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Using Word of Mouth to Build a Million Dollar Shoe Brand, with Twin Sisters Jessica and Emily Leung

What’s the easiest way to find a co-founder? Have a twin sister. This week on The Mentors we have our first ever ‘twinesode’ where you’ll hear identical twins brother entrepreneurs (yours truly) interview identical twin sister entrepreneurs. Aside from being one of the funniest episodes yet, this discussion covers the story of Hey Lady shoes, and how two sisters with no background in fashion design started a ladies shoe company that has grown to over a million dollars in sales, almost entirely through word of mouth.

Within 3 years of starting, the business was growing incredibly fast, when Jessica was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer, leaving the weight of the news and running the business on Emily. Hear Jessica’s miraculous story of beating the odds, surviving the disease, and rejoining the business only to help reinvent it and grow it to completely new heights.

People often invent elaborate stories for why someone else is successful – connections, money, luck. On countless occasions Emily and Jessica’s story proves that each of us must be in control of our own destiny – when you’re dealt a bad card in life, it’s up to you to figure out how to play the hand.

Show Notes

  • 2:45 Creating a niche within a niche - wedding shoes for people with sparkly personalities
  • 4:30 Moving back home and working out of the library
  • 7:00 The origin story of Hey Lady shoes - how the idea came about
  • 8:55 How Emily and Jessica decided to quit their jobs to focus on their business full time
  • 12:55 The best method for overcoming difficulties in a business - keeping each other positive
  • 15:30 Spending the time to figure out the brand and voice for the business
  • 15:43 Leveraging your background to increase the chances of success
  • 17:15 The case for learning by doing instead of going to business school
  • 18:35 Booking a one way ticket to China to find a manufacturer
  • 19:00 Finding a factory after multiple rejections
  • 19:50 Breaking down the customer development process - time to dance!
  • 20:53 Why Jessica and Emily it helped that they were not fashion experts
  • 22:41 Investing over a year to bring the product to market
  • 23:20 Launching their shoes, and getting orders immediately
  • 25:13 Leveraging positive PR to build relationships with better factories
  • 26:00 The first major obstacle - how their product got copied by a competitor
  • 27:07 Averting major disaster - how the twins overcame a massive factory error in their second production run
  • 29:50 Entrepreneurship is a puzzle that you have to solve as you're going along
  • 30:20 Doing the opposite of what most shoe companies do
  • 32:38 Finally collecting a salary after being in business for 3 years
  • 35:00 Jessica's diagnosis with terminal cancer as the business was experiencing hyper growth
  • 36:03 Moving to Hong Kong, and the miracle recovery that followed
  • 37:50 How finding out that she had a few months to live confirmed that she was doing the right thing with her life
  • 38:47 How Emily continued to build the business, refusing to accept her sister's diagnosis
  • 39:53 Dealing with depression by joining the hundred Happy Days Challenge
  • 44:00 You can't wait for moments of inspiration or positivity - you have to create these moments for your self
  • 44:16 Why the sister's cofounder relationship works
  • 45:32 How Emily and Jessica divide responsibilities and make decisions
  • 47:01 Focusing on direct to consumer vs. wholesale
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