How I Survived My First Year As An Entrepreneur Without Any Venture Capital

Brooke and Ashley Fashism

Brooke Moreland launched her company,, one year ago. As a first-time entrepreneur, she had no idea what to expect. 

For a good portion of the year, she straddled two jobs, being a full-time reality tv show editor by day and a fashion entrepreneur by night.

Leaving a paycheck for a personal endeavour is terrifying, risky, and unpredictable. But it can be incredibly rewarding if your idea pans out.

Fashism is an online community and iPhone app that provides real-time fashion and style advice to anyone, anytime, anywhere. Users upload snapshots and the community votes, answers questions and offers constructive comments.

Brooke Moreland shares how Fashism has grown to 40,000 users since it’s inception in 2008, how she devised the idea and created a website with no technical background, and discloses how her startup gained traction.  She reflects on her first year as an entrepreneur, and shares what she would have done differently.

Business Insider (BI): How did you come up with the idea for Fashism?

BI: How did you find a developer?

BI: How did you pay for Fashism initially?

Brooke Moreland - CEO, Fashism: When I think of the past couple years, I owe so many favours. When I make it big I have a lot of people to help out!

In September 2009, we launched to the public. All of this is on basically no money. The little money we spent on server space and paying Hard Candy Shell guys was just my money that I had from working.

I was still working a full-time job at this point. I was an editor, I edited a lot of reality shows. So this is something we were doing on the side because I wasn't in a position to quit my job. I didn't see any money coming in for a while.

BI: What was your day like when you were doing both jobs?

Brooke Moreland - CEO, Fashism: When I was working full-time, I would wake up really early, write stuff for the blog, answer emails, email people to tell them about the site, do all the marketing, plan all the events...I'd wake up early and do all that before work -- 5:30 or 6 range.

I had to be at work at 10. If I had to have any meetings for Fashism, I'd try to plan them around my lunch hour and schedule them around my office.

Then in the evenings, I'd try to go to as many networking events as possible where I could talk to influential people so I could grow the users. I'd put my card and fliers out there, and talk to anyone I could. I tried to go out every night, spread the word, meet people and schmooze. So it's really intense having a full-time job and a company on the side.

BI: Do you think you waited too long to quit your full-time job?

Brooke Moreland - CEO, Fashism: I guess in retrospect, knowing everything I do now, I probably should have quit a lot sooner than I did, but yeah, it's really scary not having a paycheck.

I worked my entire life since I was in high school, so just the prospect of not having a paycheck scared me. I wasn't seeking investment, I didn't see any kind of money coming in in the near future, so it was about taking that leap of faith.

Now I know I would have been ok because things are starting to work out, but at that time you know there are no guarantees. So it took a little while for me to feel totally, totally confident and quit.

BI: Why didn't you seek out capital sooner?

BI: You didn't even have to go knocking on VC's doors? It sounds like the NYT article set everything in motion.

Brooke Moreland - CEO, Fashism: Yeah, that's pretty much what happened. I'm sure we probably would have had to do it eventually around that time anyway because of the stuff we wanted to do and to be able to grow. Especially since we had quit our jobs.

We could have tried to monetise the site without raising money, but to scale and do what we wanted to do, it really was the smart thing to try to raise a little. I think we bootstrapped it for as long as we possibly could and took it as far as we could, but we needed funding to try and take Fashism to the next level.

BI: What were you able to accomplish without funding? And what will you able to accomplish now that you'll have it?

Brooke Moreland - CEO, Fashism: What we've accomplished is a nice working product, community, users, a lot of interest, and a lot of press. We didn't have any PR or anything, all the press is organic via word of mouth.

The NY Times mentioned Fashism. So did a ton of mainstream magazines and TV programs. All of that gave us a big audience.

Our average time on the site is 15 minutes, so our users are really engaged -- we tapped into something they really liked. We have about about 40,000 registered users now. And we have an iPhone app.

BI: How has having a mobile app changed your site?

Brooke Moreland - CEO, Fashism: We released an iPhone app on August 30th of this year, which was huge because it really contributed to the number of people who upload. It's very easy for people to comment, but it's always been a little challenging to get people to upload and create the photos. After we released the iPhone app, uploads went crazy. Our usership went from 10,000 to 20,000 in one week. The registered users doubled and the amount of content people created tripled.

We started to get a team of moderators, mostly family members since we don't have any money. Now we have people watching the site around the clock. There's always, always new stuff, and you always have to be careful because it's an open, user-generated community; anyone can come on there. You have to make sure trolls don't come and terrorize other people.

For the most part, we've been really lucky, since we have so many people uploading now, something we've really, really had to monitor.

We always knew Fashism was going to be mobile, but having an app is just different. It reminds people, Hey this is something I could do when I'm out. Having an app is critical. I think I underestimated how crucial it'd be to actually have the iPhone app.

BI: In retrospect, is there anything you would have done differently and anything you wish you had known when you started out?

Brooke Moreland - CEO, Fashism: Now I have a lot more confidence than I did when I first started out. I'd never started a before company. I'd never gone out on my own. I'd never pitched an investor. I'd never pitched myself to the press. I'd never done any of that stuff.

And as much as I knew I had a good idea, I guess I was missing a little bit of that cocky attitude. This is what I'm doing, listen to me.

If I could go back, I would have quit my job sooner, gone and got more money, and just done it all instead of taking my time and testing the waters.

But you know, it was my first time, so there's a little bit of a learning curve in all this stuff.

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