Women in Business Q&A: Casey Sullivan and Nikki Lawrence, Founders, Gleem & Co

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Yuxi Liu

Casey Sullivan & Nikki Lawrence are the founders of Gleem & Co.

Nikki Lawrence was on the founding team at Quidsi, which culminated in its acquisition by Amazon. She oversaw approximately 50% of the P&L post-acquisition, and then went on to lead new business launches at Gilt Groupe. She is a graduate of Brown University and Harvard Business School.

Casey Sullivan started her career in finance with BNP Paribas (Fortis Investments) in US, Asian, and European markets before joining LVMH's DFS Group in Hong Kong, where she led market development and corporate strategy for the luxury consumer. ​

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Casey: My life has been all about seeing and taking opportunities, and just soaking up every bit of knowledge I can. I think being a good leader incorporates that hunger and open mindedness to motivate others.

Nikki: Persistence and making my own opportunities have definitely been themes in my life. The continued determination I apply in my work has allowed me to lead by example.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Gleem?
Casey: Going from a large financial institution to a world renowned luxury conglomerate to going it on my own has been both extremely rewarding and challenging. I was set up for success with the skills and insights I took form my previous positions. I learned from the best and now I am putting that to work from the ground up. DFS is an incredible organization as well from an HR perspective. From them, I have learned how keeping employees happy makes such a huge difference in a companies culture and therefore success.

Nikki: I actually had the idea for Gleem while I was at Gilt. From the numbers, it was clear that the jewelry vertical had enormous potential, but with very little operational overlap with other product categories, jewelry didn't get the attention it deserved. Gilt did so many things well - giving life to past seasons finds with incredible styling stood out for me. Ultimately I focused on the vertical these bigger companies weren't able to bring to full potential, jewelry, and avoided the risk of buying product outright.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Gleem?
Casey: For me it's all really even. I just focus so much on long term goals, I have a hard time getting really high or really low on any given day. Though the day we broke our own single sales record by selling a $40,000 ring was big. It felt like we proved something about thresholds and trust that day.

Nikki: Not to say there haven't been business challenges, but I have stayed confident in the actual opportunity that Gleem captures. My biggest challenges have been around building the right team. Thankfully, we have made great progress over the past year. Securing our partnership with eBay has definitely been a highlight.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Casey: In a startup? I would talk to a few founders to get an inside scoop on the day to day of running a business. In fashion - I hear so many people saying they can't be in fashion because they're trained in law, finance or whatever industry. I always tell these people that fashion is like any business - we need talent from other industries to operate! So just get out there and start the conversation.

Nikki: For a leadership role, it does help build credibility if you have an MBA and/or to have worked in finance or consulting. That and to continue seeking advice from mentors. Rosie Social has been a wonderful group of female founders I genuinely appreciate as a support network.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Casey: I would say that attitude is everything and gratitude gets everyone a long way.

Nikki: You can't follow all advice! Advice is only as relevant as the perspective of the person producing it. Ask one person advice if you want an idea, but for bigger picture conversations, I find crowd sourcing most useful.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Casey: I focus on being healthy and making sure I remember that I love what I do. Fashion has been my life for a long time. I really love this industry and I love being creative in thinking about how to unlock future potential. I'm also really lucky with the support system I have in my life.

Nikki: I try to eat dinner with my husband, even if it's 11pm, and take at least one day off over the weekend. It can be difficult, but ultimately, it's important to have 'me' time. People think success comes from burning out on 90 hour weeks, but I'm more focused on the marathon than the sprint.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Casey: Personally, I struggle with the inability to be all things to all people, all the time. In general, the biggest issue, which as a society we have just begun to address, seems to be transparency around equality.

Nikki: I think sometimes you have to be more 'graceful' rather than have direct conversations.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Casey: I am so grateful for my mentors. We've been lucky to be a part of XRC Labs accelerator to widen that network to include some incredibly successful people as well. CEOs of luxury brands, presidents of fashion companies, top VCs, creative directors, über successful entrepreneurs, to name a few. For me, our mentors humanize success, and I think the best element they offer is perspective.

Nikki: Maintaining strong relationships with mentors, even transcontinental relationships, is so important. It's something I realize more and more in my career. Both giving back and keeping close contact are crucial for growth.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Casey: My mom. She's had a kickass career and family life. And I just love Diane Von Furstenberg's ethos. I feel as though I have also always known the woman I want to be and that's been my North Star rather than some path I thought I absolutely had to take. I'm totally a third wave feminist and love how authentic Leandra Medine is in that sense too.

Nikki: I admire Chantal Waterbury for gaining a well rounded experience before just launching a startup. She's leveraged her relationships well and she is an incredibly authentic speaker. She's very smart and very real. And for all her opinions, Joan Rivers was incredibly open minded. I admire her boundless energy and how she always kept in touch with what was new and on the cusp. She never got too comfortable in her preconceived notions of things. She was grateful and never took herself (or anyone) too seriously.

What do you want Gleem to accomplish in the next year?
Casey: Next stop, seed round. From there, I'm dying for our website 2.0 and really knocking it out of the park with our content.

Nikki: We have so much passion around the pieces we're collecting. I'm excited to bring those treasures to life through our storytelling.