March marks Women’s History Month so we are taking the time to learn more about our female customers, partners, and employees to celebrate their success. Last week we sat down with Jill Sherman, Co-founder and CEO of Modalyst, the dropshipping automation platform partnering with Alibaba.com to bring their ecommerce solutions to our B2B marketplace. Jill shared her journey from the halls of Vogue magazine to establishing Modalyst, a company that is changing the way online retailers source and sell products, helping them grow their business.
Jill, you’ve had such an interesting career journey — from Vogue, to being a buyer for luxury brands, and finally founding Modalyst. What drove you to go from the fashion world to software?
I had always been interested in fashion as a kid. I scoured the indie and goodwill shops to create my own style. I found myself at Vogue as my first job out of college. I then worked for Prada and Harvey Nichols. I was really proud to work for these companies. However, as the world was digitizing, they were slow to adopt new ways — both internally with their employees and externally with their customers. People wanted to work and consume differently.
Tech was so full of optimism and opportunity, so I decided to explore the tech industry.
I set out to build a business from the halls of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I got my MBA. I met my eventual business partner there and convinced him to drop out of business school and start Modalyst with me. Together we decided on what kind of company and culture we wanted: results-oriented and inspirational. I took a long look at the industries I had worked in and found the gaps where we could fill with the right technology.
In your 2014 TED talk, you talked about a “maker’s movement” — can you talk a bit more about what this is and why it inspires you?
A pivotal change happened ten years ago — small batch manufacturing became more affordable and closer to home. As the total cost of producing fewer items decreased, more designers emerged. Suddenly, designers could produce all kinds of interesting products — more variety and creativity was readily available. Consumers also changed their shopping behavior. End-customers began valuing more of a unique experience, and started to feel connected to the products they bought versus what they were getting from big box retailers.
How did this idea inspire you to found Modalyst?
At Modalyst, we aim to connect these manufacturers (suppliers) with retailers who want to sell their products. Our supply ranges from cool, niche brands to larger, more established players.
What motivates me most about our company is that we are creating an opportunity for people to establish a thriving business for themselves. We connect suppliers — big and small — with retailers through our platform. As a global platform, we have created a new sales channel for suppliers to connect with the fragmented market of ecommerce retailers. Retailers are able to find a huge variety of products from unique products to everyday necessities.
Modalyst recently partnered with Alibaba.com — why do you think this is exciting for all the budding entrepreneurs and makers out there?
Alibaba.com is one of the largest wholesale networks in the world and we see tremendous value in bringing dropshipping to this B2B marketplace. We love how someone can now create a dropshipping store from scratch, build their business, and learn to scale up quickly — all with the help of Alibaba.com and their new offering of dropshipping products. I believe Modalyst and Alibaba.com together can help budding entrepreneurs and make them successful. We have a free plan on Modalyst, so there is no cost to get started. The barriers to starting a business are dramatically reduced — giving anyone the opportunity to create a successful business.
2020 really transformed the retail business. What do you think 2021 has in store?
My prediction is that we have only seen ecommerce begin to hit its stride. The trend will continue to be strong. Retail stores will become show rooms. Warehouses will send the stock, leading to a hybrid brick-and-mortar and dropshipping model. Again, ecommerce is growing and will continue to grow because there are so many ways it is more efficient.
What are you most proud of over the past year?
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded and people started losing their primary work, I am so proud that our solution provided and opportunity for these folks to create a new revenue stream for themselves. I hope that this challenging time created new opportunities for our customers.
Finally, what advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs out there looking to forge their own independent paths?
First, I would tell my fellow female founders that entrepreneurship is hard — there are high highs and low lows. But if you don’t have a low, you can’t enjoy the high. Perseverance is key. Related to that I would advise everyone to recognize the value from challenges.
Second, find the right partners, those you trust and respect and who believe in you. I am lucky to have two, my work husband and real husband. There is too much to do for one to do it alone.
Finally, ask for things! If you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it. Believe that you deserve it.
This week's #B2BTuesday Tip:
If you are looking for the right product mix for your ecommerce store, dropshipping is a great way to test new items.