These Sisters Started a Side Hustle After a 'Light Bulb' Moment Standing in Line for Coffee — Now Their Business Has Done $100 Million in Total Sales Elise Whang's and Emily Erkel's respective careers in law and retail strategy consulting provided crucial skills for establishing and growing LePrix, an innovative platform for luxury resale.
- Whang and Erkel turned a side hustle into a leading business, navigating challenges like VC funding and business pivots.
- LePrix leverages the founders' industry knowledge to pioneer the B2B pre-owned luxury market.
This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Elise Whang and Emily Erkel, co-founders of B2B marketplace platform LePrix, which offers a curated space for sourcing pre-owned luxury items from top suppliers around the world.
LePrix has done more than $100 million in topline gross merchandise value since launch. It has raised $15 million to date and is the largest B2B pre-owned luxury platform globally, with over 150,000 units of pre-owned luxury at wholesale prices per month, according to the company.
How did your corporate careers prepare you to launch the side hustle that would become LePrix?
Whang: Early on in my legal career, I had the opportunity to meet entrepreneurs from mega-corporations who had built their businesses from scratch. Their journey was fascinating and inspiring to me; however, I quickly realized entrepreneurs are often over-glamorized. Lawyers see all the blemishes and the challenges and hardships business owners face as well. This experience helped me take the proverbial leap with my eyes wide open. Importantly, being a lawyer also trained me how to write thoughtfully, be persuasive and take measured risks. I also learned that what I enjoyed most about being a lawyer would carry over to being an entrepreneur — helping people and fixing problems.
Erkel: My career in retail strategy consulting prepared me for the launch of LePrix in so many ways. Each project was a different opportunity to help a client overcome a challenge and succeed — whether it was launching a large Japanese fast-fashion retailer in the U.S., helping a women's specialty retailer go omnichannel or [helping] an iconic luxury brand house known for its handbags expand into other categories. The skills I learned to quickly identify the problem, be creative with the solution and help the retailer execute helped me learn the skills that every entrepreneur needs: strategy, execution, grit and adaptability.
When did you start the side hustle that would become your company, and what was the inspiration behind it?
Whang: When that first amazing business idea dawns on you, it is like a bright light bulb going off in your head. It first lit up when I was standing in line for coffee before work knowing I had to work over the weekend. What I really wanted to do over the weekend was go to my favorite consignment stores with my sisters, but these stores all closed at 7 p.m., and I could not get there. So why not bring all these wonderful designer consignment stores online? This first iteration of our business was consumer-facing, aiming to aggregate the best designer consignment stores online in one platform. This laid the groundwork for our present business model, focusing on business-to-business (B2B) pre-owned luxury wholesale.
In the early days, I juggled my entrepreneurial pursuits with my demanding role as a lawyer. My side hustle typically unfolded between 8 p.m. to 2 or 3 a.m. and consumed weekends for several years. Fast forward — the light bulb went off again when we saw that our stores were buying from each other more and more on our platform. We realized they needed a way to source pre-owned authentic handbags and jewelry from other trusted businesses online. We then launched the first B2B pre-owned luxury wholesale auction houses from across the globe to retailers in the U.S., and it grew from there.
At which point did you decide to leave your corporate jobs to focus on LePrix full-time, and what motivated you to take the leap?
Whang: I was eight months pregnant, happily married, with a great job as a lawyer. I was patting myself on the back for being the first female lawyer in our family. But I was also panicking that life was going by at warp speed, and if I didn't take the leap soon to work on this great business plan, it may never happen. In hindsight, I was probably going through a midlife crisis. We applied to an accelerator program and got in, but they required only full-time founders, which meant I had to quit my day job. I was scared about what our immigrant parents, who worked their behinds off to give us the American dream, would think. My husband asked me what I was going to do — and I said I wanted to take a bet on this business; otherwise, I'd regret it on my deathbed (I know, dramatic). I popped out my baby and then started my entrepreneurial journey. I haven't looked back since.
Erkel: At the time, I had been at a large specialty retailer, working with the leadership team on different strategies, from growing their new baby business to exploring ways to shorten lead time from design to delivery. It was an amazing experience and a great team, but part of me yearned to build something that was more aligned with my passion growing up. When I was younger, I was obsessed with fashion, especially luxury and vintage. When my co-founder and sister, Elise, approached me with the idea of launching this as a side hustle, my gut reaction was an immediate yes. Once we started gaining traction and growing quickly, I knew it was time to go full-time, but I was nervous. Innately, I am more risk averse, but the numbers (and Elise) are very convincing. Would I rather be a cog in a wheel or chart my own course and try something new and exciting that there was clearly a market demand for? The answer was clear.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced over the course of your founding journey so far, and how have you overcome them?
Whang: One of the significant challenges we faced was securing funding from venture capitalists (VCs). The reality of less than 5% of female founders successfully raising funds from VCs is real. Our company deviates from the conventional VC company profile; we're far from resembling the stereotypical characters depicted in the HBO show Silicon Valley (one of my favorite shows). Notably, our team is 60% BIPOC, with two female founders, and we take immense pride in this diversity. We have, however, successfully secured funds from private investors and early-stage VCs who wholeheartedly believe in our vision, the business, its potential and our team.
Erkel: Another challenge was the pivot from B2C to B2B. It was clear that the way to help our stores was not selling but sourcing. For businesses, sourcing pre-owned luxury is difficult, risky and expensive because the wholesale industry for luxury resale is highly fragmented. As our B2B business continued to take off, Elise and I knew it was time to sunset our B2C business. It was a decision we thought very carefully about as the B2C business was not only our first baby, but we had also built a pretty successful business. However, the growth of the B2B business was immense, and with limited resources and time, we knew it was time to double down on B2B.
What are you most excited about as you look to LePrix's future?
Erkel: As the leader in the B2B pre-owned luxury industry, we are most excited to be the driving force making luxury resale accessible to retailers globally. We have the opportunity to change the industry, help retailers meet consumer demand and, most importantly, make a sustainable impact.
What's your best advice for other side hustlers who hope to turn their gigs into full-time ventures?
Whang: Don't quit your day job until you have some data or traction. DO build out a business model with your data and make an informed decision to take the leap. Don't obsess about hyper growth anymore, but DO build a profitable business — it's still a business. Don't kick yourself for failing. DO learn from your mistakes and quickly pivot.
Erkel: Don't be scared to take the leap. Life is short, and time is limited. If your side hustle shows traction and the only thing that is holding you back is fear, overcome it. Don't let fear dictate your life and stop you from moving forward. Life is more fulfilling if you're doing what you love.