How an Accidental Entrepreneur Created a $30 Million Online Business

Jane Lu, founder of Australian online fashion boutique Showpo, used internet smarts to grow a far-reaching, profitable brand. Now she’s paying her success forward through an irreverent, global network for women business owners: Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine.

Candice Helfand-Rogers By Candice Helfand-Rogers

Jane Lu of Showpo. (Credit: Showpo)

Jane Lu of Showpo. (Credit: Showpo)

Jane Lu’s path to success was a winding road that took her halfway across the world — and through a significant rough patch — before taking her to the top.

In 2009, Lu was working in the Sydney office of an international consulting firm, and was content being a busy and social professional. But that changed after she took an impulsive, multi-month trip to see more of the world — and returned with little remaining appetite for life in a cubicle.

Set on trying entrepreneurship, she started a business, which tanked within a matter of weeks. “I had nothing to fall back on — no job, no luck finding a new job in the midst of a global financial crisis, and too much pride to tell my parents that I had dropped everything I worked so hard for only to fail,” she recalls.

She felt that her only option was to simply start — and start up — again. From that low point in 2010, she launched Showpo, a women’s online fashion boutique — and went on to build it into an international sensation with customers in more than 50 countries. Lu, who is now 31, and her team of over 40 employees today pull in $30 million Australian dollars a year in revenue.

Building a Brand from the Garage Up

Even before graduating from the University of New South Wales with a business degree in 2009, Lu had been working as an analyst at Ernst & Young for 2 years, and was enjoying the lifestyle that came with it. “I had a whole new group of awesome friends at work. I was making a full-time salary. It was exciting to wear a suit everyday, and I was an avid attendee of Friday night drinks with work colleagues,” she recalls.

Then, fate stepped in. “I’d love to say it was something more profound than what it was, but I fell head-over-heels in love with this European boy” she had met in school. He often spoke of traveling and starting a business, she says, and “as these ideas manifested over the next few years, I started to question the status quo and the life that I had already planned out.”

She finally decided to spread her wings, breaking up with her then-boyfriend and taking part in a 9-month finance program at Lund University in Sweden, where she “had the best time of my life.” When Lu returned to Australia, she no longer felt the same passion for her job or the old lifestyle.

Around that time, a friend approached her about starting a store for emerging designers. She jumped at the opportunity and quit her job. But that venture — Fatboye Group, which they launched in 2009 — went under soon after it opened, leaving Lu professionally lost, personally frustrated and financially struggling with roughly $60,000 Australian dollars of debt.

With few job prospects, she felt her only option was to try entrepreneurship again. But given her track record, she was hesitant to pursue loans. “The only way I was going to make this work is by hustling,” she says.

So, she launched Showpo in September of 2010 from her parents’ garage and taught herself HTML coding so she could build her own website. For her inventory of clothing, she worked with a local consignment dealer who didn’t require payment until after sales were completed.

Leveraging Social Media

From those shaky beginnings, an online empire grew — thanks in large part to Lu’s internet savvy. Since her early working days, “I was a bit of a Facebook addict,” she confesses, hiding time spent on the site during the work day.

But those seemingly lost hours, in fact, put her on the forefront of social media marketing at a time when companies put little stock in it. “It’s so funny that the time I had ‘wasted’ on Facebook allowed me to understand the platform inside out,” she says. “Social media helped me build our brand very quickly and at a very low cost.”

Showpo’s online presence and Lu’s strategic use of Facebook  enabled her to grow her customer base beyond Australia’s borders.

Creative tactics accelerated the process. Lu hosted a contest among the company’s Facebook followers for a chance to model for its site. “Girls would enter the competition, ask their friends to vote for them — some of them even created events and groups. Then some of their friends, in turn, would enter and do the same,” she says. “There was a massive ripple effect. We went from 3,000 followers to 20,000 within the space of a month, and it cost nothing.”

Jane Lu with some of Showpo's staff. (Credit: Showpo)

Jane Lu with some of Showpo’s staff. (Credit: Showpo)

Showpo’s social media clout has grown much more since then. Today, its Facebook page has more than one million followers, as does its Instagram account.

Encouraging ‘Like-Minded Bitches’

As Showpo has grown, Lu has received a great deal of recognition for her work. Among other accolades, she was named Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia in 2016, Cosmopolitan’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2015, and was even lauded by her former employer as a finalist for EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014.

Once Lu hit her entrepreneurial stride, she began to pay her success forward by taking on speaking engagements, partnering with local nonprofits and getting more involved in Australia’s startup scene.

That drive, mixed with a bottle of wine — or a few, as she remembers it — led her and a fellow female entrepreneur to dream up “a fun and safe place for women to come together, ask advice, pitch ideas and meet up to share wine.” In 2015, the duo created Like-Minded Bitches Drinking Wine, a network that now has more than 47,000 members in chapters around the world.

Looking ahead, Lu intends to keep expanding Showpo’s online reach, in part by expanding its online content with video blogging. She is making moves in the physical world, too, with plans to relocate Showpo’s operations to a new, bigger office space and grow her team.

Her long-term goals involve expanding Showpo’s product offerings and taking it to $100 million in revenue by 2020, without external funding. And, of course, she intends “to have a lot of fun on our way there.”

Posted: September 8, 2017

Candice Helfand-RogersHow an Accidental Entrepreneur Created a $30 Million Online Business