the stylish, high-end activewear they’re after? Curate a covetable online offering for themselves, of course. Fast-forward four years, and this original pain point has morphed into a mighty profitable business.
“I think we’ve built a business which can sit alongside other Australian success stories,” says Julie Stevanja of Stylerunner, which she launched in 2012 with her sister Sali. The site, which Julie believes was the first in the world to aggregate fashionable sportswear labels, was born from a perceived lack of emerging activewear labels and an absence of on-trend options from the major sportswear players.
“There were the major big brands, which we loved, Nike, Adidas and Puma, but if I wanted something a bit different to mix it up, I couldn’t find anything,” she says.
Today, Stylerunner boasts more than 70 brands, and has shipped to 1000 cities in more than 100 countries. In 2016 the business is forecast to double its 2015 multimillion turnover and, according to Julie, the business has grown ten-fold in the past two years in terms of traffic to the site, page views and sales. But the exponential growth of the brand wasn’t the only evolving aspect of business that Julie had to manage.
At our first Kick. Start. Smart. event in Sydney earlier this year, Julie opened up about a few of the hard lessons she learnt as a manager early on. “I just love to get into my office and sit at my computer and get stuff done, but when we started to hire people, I’d say, ‘Hi guys!’ and just sit down at my computer and work all day,” said Julie. “Over time, I realised that they felt a little bit scared to approach me or they felt I didn’t love them – and there was nothing further from the truth.”
Realising her shortcomings (and taking practical steps towards fixing them) was Julie’s key to success.
“I was a terrible manager and I just didn’t know it,” she said. “I just wanted to get to my computer and do my work and I thought everyone was the same but of course, we’re not, we’re all different. So I had to learn how to be a great manager and to set the time aside and spend time checking in with people.”
Julie’s go-to strategy is a regular focused check-in with opened-ended questions. “We have one-on-ones now and the first question I ask is, ‘Where are you on a scale of one to 10?’. Because if your staff are feeling a ‘four’, you need to know about that early so you can work out what the reason for that is and what can you do to change that. We work on that [by asking], ‘What can we do to get you to a 10?’”