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Women Making History: Alexandra Wilkis Wilson

Entrepreneur and Harvard Business School grad Alexandra Wilkis Wilson co-founded fashion site Gilt Groupe with her best friend, Alexis Maybank. The pair have a book coming out this spring, By Invitation Only, about entrepreneurship and how they built their business. We got to learn more about the woman behind the members-only luxury sale site in our interview:

What woman, besides your mom or grandmother, do you find inspirational?

Since I can’t say my mom or my grandmother, then I will say Oprah Winfrey!

Before founding Gilt Groupe you worked with managing retail operations at Bulgari and Louis Vuitton.  How did you make the transition to e-commerce?

What was really more of a transition was going from working for companies that were established with globally recognizable brands to going to a 5 person start up team and building a brand from scratch! The transition from the brick and mortar world to the e-commerce world wasn’t that much of a challenge comparatively.  The vast majority of our merchants at Gilt have made that transition seamlessly.

New flash-sale sites are being developed constantly but Gilt was the first one I was aware of.  How did the idea for Gilt come about?

Alexis and I regularly discussed working together when we were classmates and best of friends at Harvard Business School. We saw Gilt as a way to bring the New York invitation only sample sale phenomenon “on the road” via the Internet, making what was once only accessible to New Yorkers, available to the whole country, and now that we ship internationally, we can bring this to the world. Our founding Gilt team includes five co-founders – we each continue to be very involved in the business everyday! We are continuously working to improve Gilt and bring our members more and more brands and features.

How did you know you were ready to launch your own project?

The timing was right for me on a personal level. I had just gotten married and felt like it was a good time to take the entrepreneurial plunge! The concept was good, the timing was great and our founding team was top notch.

Gilt has grown from women’s fashion and now includes men’s, children’s, home, cuisine, travel and local experiences.  What’s next on the horizon for Gilt?

This year, we expanded our company to also include Gilt Taste – our online magazine and market for food and wine lovers; we relaunched the Home site; and we started shipping internationally to over 90 countries. Alexis and I have just written a book together called “By Invitation Only” which is about entrepreneurship and how we built Gilt Groupe. The book will be published in the spring.

What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on?

This is a tough question as when I get involved in a project, I tend to love it, get involved 200% and throw myself in headfirst! I must say however, that no project compares with the excitement and adrenaline rush of launching Gilt in November 2007.

Who do you want to work with?

People who can teach me things that I do not know and that I want to learn.

What part of being an entrepreneur is the most challenging and do you dislike the most?

As an entrepreneur, you are always working. There is no true “off” switch. But I have gotten used to this and it works for me.

Any advice for ladies who want to start their own business?

Go for it! Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s all about the execution. Take calculated risks. Focus on relationships. Our book “By Invitation Only” outlines many of our suggestions for entrepreneurs (both male and female) and shares lessons we have learned along the way.

Follow @giltgroupe on Twitter

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