When they hear the phrase “startup entrepreneurs,” many people think about Silicon Valley computer geniuses, whiz kids in a college dorm, or people practiced at getting large sums of money from venture capitalists, but Tracy DiNunzio was none of those things when she decided to find a way to help women dress more fashionably on a budget.
Having spent the bulk of her 20s traveling the world and creating art, including a stint painting in Mexico, DiNunzio noted that back home in Los Angeles, she often found herself needing to dress for sophisticated art world events on a shoestring budget.
Observing that like many women, she had a closet full of clothes yet still often “nothing to wear,” DiNunzio hit upon the idea of facilitating an exchange between women.
DiNunzio’s first venture was a website called Recycled Bride where women could trade wedding dresses and other wedding accessories. On a budget herself and with no immediate access to the deep pockets of investors, DiNunzio funded her first company by selling some of her own possessions including her car and working data entry jobs.
She was no tech whiz either, and many of her 18-hour days were spent learning about online marketing, web design, and more. Over the next couple of years, Recycled Bride became a huge success.
However, at that point, DiNunzio recognized she had reached the limits of her coding and development skills and needed to bring in experts to help her move her business to the next level.
She turned to Airbnb, a site that shares the concept of collaborative consumption with her own. Collaborative consumption is the idea of acquiring products through trading or renting and has become particularly popular since the economic downturn of 2008. Rather than creating new things and generating more waste, people focus on using what they already have.
DiNunzio began renting out her bedroom through the service while sleeping on her couch. Her very first Airbnb customer later became her husband, and the two raised around $30,000 in capital through rentals.
Still thrifty, DiNunzio dressed in designer clothes she found cheap at consignment shops and took the bus to meetings with developers and investors with an eye to launching Tradesy, an expanded version of Recycled Bride that allows women to list and sell all types of clothing with ease.
Her persistence paid off, and soon she had a number of investors including, Daher Capital, Launchpad LA and more. Today, Tradesy is growing and thriving.
A number of important lessons can be learned from DiNunzio’s approach to business. The first is that lack of capital should be no obstacle for the determined entrepreneur. Another is that DiNunzio started small with a niche market and learned her way around.
While she lived on a tight budget, she did not take enormous financial risks that drove her into debt. DiNunzio also went forward with her vision even when others might have pointed out that a company like eBay might have the clothing consignment market covered.
She knew that she had a unique approach and that the collaborative consumption policy underpinning her idea as well as her commitment to helping women build fashionable wardrobes on a budget would set her business apart from others that might be similar.
From long hours alone at her kitchen table, DiNunzio now has more than 20 employees. Tradesy stands as proof for entrepreneurs that hard work and resourcefulness can lead to success where initial funds and connections may be lacking.
In combining two concepts close to her heart—dressing women well for little money and collaborative consumption—DiNunzio has built a successful, sustainable and innovative business.
Published: April 16, 2014