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One Kings Lane's Alison Pincus on the Importance of Coffee Dates and Asking for Help

One Kings Lane's Alison Pincus on the Importance of Coffee Dates and Asking for Help
Image credit: Alison Pincus
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Alison Pincus, along with Susan Feldman, seized an opportunity when they founded One Kings Lane in 2009: The recession. Looking to offer exclusive discounts and flash sales to users on curated high-end, vintage and designer home décor furniture and accessories, the ecommerce platform became a beloved brand during this down time. And it still is. This year, after raising $112 million, the company's valuation is approaching $1 billion. We caught up with Pincus to talk about the importance of doing your research, listening to your gut and not being afraid to ask for help.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting up? 

A:  As I look back, I wish I had better prioritized time against legal efforts, such as contracts and governance matters, as well as document management. When you’re first starting-up one’s to-do list is incredibly long and endless. There’s just never enough time to get it all done.

So for example, entrepreneurs who are not well versed in the law often rely on the expertise of others for contracts and governance guidance. Taking the time upfront to ask the really hard questions and to go deep on topics will save time and unnecessary burdens in the long run.  And it’s important to make sure that you are properly filing all contracts, NDAs and other important documents. It’s easy to think in the early days that you’ll always remember where you placed X, Y and Z, but in reality, your laptop or cloud-management system gets cluttered fast.  I learned these lessons through experiences like raising capital and business development deals. It would have been wonderful to have had a startup angel providing me with guidance but like anything, you learn from just doing. 

Related: The Key to Every Successful Business is Agility

Q: What do you think would have happened if you had this knowledge then?
A: I would have sought more advice from my fellow entrepreneurs and spent more time researching my questions.

Q: How do you think young entrepreneurs might benefit from this insight? 
A: Young entrepreneurs will ultimately benefit the most from truly understanding governance, finance -- both debt and equity -- and legal tradeoffs when it comes to raising a round of capital, so they can set their businesses on a growth trajectory.

Related: A Startup's Guide to Professional Networking

Q: Besides inventing a time machine, how might they realize this wisdom sooner?
A: Becoming immersed in the entrepreneurial community can yield a variety of benefits, especially the sharing of knowledge and wisdom. Go on coffee dates, attend conferences, and don't be afraid to ask for help.

Q: What are you glad you didn’t know then that you know now? Why?
In hindsight, there are many things that I’m glad I didn’t know before I started One Kings Lane with Susan [Feldman]. I think if one knows too much, it’s much easier to walk away from an opportunity to be a change agent.

Q: What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
A: Solve a market need; follow your passion; work smartly and efficiently and remember to enjoy the good and the hard days. Most importantly, listen to your gut. 

This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Related: Put Building Strategic Relationships at the Heart of Your Business Plan for 2015

Edition: October 2016

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