Alumni Spotlight – Jennie Baik, CEO and Co-founder of Orchard Mile

Jennie Baik

Featured: Retail Strategy, Entrepreneurship, Big Data, E-commerce

Jennie Baik, BHP 2001, is CEO and Co-founder of Orchard Mile, an online marketplace for collections from top designers. She previously held positions in strategy for Omnicom and Burberry.  We recently had the chance to visit with Jennie to learn more about Orchard Mile.

You weren’t always in retail. You started out in consulting, and then at Omnicom. Why did you make the transition to retail?

It’s funny – my career is a bit of a surprise to me – but I wouldn’t have changed a thing thus far.

After graduating from UT, I attended Harvard Business School to earn my MBA. Post graduation, many of my classmates went into traditional business jobs with banking and consulting, but I was intrigued by digital, which is why I took a different path and took a position at Omnicom. While I was there, I started in marketing, branding and traditional advertising, and then progressed into a company within Omnicom focused on digital data analytics related to marketing. Around that time, the head of HR at Burberry reached out to me. I hadn’t planned on working in fashion, but Burberry was so persistent that I went and met with them. I fell in love with the team and could tell that their leadership, under Angela Ahrendts (who is now SVP of Retail for Apple), was so strong that I felt compelled to go there. I ran their Americas strategy team for two years which was incredibly interesting and rewarding. In that position, I focused on the strategy, research and digital models, and I became really interested in the idea of digital market places, which is what led me to Orchard Mile.

While my career has focused on different areas, all the roles that I’ve held to date have helped me in thinking about and working to solve problems.  Whether it was a firm understanding of how financial statements work at an investment bank, or how brands are approaching digital marketing in advertising or at a luxury brand, all of these experiences in problem-solving and strategic thinking have helped in having a holistic view of how to build a great product and company at Orchard Mile.

How did the idea for Orchard Mile come about?

What is surprising about entrepreneurship is no one really has a completely original idea. There are always multiple people thinking about how to solve a problem. It was very serendipitous when I met my co-founders – all of us had an interest in e-commerce, thought about the future of e-commerce in different ways, and brought unique skill sets to the table.

One important note to keep in mind when launching a company is that co-founders should not all look like each other. Rather, you should compliment each other with different skill sets. My career has been somewhat random, but all of the skill sets I honed in those roles have been useful to me in this role. I use my financial modeling, digital marketing, brand client management, structured thinking and problem solving skills every day here. I also learned at Harvard how to get your point across in 90 seconds, which has certainly been helpful.

With all of the online shopping options out there, what is it about Orchard Mile that is unique and attractive to shoppers?

We approach e-commerce differently. I don’t think e-commerce shopping is easy – it takes a lot of time to filter preferences. In market places, one of the most difficult issues to solve is the paradox of choice. You have an endless aisle online, which makes it difficult to find the right one for you. The idea of creating a platform that was an endless aisle, but could pivot to your personal preferences, was something I was obsessed with it. Essentially, if you were able to build a shopping street just for you, what would that look like? The idea of a site knowing you well enough so that you wouldn’t have to filter ever again is the holy grail of what Orchard Mile is trying to deliver.

Tell me more about My Mile and how that will change the shopping experience.

We launched My Mile two months ago, which creates a customized shopping experience with our customers. The feature allows our customers to pick their favorite designers, but also their favorite categories within those designers. Consumers can input these preferences on a brand-by-brand basis and it will remember their size. It is a constantly updated stream of your personal preferences, and those preferences are saved, which is something that others aren’t doing.

With My Mile we had a hunch that this could solve the paradox of choice, but we didn’t know how consumers would react to it. It wasn’t until we put it out to consumers that we really knew we had a sticky product. The conversion on people who use My Mile is 5x what the regular Orchard Mile customer conversion is, and time on site is about 10x for My Mile. It also crosses the language borders, and we are seeing high adoption in other countries.

What roadblocks did you face starting the company?

With any company, you need to be more committed and brave than you have ever been in the past. In the beginning, it is very hard to convince anyone to invest in you. All of the people on Orchard Mile’s team pursued us. They chased us until we found a position for them. We hire passionate people. What is unusual about our technology is that we are able to clone the brand sites and bring them onto our platform, so it feels a lot like a digital shopping spree. The site is constantly updating in real time, and is all synthesized in one place. The platform took us a year to make, which involved raising money from what was basically just a slide deck in the beginning. While we were building that platform, we were also pounding the pavement, trying to get the top brands to sign on. It is hard for the brands to take a chance on a platform with no digital footprint and no traffic. It was a difficult process, but eventually we got 30 of the best-in-class brands signed on for our launch. Attracting consumers is also hard. You have to raise a lot of money to do consumer marketing in the right way. Our platform is aimed at a cart size of more than $300, so that requires some sophisticated marketing. Site traffic is now growing 20% month over month and 20% of our traffic comes from international countries, even though we don’t do any marketing there. The blogging community has taken to Orchard Mile, and there are lots of powerful foreign bloggers that have written about us, which has really spread our brand.

What about being an entrepreneur has been unexpected for you, and what have you felt completely prepared for in the process of starting and growing a company?

At an early-stage startup, every day has highs and lows, and it can be really exhausting. There is a lot going on at every moment. It is important to communicate to your team that we all need to be at our best every day. Motivation comes from setting an example, and Angela Ahrendts was a big inspiration to me because of her work ethic. Millennials want to see someone who is doing what they say they should do. It is about learning from action and not words. Values, while they seem soft, are more important than most startup founders think. To set those values and live by those is one of the biggest challenges. You need to create a culture which is respectful, and in which people can grow. In terms of performance reviews here, 80% of someone’s evaluation is how great they are at their function, but 20% is about how much they are helping others on their team, and on other teams. We work cross-functionally here, which builds empathy and respect. I believe this is one of the reasons we have built such a strong culture. One of the things we also do is try to lead with women of color in our campaigns. If we are given a set of photographs from a brand, we try to choose the more diverse models to highlight on our site and in our social media.

Looking back at your time in BHP, is there anything you wish you had known, or wish you had done differently?

There are so many opportunities and resources at UT. I wish I had taken some other types of classes. I also lost touch with many of my classmates, and I wish I had kept in touch better with them. BHP was an incredible baseline of knowledge. The students are top students, and I probably could have learned even more from my peers.

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