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Alee Pingol

It started as an issue that nearly every woman has experienced.

As Heidi Zak was browsing through her clothing drawers, she realized she had twelve bras that didn’t actually fit her. When she decided to take her dilemma to the retail stores, only one store, Victoria Secret, solved her problem.

At the time, Victoria Secret was the industry leader in intimate apparel for women. Sure, their products fit well, but the prices were overwhelmingly expensive, and Heidi knew that not every woman liked the Victoria Secret “look.”

With this realization in mind, Heidi set out to create a brand that catered to all kinds of women. Prioritizing comfort and fit, Heidi launched her own intimate apparel business, ThirdLove. Starting with $68 million in funds, ThirdLove now generates over $100 million in annual revenue, bumping the company’s valuation to approximately $750 million.

Over 12 million women have used ThirdLove’s personalization tool, Fit Finder, which determines the correct bra size for the shopper. But how did Heidi manage to create an overwhelmingly successful business with such a big competitor on her heels?

Learning How to Sell the Vision

Heidi had her idea, but now came the fun part: raising money.

In the early days of her business, Heidi had to learn how to properly pitch her business idea to investors. In an interview with Stripe, she explains how she accomplished her fundraising campaign by selling the big picture rather than focusing on all the little details.

“It’s not about what you’re going to execute on in the first year or the first three years, it’s about who you’re going to be in five or ten years,” Heidi says.

Heidi and her co-founder, Dave, realized that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to pitches. Each pitch conversation had to cater to different audiences. As they met with investors, the co-founders analyzed body language, eye contact, and how much interest they expressed.

Despite stumbling at the beginning, Heidi quickly got the hang of it. From meeting to meeting, the pitch changed slightly. “By the end of pitching for any of the rounds we raised, we were on fire. I could have done it in my sleep, with my eyes closed. I knew how to answer every single question.”

Experiencing Difficulty In Spreading the Message

After successfully raising three rounds and accumulating over $68 million in funds, Heidi turned her focus to attracting customers. Heidi knew women would love her business idea, but now she had to find profitable customers to buy her product.

In the beginning, ThirdLove experienced some difficulty in this area. With a CAC of $400, the company had to figure out how to acquire a larger consumer base—and fast.

“We had about 12 people at our company at the time. We were sitting around a table and the stakes were clear: if we don’t figure out how to acquire customers profitably, we’re going to go out of business in a year,” explains Heidi.

Their current marketing tactics weren’t working, and if anything, they were losing money. After all, women had been searching for the perfect bra for decades, only to be let down after each purchase. So, how was ThirdLove supposed to attract an audience and establish trust between the brand and the buyer?

Gaining a Loyal Consumer Base

Suddenly, Heidi’s team came up with what seemed like a bizarre idea: ThirdLove was going to feature a “Try Before You Buy” program. It was 2015, and at this time, practically no one had heard of such a concept …

“This is a program where you can pay $2.99, we’ll send you a bra, let you take the tags off, and actually wear it for 30 days. If you decide to keep it…you pay for it after the 30 days. And if you don’t love it, you send it back for free,” Heidi explains.

While it seemed like a risk at first, the idea took off, and it ultimately led to the creation of their second big marketing strategy, the Fit Finder. One of the major downsides to buying online is sizing. Buying a bra in-store was hard enough, but buying a bra online seemed impossible.

With the Fit Finder, a woman completes a 60-second quiz, answering questions about the size and fit of her current bras. After finishing, ThirdLove sends her an email with size and style recommendations according to the quiz results. Now, with both the Fit Finder and “Try Before You Buy” features, ThirdLove began to experience unprecedented growth.

Building an Elite Team of Employees

When it came to creating an optimizable company, Heidi faced one of the biggest challenges in hiring — plain and simple, finding great employees takes a lot of time, practice and patience.

The founders at ThirdLove had to analyze what they needed in an employee. This meant asking themselves questions like, What characterizes a successful person? Why do those traits make them successful? How can we utilize those traits?

Additionally, ThirdLove chose to do their own recruiting. Paying for a professional agency wasn’t worth the cost, and besides, “nobody knows your company like you do,” explains Heidi.

The Ingredients to Success

Saying “building a business is hard” would be an immense understatement, but for Heidi, every word is true. Creating an idea, incorporating that idea into a product, then learning how to sell it successfully is by no means easy. With ThirdLove, Heidi had an idea, but planning the execution took some time to learn.

Today, ThirdLove has gone on to sell more than just intimate apparel, featuring lines of loungewear, sleepwear, and pajama sets. Heidi looks back on her entrepreneurial journey and realizes that every challenge and obstacle was just another step towards success.

“Every entrepreneur goes through the journey. Success doesn’t happen overnight. Hard work, dedication, passion—that’s what’ll get you through the valley of death and onto the other side.”

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