Anna Zornosa, Ruby Ribbons, Woman Entrepreneur

imgres-1Anna and I have known about each other for quite awhile but never had someone make the connection.  Once the connection was made we both jumped on it.  Her story of how she started Ruby Ribbon, climbing the corporate ladder to starting a direct sales business around shape-wear products is inspiring for all women.  I really did not know any of it until we spoke.  Somehow I thought that Anna was a first time founder who didn’t have that many work experiences behind her.  Totally wrong.  Her experiences are the key to her success.  Although that could be said for anyone.

Anna grew up in rural western Pennsylvania, about one and a half hours south of Pittsburgh.  It was a mining town that eventually become something else over time.  Growing up the town was super industrial.  Her father was an engineer who came from Columbia at 19 to pursue a better life.  Her Mom was your typical American housewife at the time raising 4 kids and managing the household.  Her Mom wanted to do more so she became an Avon lady.  At 5 years old, Anna was given the title VP of Operations for her Mom.  She immediately saw it as part of her DNA.  She loved putting the makeup in the bags and delivering it to the neighbors.

Anna was always entrepreneurial.  Her brothers had newspaper routes but that was deemed unladylike.  She convinced her parents to let her have a TV Guide route.  She developed her clientele when she was 14 by babysitting which was much more lucrative than the newspaper route.  She eventually sold her route to a neighborhood girl for 4 times EBIDA.  Gotta love that.  She sold everything from pot holders to magazines and would go to sleep every night thinking of new ways to make money.

After graduating from high school Anna spent two years at Penn State hoping to major in communications.  At that time she found the program not up to par and transferred to University of Wisconsin for the remaining two years.  She graduated there in 1980 and then went on to a masters program.  Before embarking on the masters program she took a six month journey to Mexico.  Anna participated in a think tank there that was focused on western advertising on Latin American indigenous women.  There was a lot of thinking at that time about the impact of western control over the communications and the impact.  She returned to Wisconsin to do her masters studying the changes in communication between cable and classic broadcasting.  She continued working in another think tank around remote learning during graduate school.

It was the start of change in media. Anna graduated and went to DC.  AT&T was breaking up and few people really understood the impact of the changes in the business model.  Anna began working as a journalist and began to see beginnings of a wireless network.  Her publication was based on Manhassett and so she moved to NYC as the Editor in Chief.  Quickly Anna realized that as the Editor in Chief she had no impact on the business so without ever having gone on a sales call she made the move to publisher.  She had zero sales experience so she transferred to Ziff Davis and became the publisher of PC Magazine and learned sales.  Kind of amazing she convinced everyone to let this happen.  It was 1994 and Anna moved out to the west coast where she over saw enterprise sales.  She got to know every client that Ziff had.  Her accounts were Microsoft and Intel to name a few and it was clear to her that they were all organizing themselves for something big in technology which ended up being the internet.

In 1995, Anna moved to internet services as the head of sales for Pointcast.  She stayed out west through 2011 working with various internet companies from big to small.  At one point she was a VP of Yahoo and also worked in the digital division of Knight Rider.  What she loved was viral models where customers recruited customers.  This was essentially modernizing the direct sales channel.

Her last stop was the EVP for the Cobalt group that was backed by Warburg Pincus.  She ran the division that was about the impact of the internet on the auto industry.  It was sold to ADP in 2010.  By 2011 the merger was complete and it was time to think about what is next.  Anna had multiple thoughts running through her head.  Do I do a turn around?  Do I retire?  She realized her personal love was really helping other women succeed, particularly entrepreneurial women.

Along the way she met Chantel Waterbury.  She invested in her business, Chloe and Isabel, and realized she really liked the support she gave to Chantel.  She wanted to continue down that path.  Around that time every single woman she talked to wanted to have a different relationship with their job.  Many that she spoke to had to deal with aging parents, they craved self development and she began to think about fractional labor.  What could she build to unleash an opportunity for an educated group of women who demanded flexibility from their jobs?  Anna wanted to build a company that could help women take control over how they work and she realized direct sales did that.  Then the question was, what was the product for that channel?

Anna began to do research.  Product fit was critical.  Today in retail due to ecommerce (for the most part) does not have the economics to allow for a customer to have a great service experience. Service is important.  Everyone she knew had bought something with shape-wear.  Spanx and Lululemon were just starting to percolate.  Anna thought for women it  is about feeling good and looking good.  Could she apply performance products to the other classics in a woman’s wardrobe.  How could you Lululemonize the rest of her closet?

Anna met Meg Boytnon the head of product strategy at Ann Taylor.  She liked the idea of what Anna was starting to work on and they began to dive into it together.  It took four years to get Meg to jump ship from Ann Taylor and join Ruby Ribbon but they figured it out.  They launched in 2012.  When they first launched it was about making sure the customers loving the product line.  Once they nailed that they began to build out the network from CA to NY.   Then in 2013 it was about the infrastructure to support a nationwide group of sales people.  Now it was about driving into national expansion.  There are over 1000 women selling in 48 states.  Each event sells more than the national average.  The repeat customer is huge, 9 out of 10 buy again.  There are also plenty of first time customers as they are growing.   The product resonates with women who are sharing their purchase with friends and sisters.  You can’t buy this at the department stores and that works.  Customer acquisition ends up being quite low.

The one thing that was most important to Anna when she launched Ruby Ribbon was culture.  She wanted to build a business where culture also drove the product.  It is impressive what Anna has built and continue to grow.  Her energy is contagious.  It is obvious Anna loves what she does. My guess is Anna still goes to bed every night thinking about other ways to make money but this time there is also a community component that has allowed her to make an impact on so many women who are part of Ruby Ribbon.