She is a business builder, advisor to start-ups, and an investor in female-funded businesses. Prior to FFC, Ali was one of the first employees at Refinery29, assembling a world-class team that, under her leadership, grew the company's revenue from a few hundred thousand to well into the tens of millions of dollars in just four years, securing a spot for Refinery29 on the Inc 500 for three consecutive years. She left Refinery29 to become the first CRO at Goop, where she architected and launched the business in the US. Staying true to her entrepreneurial spirit, she turned to starting a company from scratch, joining forces with Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso, to launch Girlboss. Ali has a passion for investing in women. Her past and current investments include The Wing, Tia Women's Health Clinic, The Wonder, Good Mylk, Forward Space, Summersalt, Hatch Collection, Refinery29, Girlboss, Goop, Golde, iFundWomen, and Heymama Co. Her relationship with these companies has allowed her to observe their growth trajectories and their various methods of monetization. Here, she shares what she’s learned about running a profitable company.
What's the first question any leader should ask themselves about monetization?
The first question I always like to ask founders and business leaders is what do you really want? Where do you want to be in 10 years? Is this your joy, is it your passion? If you're going to be a small business, will it sustain the sort of lifestyle you would like to live? Is your goal to sell or to be around for the long haul?
Do you want to be a unicorn ie a super high growth business that has over a billion-dollar valuation. Or a zebra - a new term for a profitable medium growth company businesses. Typically, zebras are doing good and solving problems for society. It's where you build a business that may not get VC backing but could become a $100 million business that you ultimately sell and still own 90-95%. Which is an amazing thing. There's a lot of talk in the venture world about being a zebra instead of being a unicorn.
What is the value of financial acumen in the journey to profitability?
I am not a CFO. That's important to state because I want CEOs and founders to know that you can drive your company's financials and forecast accurately in your business without a financial background. I want them to feel incredibly empowered and in control of their financials. Through a clear and consistent strategy, anyone can navigate their business by developing processes and systems that steer them towards their goals.
I want CEOs and founders to know that you can drive your company's financials and forecast accurately in your business without a financial background.
How can businesses best determine market size?
There's something called a TAM analysis, which I find incredibly helpful no matter what stage of business you're in. TAM stands for total addressable market, and it is essentially a bottoms-up analysis. For example, in Uber's case, when they were new in business, their TAM analysis could have been conducted in the following way: 1. Look at how many people take taxis in a given market on any given day 2. Determine the average price and length of a ride. 3. Consider how many commuters could be converted from drivers to Uber riders. 4. Identify the appeal of Uber over other methods of travel. 5. Use the data to determine what percentage of the market can be converted. Calculating the company's total market opportunity is a north star for business.
In the early stages, what's the best way to collect data on your target audience to help refine projections?
If you have a young company that's the really hard thing. There's a lot of false precision that comes along with that but I wouldn't worry about it. Nobody can predict the future. My best recommendation is to look at your industry to help guide you. For mid-stage companies, consider both your history as well as what the rest of the industry is doing. Take that time to do research and ask others. I find that a lot of business owners are willing to share because everybody wants to have a gauge of how they're doing versus the market.
If you don't already have a consumer base I would go to the places where that audience already exists. You can probably survey those communities using your platform or your product. Obviously, you can't conduct a survey on somebody else's platform, but I'm sure you can find many like-minded groups that you can informally ask. Also, ask friends and people in your network to introduce you to people that fit that profile. And it could be a very small sample, say, 20 people.
How do hiring decisions impact the bottom line?
You want every single person involved with your company to be thinking hire slowly, fire fast. This is a common recommendation but it's so incredibly important. I am slow as molasses about hiring but I don't miss. And when I have missed, I've addressed it very quickly because it can be such a toxin within your company. Typically, it takes 18 to 24 months to clear that hire out, hire someone new and train them. That equates to time and resources, which can negatively impact your bottom line if the process has to be done multiple times.
What measurement tools are best for monitoring goals and overall performance?
I love KPIs. KPIs are your religion and they're also your filter. They are telltale signs of whether or not you're focused. What I mean by that is, if you're assessing KPIs and can't decide which ones are the most important then you have too many areas of focus. To narrow down your focus, I would think about the unique metrics you have within your business model. Think about industry-standard business metrics, and realize that everything is interrelated. Pick three, do not do any more than that or you're going to drive yourself crazy won't be able to isolate specific issues within the business.
The other thing that's amazing about KPIs is that they can serve as the guidepost for decision-making. Individual departments might say, "Okay, I'm trying to make a decision about whether to do X or Y." If you have very clear KPIs they can decipher what will be better for the organization, eliminating the need to get the executive team involved.
The final reason tracking KPIs is remarkable is that I've found in every single company I've been in, we've not only hit the goals that we've set - we've surpassed them. If you're tracking weekly, you never, ever get to the point where you're so off track you can't course correct. It is an exhilarating tool for leaders to stay in control.