I was introduced to Lizzy Klein by Nancy Lublin, a woman who I truly respect. We also seem to have the same taste when it comes to women and business. I took a look at what Lizzy is building (and has built), Super Duper, a platform where you can purchase the same high end brand make-up products for less. The reality is that your favorite Chanel red nail polish is more than likely made at the same plant as the private label products sold by your local drugstore.
I spoke to Lizzy about her career. Her career has always moved upward and forward. Her experiences have all been interesting. Then she came to that crossroad where she thought about all the information she has acquired and perhaps it made sense this time to do it herself. This is a story about evolution as much as it is a story about becoming a woman entrepreneur.
Lizzy grew up in Columbia, Maryland when it was a really rural town. She said she went to high school in the cornfields. Her parents were both civil employees. Her father worked for NSA most of his career. Her mother worked for the EPA. Lizzy spent her summers at camp until she began to work in summers including a stint in high school at the cosmetic counter at Woodward and Lothrop.
She graduated high school and went to Cornell where she majored in textile and apparel management. She did not go abroad but spent one semester of her senior year working for Marc Jacobs as an intern. He was at Perry Ellis at the time perfecting the grunge look. For the girl coming from Maryland who ended up at Cornell which was an eye opener being in NYC and working in the fashion industry was even more so.
After graduating in 1992 she took a job at Guess Jeans with the Marciano Brothers. She just knew she wanted to be in the business fashion. One of the things that these jobs required, unwittingly, were results. As a merchandiser everything is based on results. It is one of the things that I have always loved about the business. You can sink or swim quickly. You become scrappy. Lizzy would show up in a store and think about how to drive more sales from the second she hit the floor. Do we do give aways to employees, should we set up a separate store inside a store, should we show the merchandise in a certain way, etc. She oversaw merchandising for NY, Connecticut and NJ. She quickly realized that she was working about 3 times as hard as everyone else in her job because of the territory she oversaw and realized it was never going to get any better. She left and took a job with a competitor, Pepe Jeans.
At Pepe she moved into sales. She wanted to understand the business from a different angle. It was a little crazy back then. There were drugs, drinking and anything else you can imagine in the workplace. The jeans business was a wild business back then. I remember that from my Macy’s days. She stayed for about a year until they evolved into something else and she got a call from Time Warner.
Her uncle had a business in the cable industry and had passed on her name. Time Warner was launching Dream Shop that was part of Catalog One, on demand television shopping. Nobody there really understood merchandising. She had a great woman boss there who realized that Lizzy was underutilized. She told her bosses that they should think about taking this concept of on demand shopping through TV and put it on the Internet. What started as Catalog One became something else. She worked with Razorfish to execute on a plan. She began to work with multiple catalogs and put them on line. It was one of the places where you did everything from soup to nuts. One day you would be working on Unix and the next day you would be working on customer service. It was a wild ride and a great opportunity. The only problem was her Mom was probably their number one customer and that was certainly not sustainable.
She was then recruited by MSNBC in a job around content. Lizzy cared more about commerce than content but wanted to learn about that angle. She took the job as a content manager for MSNBC. She would provide content for television programming and her counterpart in Seattle was creating new content. They were quasi-producers. She takes credit for the first time that Tom Brokaw said and you can go check this out online. The content online that he was driving viewers to was the top ten dangerous driving spots which were relevant to you in your area. They had created an interactive map. It was the first time that any major network said you can go check this out online. Nobody really had a sense then of how big that was.
She was then recruited to work at Starmedia, which she says was the wildest ride of her career. I can attest to that because my husband was an investor in Starmedia. I knew all the players. They were all smart, driven and believed that they were changing the world. Lizzie was the director of Ecommerce. She came on just as they were starting to partner with companies in Latin America. When her boss went on maternity leave she took over all of content and ecommerce with the plan that she’d move into biz dev when her boss came back. That side of the business had 300 plus people working all over Latin America. What they did was continue to restructure based on some of the men in Latin America who could not deal with reporting to a woman. She finally had enough and told them. They then put Lizzy in a job where she could start to source out companies to purchase. She found a software company in Canada that powered one of their competitors that they ended up buying because they needed that software. This was a time when they had raised an insane amount of money and were just rolling up companies into the main company, Starmedia. Fast forward, the economy tanks, the ad market tanks, the company gets into major financial trouble and it is time to go.
It is 2001. Her father dies suddenly. It was a tough year and the wild ride needed to come to an end. After three years at Starmedia it was time to take a year off. She returns to the business world in 2002 taking a job at About.com. At About.com she worked on advertisers paying for placement ads based on the content. They owned a few patents around this. It was gave her great experience and a deep understanding of the search engine marketing world. About.com was acquired by Google who did not buy the team but the product. She stayed just doing some consulting work before ending up at Waterfront Media in Dumbo.
Waterfront Media became Everyday Health. The model was all subscription based. Lots of product challenges. WebMD was already in the market and so they had to be different. They became the top 5 health property today with a lot less money than their counterparts. The business was internet publishing which looked a lot like the book business. Running a web development company just was not that interesting to Lizzy as working with customers and so she moved on.
Zagat recruited her to be the General Manager of Interactive. Being the head of product was interesting because Zagat had an interesting brick and mortar business but they were yet to figure it out online. She was there a few years before they sold to Google.
She left Zagats to go work at Folica. Folica is a private company in the cosmetics space. She helped relaunch the brand that was driven by paid search. She realized that they were never going to get the big players to give them products such as L’Oreal so even though it is a profitable business it was time for her to leave after two years because she got the call from Seamless.
Seamless gave Lizzy the opportunity to work with a product that she already personally using in a big way. It was extremely challenging opportunity as they were working with an old technology platform but when you have a passionately engaged audience it makes the experience unique. It was the smartest group of people she had worked with since Starmedia and it felt great to be back with that. Someone gave her some advice during that time which is you only have to right 51% of the time. It transformed the way she did her job. I love that advice. Lizzy saw the merger of Seamless and Grub Hub coming. She knew she would no longer be in the board meetings and so it was time to move on.
This is when she thought to herself about how many companies she had worked at and how she worked so hard to make them all successful. She talked to so many people about possible CEO roles. Super Duper had been in her head for about the last 5 years. Perhaps it was time to just do it herself. She started building the product last October and launched it in March. It is about bringing transparency to the beauty product industry. She has had press from Pop Sugar and Allure. The app is free and has been dowloaded over 7500 times. The question is where does this business go. How does it grow into something big. Lizzy is working on figuring that out now.
What I love about this story is the evolution of Lizzie’s career. I can totally relate to her thoughts about making others successful with hard work and know-how. At one point, as Lizzie discovered, it is time to do it for yourself. Here is the beauty of that. It is doesn’t work there is always a very lucrative fall back situation in all the companies that called her for possibly being a CEO.