Julie Stevanja, The Founder of Stylerunner, On Being An Entrepreneur

Our Q&A with Julie Stevanja, the founder of Stylerunner and a role model to entrepreneurs everywhere!

Julie Stevanja, The Founder of Stylerunner, On Being An Entrepreneur

Vistaprint Australia recently polled more than 2,000 Australians on their career and business ambitions, and found that 25% of millennials currently own their own businesses with a further 41% planning to do so in the future. This is compares with just 14% of over 35s who own their own businesses and 15% planning to do so.

We talked to Julie Stevanja – the mega-successful founder of Stylerunner, who is also the campaign Ambassador of Vistaprint – about her journey as an entrepreneur, owning a tech business, and the challenges that entrepreneurs face. Here are her insights:

Besides a need for sportswear fashion online, was there anything else that triggered the idea to start Stylerunner?

Besides the need for a more fashionable curation of sportswear for women, I also thought the market needed an experience and community designed by women for women.

So many sports retailers had been very masculine in their approach, they even had a term for their approach to women’s retail – “pink it and shrink it”.

It was an insult to be an afterthought. I wanted to bring women a range and an experience that made them feel special and valued.

So many sports retailers had been very masculine in their approach, they even had a term for their approach to women’s retail – “pink it and shrink it”

Did you always know you wanted to start your own business?

I always thought I might start something myself, though what form that would take was always unknown. When I was living in London and became addicted to Bikram yoga, I discovered a genuine lack of options in the market for what I, as a consumer, was looking for. This really was the light-bulb moment for me, and my entrepreneurial drive kicked in and I knew this was the idea I had been looking for.

I was working for a start-up in the tech industry at the time so this environment was also of great benefit to me. I was watching people have ideas and bring them to life each day which gave me more confidence to try it myself.

I’ve read that, ideally, you’d just like to be called a CEO or an entrepreneur (instead of a “female entrepreneur”). What role do you think gender plays in being an entrepreneur?

I agree that it would be great if we lived in a world where gender wasn’t really an issue or even a topic. A CEO should be a CEO regardless of whether they are male or female. At this moment in time, however, we (as women) don’t have the equality in the workplace we deserve, so I think it is important for me to embrace this term and use it to encourage conversation around female leaders. True change can happen with more visibility and the more females in powerful positions, the louder our collective voices become.

It would be great if we lived in a world where gender wasn’t really an issue or even a topic. A CEO should be a CEO regardless of whether they are male or female

What were the challenges you faced, specifically as a woman starting her business?

There were times when being a woman was definitely a disadvantage along my journey. For example, most VC teams I met with were entirely male, and didn’t care much about women’s fashion or even understand it.

I remember saying something along the lines of ‘our solution is like an ASOS for activewear’, thinking ASOS would be a relevant example for them as it was a stock market darling at the time, trading at unprecedented multiples. The response I got was “what’s an ASOS?” It was then I realised I had to check all of my own assumptions. We were speaking two different languages.

Were there advantages as well…perhaps being a niche minority?

There are times the “boys club” culture feels alive and kicking, and you feel like an outsider, but sometimes being a minority can work to your advantage. With gender diversity such a focus for organisations now, there is a particular eye out for strong female talent that would perhaps have been overlooked in the past.

The greatest advantage in being part of the niche, however, has been really knowing the customer. If you’re looking to serve women – who knows us better than we do?!

The greatest advantage in being part of the niche, however, has been really knowing the customer. If you’re looking to serve women – who knows us better than we do?!

On Women Love Tech, we like to feature women in STEM fields (since we’re such a minority). As someone who didn’t have a tech background, was it challenging to build a business that was primarily online? How did you manage that part of the business?

I love seeing Women in STEM too because we’ll see huge growth and opportunities continue to present themselves in this area. If we’re under-represented, we won’t be contributing to its development or enjoying the rewards.

I didn’t have a tech background per se, but I did always have a love for tech, maths, and sciences, and my first degree was in science. I didn’t stick with it, as I couldn’t see a career path I wanted to follow in this space.

I’m just one of thousands of women who could have applied themselves to STEM but didn’t, for multiple reasons – the exclusion, lack of diversity and feeling like you belong, lack of role models.

The key is to find more of these women who are naturally suited to and interested in STEM, and ensuring they are better informed and supported on this path.

Given my love of technology, it wasn’t hard for me to immerse myself in the tech/e-commerce industry and learn as much as I could. I attended conferences, met up with CTOs and VCs in the space, read journals, signed up for newsletters and followed thought leaders on Twitter.

I attended conferences, met up with Chief Technology officers and Venture Capitalists in the space, read journals, signed up for newsletters and followed thought leaders on Twitter

I threw myself into it and loved every minute.

What’s the most important trait an entrepreneur can and should have? What skills should potential business-owners build on or develop?

Without a doubt – resilience. You can’t let mistakes keep you down, in fact, expect to make a lot of them, and see them as data points to learn and improve from.

“FAIL FAST” in other words, but always keep going. There will be so many times you’ll want to give up. Resilience is often the difference between those that do and those that don’t go onto achieve great things.

According to the Vistaprint study, only 14% of over-35’s own their own businesses and just 15% are planning to start a business. What advice would you give, especially to women over 35 who may have flirted with the idea of having their own business, but are daunted by the fear of failure, societal and familial pressures etc.?

My advice is to get comfortable with the worst case scenario before you start. Speak to your family and friends and ask if they’ll support you whatever the outcome. While you may confront feelings of failure, embarrassment, and needing to start from scratch, the more you reflect on it, you realise its not the worst thing in the world. Most of the world’s greatest successes, also had huge failures before they got there. If you can get comfortable with the worst case scenario, you’ll cope with the pressure a lot better.

Most of the world’s greatest successes, also had huge failures before they got there. If you can get comfortable with the worst case scenario, you’ll cope with the pressure a lot better

Once you’ve mustered the courage, be smart about every dollar you spend! Read the ‘Lean Startup’ by Eric Ries for a crash course on being frugal and testing your concept before you invest in the house!

Sneha Khale
With a background in Psychology and Criminology, Sneha has spent the past several years working in the travel and tech industries. As a writer and editor, she's most interested in developing content which is at the intersection of pop culture, gender, and contemporary lifestyle. "Don't let your 'to do' list get longer than your Netflix 'to watch' queue," is her philosophy for 2018.

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