Orchard Mile CEO and Co-Founder Jennie Baik on the Future of Retail
By: Julie Tsai
Ahead of the second annual FCD Unconference taking place in New York City, Launchmetrics connected with 3 key panelists to discuss industry topics.
With immense experience directing business strategy, leveraging data, and leading technology in various industries, Launchmetrics welcomes CEO and Co-Founder at Orchard Mile, Jennie Baik. As Orchard Mile continues to shake up the industry, Jennie Baik offers her valuable insights on the future of retail, as well as both the challenges and fulfillments of growing a startup business.
What is Orchard Mile and how does the Orchard Mile experience differ from other e-commerce platforms?
“Orchard Mile is the only online fashion marketplace to offer a shopping experience that allows full access to designers’ collections and unique experiences through our fashion and technology partners.
Historically, the only place to find the full collections was on a brand’s owned site, but we’ve made things seamless for the consumer by creating one place to filter and shop the world’s most innovative and beautiful designers’ lines – it’s as if you were shopping 120 “tabs” at once, but all seamlessly.
Most recently, we released My Mile, a feature that allows shoppers to personalize and curate your own shopping street (the designers and the categories within each designer) in a constantly updated stream so that you’re always seeing the most relevant “picks” powered by our robust recommendation engine which utilizes artificial intelligence and machine learning to create a completely unique user experience”.
We’ve done some digging and saw that you’ve held many impressive roles in different industries. How have your career trajectories aided your venture in founding Orchard Mile?
“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.
Additionally, working in teams of people with different skillsets across industries has allowed me to have a mindset of flexibility: to be open to different approaches in all areas of my business – in both management and product development and continuously learn and grow.“
You’ve had immense experience working with technology and leveraging data. At Orchard Mile, how do you utilize technology and data to help improve the shopping experience for your customers?
“Orchard Mile’s most recent release of My Mile is a great example of how Orchard Mile utilizes technology and data to improve the user experience for shoppers. The A.I.-backed technology is constantly being updated and personalized for each shopper. With the help of algorithms, Orchard Mile hopes that the shopping experience for their customers become more enjoyable.”
For more information on My Mile: “How Artificial Intelligence Can Help You Build Your Own Personalized E-Boutique”
Can you share your experience on this journey of building a startup and leading a team of talents?
“Effective team-building is core of success to any startup. In much startup lore, you will hear about how two founders were best friends and they kept hiring like-minded people and built a great product to success.
Orchard Mile’s story is very different from that narrative. None of the founders were friends before meeting and deciding to work together; we somehow “found” each other through a passionate belief that there should be a destination like Orchard Mile. We all brought different thoughts and skillsets to the table and added members to our team, not because of their like-mindedness, but almost the opposite, for individuals who could teach us something we didn’t know and challenge our team’s assumptions for the better. It’s not always easy to work with people who think differently than you. It takes a different kind of management and team and incentive structure to keep things moving forward. But I think it’s because of this respect for diversity in thought that we’ve been able to quickly grow our customer base and our brand base.
Moreover, if you ever visit the Orchard Mile offices, what you’ll notice upon meeting us is that we physically look like a very modern company.
We’ve all worked at companies or seen companies at conferences that pay lip-service to diversity, while not committing to the core of what that means. From the outset, we wanted to make sure that the team understood and reflected our company values of not only diversity “by-the-numbers”, but also subscribed to real inclusion into the decision-making process and collective accountability.
Looking at the Orchard Mile team who come from very different backgrounds, racial, socio-economic, educational etc; our differences remind us every day how important it is that the fashion industry reflects the desires of all the real constituents of the market – which spans all races and backgrounds. While we are in premium fashion marketplace, we know by talking to and knowing our customers that they reflect the diversity that makes up the fabric of the United States. And because of this, we often make very deliberate choices– for example, if there are 4 campaign images and one uses a woman of color as the main model, we will often skew towards choosing that image. Leadership starts from day one, for us, it’s not enough to become a great company with egalitarian values when we become a Fortune 500 company, today is the day we, even as a small company, can make a difference in how women and beauty, powerful cultural forces, are and will be perceived“.
What would you say are the biggest challenges and how do you overcome these obstacles?
“Our biggest challenges, even 1.5 years post launch and with 120 direct brands the Orchard Mile platform, still often have to do with educating our industry (both companies and press) about the benefits of being on a marketplace and the power and importance of data. Once a designer joins Orchard Mile, they are often surprised how Orchard Mile’s technology truly is zero IT integration and our marketing collaborations that utilize data in unique ways really do bring more customers and sales to them. However, I don’t believe this challenge is unique to Orchard Mile. Anytime you bring something new to an industry, there is always a latent hesitancy to try something new. As such, to date our best “marketers” often are the brands who have been on the platform since our launch- they are have seen the power of what we can do both to build brand awareness and consideration“.
As you’ve previously held the role of Director of Strategy for Burberry Americas, we wanted to brain pick and see what your overall thoughts are on the future of retail. How do you imagine it and what’s in store for brick-and-mortar retailers?
“I can’t speak for Burberry directly as they have certainly grown a lot since I was last in touch with their strategy, but I can speak to the general landscape of retail which I have been observing for the last decade. Neil Blumenthal of Warby Parker said it best recently: “Retail is not dead. Mediocre retail is dead.” With the power that the consumer has gained in access and reach to new designers and products as well as “products-as-a-service,” we are in what I believe is a new renaissance of retail. That means old ideas of what should be will be thrown out and new exciting (and formerly blasphemous!) ideas will start to take off. As more and more malls and large retail brands focus on high-density cities for their brick and mortar footprint and close less high performing locations (perhaps in the middle of the country) there will be a strong unmet demand in these tier 2 cities for great fashion and design. Great taste doesn’t just live on the coasts. The shoppers in the middle of the country will need great retailers who cater to their lifestyles too, and digital companies like Orchard Mile who are location agnostic stands to benefit from that unmet demand.
“Edu-tainment” is an idea that many retailers and I have been passionate about for a long time, and that’s about turning the store into a place that can teach you something. One of the best examples of a luxury brand today I believe is Eataly, a store that teaches you the provenance and heritage of their products but also how to effectively use them (by tasting them in their great mini-restaurants on site) or by enrolling in an Eataly cooking class.
You’ll see more and more bricks-and-mortar retailers turn their square footage into learning and entertainment nodes within society, and the brands and companies that are better able to harness the new consumers’ insatiable quest for the knowledge, the better their prospects will be for gaining brand loyalty over time. Today, a physical thing needs to represent more and give more to the consumer than the functional to have meaning. The great brands of tomorrow will have meaning in spades – and bring more value beyond their most obvious use case”.
What’s some of your advice for those who would like to start their own business?
“Having a startup today is very trendy. It sounds easy and fun. The headlines read about the large payoffs. While I would never deter someone from following what they believe to be their path, the more I get to meet “successful” entrepreneurs who have made a big splash in their industries and seem to have grown their companies exponentially in such short periods of time, the more I realize the cost of doing those things- which is what many publications don’t really write about. Having a startup is an all-encompassing activity- it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle commitment. Personally, since I’ve started, there’s never really been a vacation day in which work hasn’t happened. As a CEO of a startup, the accountability has no boundaries and while the rewards are great, they are often non-monetary. The need for patience and a steady hand is tantamount. Every decision no matter how big or small (or how time-consuming) will be yours in the very beginning. Many of the administrative tasks will also fall to you (like taxes, insurance, setting up payroll etc.) Often you will wish you had a boss.
To commit to starting a company from scratch, you have to want something bigger than yourself that will drive you to put in the hours for a payoff that may seem uncertain. It has to be an absolute obsession with an idea or a deep commitment to a team of people that you would do just about anything for them to succeed“.
What do you envision for Orchard Mile?
“We just launched “My Mile” which is a feature that allows the shopper to curate a constantly updated stream of designers and products and build their own personalized shopping street. We want to know more about how consumers view and interact with “their Mile” so as to build individualized profiles of each shopper so that we can do the “magic” behind the scenes with our analysis of the data: Orchard Mile will anticipate what a shopper wants before then even know they want it. We believe that everyone’s experience of Orchard Mile should be different than each other’s.
Today, most e-commerce sites ask a lot of the consumer; the shopping experience is not easy because there’s a lot of sorting and filtering. At Orchard Mile, we want to turn e-commerce on its head to be more service to the consumer- a destination where you can filter minimally, and get the maximum return out of the time invested. Orchard Mile will be able to go beyond serving up what the shopper thinks they want, it will be able to anticipate and deliver what they never could have articulated or filtered for, but is the ultimate addition to their collection of fashion.
Moreover, it’s our deep and trusted relationship with our brand partners that will allow Orchard Mile to be the conduit to better connect brand storytelling to the consumer tomorrow. We want to redefine what it means to be a great retail company. We believe we can be the world’s best experiential marketplace: by associating products of great design back to powerful brand-led stories and experiences“.
What does Fashion Culture Design mean to you? How did you get involved with FCD?
“Fashion Culture Design is one of the most thought-provoking conferences that is in existence today. The leaders of the conference have carefully curated a group of speakers and contributors who really have a great desire to teach something to the participants (rather than sell/tell something). I attended FCD last year, but by a few in-depth coffee chats with Simon Collins and Roger Hie, we were convinced that Orchard Mile could also contribute to a conversation that was focused on learning in the realm of how fashion will use big data in the future. We couldn’t be happier about participating in a dialogue that has such impact across many different areas affecting business and culture today”.
For more from Jennie Baik, follow her on Twitter or check out Orchard Mile on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Jennie will also be speaking at this year’s Unconference, hosted by Fashion Culture Design. For more info visit www.fashionculturedesign.com and use code LM25 for 25% off tickets. We hope to see you there!