My most proud accomplishment is having lived, worked, studied and traveled to 60 countries. It was not easy to do and it took a lot of sacrifice but it was well worth it as it has made me who I am.
I am curious about everything so my professional experience spans over 9 years in the industries of fashion, internet, medical, banking and airline. I have an innate passion for bringing new products/services to market and believe in the incredible power of the right team.
Meet Lona Alia Duncan, Founder of Style Lend
What prompted you to move the US?
I was raised in Albania for the first ten years of my life. As a child, I was always goal oriented and had a keen interest in business. When I was 11 years old, I was already involved in various aspects of my parents’ businesses. I always had big dreams for myself and felt that America would be the best place for my dreams to be realized. It was then that I pushed my parents to send me to America. I arrived in the US as a high school exchange student and was joined by my parents two years later. I have lived in America since I was 15 years old.
What prompted you to get into the fashion business?
I have been interested in clothes from a very young age. Albania was a communist country when I was growing up, so there was little choice in clothing and style. But my parents traveled a lot internationally so I used to tell them to bring back different styles of clothing from all over Europe. I was always at the forefront of fashion trends during my school years. When I got older, I began a modeling career in Albania & continued to model part time in the US to make money. After my studies, I even modeled full time because I wanted to explore that option for myself. But I found that my interest was leaning towards business. I had confidence in my knowledge of the fashion industry and I knew that I wanted to use my knowledge to create a business.
Tell us about your business. What has the reaction been from your customers?
My business is premised on providing a peer to peer online marketplace in which women can rent designer clothing from each other at far below retail prices. My research indicates that there is $50 billion dollars worth of merchandise that hangs in the wardrobes of women all over the US. My business, Style Lend, helps them monetize that merchandise by renting them out to other women. The idea is twofold:
- Women who rent out their clothes make money and;
- Women who want new clothes for an evening out can rent high quality designer wear from other women at a fraction of the original price.
There are of course some rules – any merchandise that is ‘rented’ must be high end designer wear that has been bought at a minimum price of $200. The clothes should also not be any older than three years, in order to preserve quality.
We have had an extremely positive reaction from customers. Our Yelp reviews have consistently been at the five star mark.
We are also a Y combinator company – and Y Combinator accepts less than 1% of the applications that they receive. This was a big achievement for us and the support we have received through Y combinator has been substantial.
What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur and your least favorite?
Favorite – I get to work on my dream job every day with my favorite people, my team.
Least Favorite – It is all consuming so your life and your job are one and the same. There is no separation and sometimes no balance.
If an expat woman has a great business idea, what are the three most important steps she needs to followto launch her business.
- Follow the lean startup business model and make sure that there is demand for your product/service.
- Build a good team. Take the time to to understand their skills and their personality before offering any type of cofounder role.
- Apply to Y combinator with your business idea.
What is a typical day like for you?
– Wake up.
– Check social media, emails and calendar.
– Go to the office, chat with our team to make sure we are on the same page and working on the priorities of the day.
– Attend meetings with investors, media, entrepreneurs, mentors, customers.
– Discuss with my team product, operations, logistics, supply, demand, customers, marketing.
What are three things you like about living in the US?
Equal opportunity – as an immigrant it is the best country to live in and pursue your goals. There is no racial discrimination.
Shopping – the US has some of the best prices in designer fashion in the world. And I have lived in 60 countries.
Economy – if you have a good idea, the chances of finding a market in America vs. a tiny country like Albania are much higher.
Efficiency – the systems in the US allow for things to be done quickly without too much bureaucracy.
Culture – there is an entrepreneurial spirit in this country. People still encourage you even if you fail once or twice. What ultimately matters is how you learn from your mistakes and achieve your final goal.
Way of life – there isn’t enough work-life balance in the US. In other countries where I lived, we would work to live, whereas in the US, you live to work and you don’t have much quality time with family. I found that in Europe, there is more of a work-life balance.
What is your favorite quote?
“If it was easy every one would do it”.
Writing by Sandhya Jaishanker and Lona Alia Duncan
Photography courtesy of Lona Alia Duncan