Tracey Solomon is the co-founder and co-president of Hoseanna.com, a popular automated delivery service of all of life's messy necessities (pantyhose, razors, tampons, and the like). Formerly a successful business consultant and a brand strategy engagement leader, Solomon made the leap to e-commerce in 2010 with co-founder Katrina Carroll-Foster, and hasn't looked back.
Recently, I spoke with Tracey about her leap of faith, what it's like to start a business with your best friend, and her close call with medical school.
Tracey, you were a successful business consultant for Fortune 100 giants like Siemens AG and Lucent Technologies, and leading brand strategy engagement for healthcare leaders like Pfizer and Eli Lilly -- so how does one make the move from that place to pantyhose?
It sounds like quite the leap of faith, doesn’t it? I was working for a major corporation, learning about business from some of the most powerful business leaders -- about how to manage risk, how to go about assessing new markets and new opportunities. But then there comes a point where have to either have to jump off the cliff or walk away, and hope that you have either guessed it right or have the tools to adapt.
In terms of the pantyhose market, we were looking at an area that actually addressed something that was particularly female. We wanted something that, A, spoke to the women that we were in our professional life, and B, that could help make that part of your life just a little easier without having to overhaul your entire life.
What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned as you’ve created Hoseanna?
I think the most important thing I learned was to look at a business from a 360-degree perspective. It’s so important to understand the business from the customer standpoint, but also internally as an organization: How do you translate those customer needs into how you go about doing business? Those businesses at the top of the Fortune lists are consistently and continuously asking themselves how they can do better, and how are they staying in touch with the needs of their customer.
I also think the subscription model was a challenge. All the reasons we wanted to go into the market made sense, and it think that was the surprise [that] it was difficult to get traction on the subscription part of it. We were successful, so the brand and the story we’re telling -- people are responding to that. But it’s not something that automatically just takes off, because you have also the discovery trend you need to manage.
Your best friend is your business partner. How did you create boundaries so that your business did not affect your friendship?
We talked about what we wanted out of our venture, but first we talked about the rules of behavior and engagement for each other. We were best friends, and most important to us was preserving the friendship -- and if it got to the point where we felt like the business was really diminishing our affection and respect for each other, then one of us or both of us would get out. We made that pact early on.
We have great communication and the same project management approach, but we also have a lot of distinct skills. You have to have your own unique skills, and your partner has to have that too, so she feels represented well in the relationship.
How important have bloggers been to Hoseanna’s success?
I think that was one of the major discoveries for us. We knew that bloggers were going to be important, because women clearly rely on credible and established bloggers for advice on these things. No one has time to surf the web for the 50,000 Google hits that you get on a given topic; you need that layer in between that’s giving you guidance.
So we knew that from the beginning we needed to build relationships with bloggers. We definitely have seen the traffic that’s been driven to our site; it's coming from the blogging industry.
So what did you want to be when you grew up?
Both my parents are in the medical field. I started pre-med and fully expected to go into medicine. When I was at university, I sort of accidentally happened upon some business courses, and realized I actually like business. I like practical knowledge and immediate feedback from the market. And I think that’s the appeal of entrepreneurship, that the market tells you in an e-commerce business whether what you’re doing is working or not.
That’s the thing that keeps you on the hook. You remember that you’re working in a business where every day is a chance to have someone buy something and give you feedback: "Hey, I like what you’re doing." And that’s what keeps you getting up in the morning.
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