'She Was One of My Business Idols,' Says This Fashion Entrepreneur About Her Mentor and Net-A-Porter Founder Natalie Massenet
In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.
Emma Grede and Natalie Massenet have a long history. The two first met when Grede was running her former marketing agency, and Massenet was still leading online fashion retailer Net-A-Porter, which she founded. Years later, the women’s careers -- and relationship -- have grown significantly. Grede is now the co-founder and CEO of inclusive denim brand Good American (which she founded with Khloe Kardashian). And Massenet earlier this year co-founded Imaginary, a VC firm focused on direct-to-consumer startups.
Here, the two women look back on the jobs and relationships that brought them together, the growth that comes with making mistakes and following your instincts.
Women Entrepreneur: Emma, how did you and Natalie first meet?
Emma Grede: Before I started Good American, I ran an entertainment marketing agency called ITB…
Natalie Massenet: …And I was running Net-A-Porter.
EG: Net-a-Porter was my dream client from day one, and five years in I finally made it to their offices for a meeting. I walked in and Natalie was there, which I didn’t expect. She was one of my business idols.
EG: What should have been a regular pitch meeting turned into a bit of a fangirl moment for me. At this point, Net-A-Porter had thousands of staff, so I was just taken aback by the scale of the operation and the fact that Natalie was in this meeting, still so in the weeds. I just thought, well, I’ve made it.
NM: Emma at the time was very much at the forefront of placing influencers -- who weren’t even called that yet -- into brand DNA. I’m a big fan of straight-talking, bright women in business. What immediately struck me about Emma was how switched on and charismatic and infectious she was, really trying to make a difference for our business. When you work with somebody on projects, you really get to see if they follow through. Emma has her own vision and has never been afraid to speak up.
WE: After Emma’s agency did work for Net-A-Porter, how did your relationship with her evolve?
NM: A few years later we ended up spending quite a bit more time together, personally, because our respective boyfriends -- new husband, for Emma, I should say -- were business partners, so we started socializing outside of work. What was funny was that every time we had a double date, Emma and I would end up solving all the troubles in the fashion industry.
EG: Whenever I’d see or meet Natalie, I’d almost come with a mini agenda to get her thoughts on different issues. When I became pregnant with my first child, it sent me into a whirlwind. How can I do this? I travel every other week, run this company. Natalie helped prepare me mentally. You get a lot of unwanted, unsolicited advice when you’re a woman. But Natalie’s advice was always sound, and she told me that I would learn to compartmentalize and at different times, give all of myself to my business and all of myself to my family -- just never at the same time. They were some of the most valuable conversations I’ve ever had.
NM: I’d been there a decade earlier, starting my own company and having children. I was living, breathing proof that you don’t actually grow three heads. Giving advice and sharing this knowledge is natural. I don’t want other people to make the same mistakes I made, and I genuinely want other people to succeed, especially someone who’s become a close friend. You want them to have all the tools and foresight to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. Women sometimes get a bad rap for being competitive, but I think that anyone in business, if you look beyond stereotypes, is open to sharing their story and their pitfalls.
WE: Emma, at what point did you start thinking about launching Good American, and when did you first share the idea with Natalie?
EG: She was probably the first person I spoke to. Running ideas by her was natural -- goodness knows how many ideas I’ve run past Natalie that haven’t become anything.
NM: We’ve had lots of discussions of businesses that, to everyone’s loss and detriment, do not exist.
EG: Maybe they will one day!
NM: Line ‘em up!
EG: Very early on in the conception of Good American I was thinking about the category and the idea of inclusivity being at its heart. I knew it would be predominantly a direct-to-consumer business, and who has more experience in online fashion than Natalie? I spoke to her about putting the consumer first and really creating a customer experience. A lot of the things we do at Good American came from Natalie.
WE: What were the unique challenges you faced because you wanted Good American to be inclusive and serve all body types and sizes?
NM: Pre-Good American, Emma and I had discussed my frustration, having spent years within the designer industry trying to convince brands to add more sizes to their range. It was clear it would take an outside like Emma to say, fine, you aren’t going to do it, I’ll take matters into my own hands.
EG: Good American was born out of a conversation between [co-founder] Khloe [Kardashian] and I about what it means for women to be comfortable and confident. We knew the business would be primarily direct to consumer, but there would be some retail component to that. A lot of retailers would not take our full-size range, so we really had to stick to our principles and not get distracted by business offers that didn’t support our image.
NM: I was shocked that in this day and age, some retailers were taking a brand like Good American and saying, well, we don’t want the full range. It shows how narrow minded a lot of people still are in terms of respecting the customer. I told Emma, forget it, you don’t need those people.
WE: Natalie, have you had people in your own career who’ve been a sounding board the way you’ve been to Emma?
NM: I’ve had so many different people inspire me over the years, and I always listened to counsel from people in different industries. I’ve spent a lot of time with Angela Ahrendts, who was at Burberry and now Apple. Women like Lorraine Twohill at Google and Ruth Porat, who’s also at Google. But I’ll throw this right back to Emma; I get a lot of advice from her. She’s an incredible fighter and straight-talker and tremendously courageous. She always cuts to the chase and gives the best advice.