Liz Lange interview: Bootstrapping in practice

Liz Lange launched her eponymous line of fashionable maternity clothing in 1997. Within eight years, the company grew to over $10 million in revenues, secured partnerships with Target and Nike, and established a cult following said to include the likes of Cindy Crawford, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Winslet. In the process she changed the way women, retailers and the media think about maternity wear, despite the fact that industry experts told her it would never work. Liz Lange also bootstrapped her way to success. Here’s how she did it:

UpStart:  “How did you build a multi-million dollar brand with limited startup capital?”

Liz Lange: “I started with no money and eventually borrowed $50,000. Initially, I did everything myself. I waited on every customer. I packed the FedEx boxes. I was the fit model. I did my own PR by calling editors to write about my business. To avoid getting stuck with unsold inventory, I produced all my clothing to order. And before opening a retail store, I just had a small office where customers could see me by appointment.”

UpStart: “Did you find that there were advantages to bootstrapping the way you did?”

Liz Lange: “Starting with limited capital helped me become successful. In the end, let’s face it, most businesses are thrift businesses, even the supposedly glamorous ones. Starting with less taught me to operate the business efficiently, and those lessons stayed with me throughout good times and bad.

“I had to be very smart about what I did and didn’t spend on, and that led me to make smart decisions. I also had to focus on the bottom line from the very beginning, as opposed to startups that raise a lot of capital and tend to lose sight of the bottom line in favor of generating revenue.

“Since I had to do almost everything myself, I understood every aspect of my business and got direct feedback about the needs of my customers. Even after I could afford to delegate, I made it a point to interact with customers personally, even if only via e-mail, as I had learned the value of staying connected to them. Plus, doing everything myself ensured that everything was done well. Nobody has more passion about their work than a founder. It’s your baby, after all.”

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