A pioneer in the customer experience, Susan Nethero is using her years of business — and life — lessons to fuel the next generation of women entrepreneurs.
How I'm Skirting the Rules
As the founder and former CEO of Intimacy (a chain of luxury lingerie stores), Susan Nethero earned the title of “bra whisperer” thanks to her dedication to the retail experience and frequent appearances on The Oprah Show. However, today her role is more mentor than guru. The Atlanta-based Nethero is taking the lessons she learned in the corporate world to a new set of entrepreneurs via Golden Seeds, an angel investor network focused on women-owned and –centered businesses. We caught up with Susan at an Art of Being salon in Manhattan. Here she shares her take on trusting your gut, asking for what you need and never doubting your ability to do it better.
I’m Skirting the Rules by investing in women-owned businesses. I joined the Golden Seeds New York office in 2012 as a remote investor. I saw it as a unique opportunity to engage with high-potential women entrepreneurs who had a passion for creating a significant scalable enterprise. Since I myself had challenges getting capital (especially in the retail sector) to grow my business, I felt it was high time for me to give back with my marketing and strategic expertise while showing the greatest confidence of all in these women: Investing our money in them! Now, as a managing director with other women and men investors at Golden Seeds, we help evaluate women-led businesses and offer support and financial resources to enable them to scale those businesses. As a motivational force, I can help steer them clear of obstacles and problems and provide solutions as they accelerate their growth.
A time when I found the possible within the impossible was when I had a partner in Intimacy at the very beginning who stepped out to do other things because he had no interest in running the business. I never extricated him from the company and, about five years later, he came after me for 50 percent of all that I had created. My lawyers told me, “Well, you should have extricated yourself from the situation. We can’t change that.” I had an impossible scenario. After months of working with lawyers and lawyer bills, the shenanigans went on. I thought, “If I were to tell my father about this, he would say, ‘Well, can you start this all over and do it again?’” I realized that I could probably do it better and faster and more efficiently. And that’s what I did. Later, I came to realize that a lot of the things that this partner taught me early on about running a retail business—as I had never been a retailer—actually saved us far more money than I ever gave him.
An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me is when we started talking about bra fitters at Intimacy. Retailers would say “Bra fitters?” like that was an ancient concept. But I had a sense in my gut that it was more transformative than any tape measure would ever make it. The fact that we were able to tell that story was because I really worked hard. I remember sitting in bed on a Sunday morning drawing pictures of how I was going to describe the fit experience, how that would change the way women looked and felt. I had a real internal sense. I could see it when we would fit people that it was quite transformative and it had far greater implications than anybody realized. I saw it so much and so often that when it came down to doing a bra fit story with Oprah magazine, which was the first big national exposure we had, I was able to convince them that it wasn’t a bra story, it was a self-esteem story.
My secret talent is creating a win-win-win situation. I just did an interview with someone who said, “Some people create win-win situations. You’re about creating win-win-win.” She calls it the trifecta. It wasn’t just about creating good for the consumer, from which we benefited. It was uplifting the industry and it was an opportunity to transform, in a larger sense, women’s confidence. I’m very energetic and passionate, a lot of qualities that are important for entrepreneurs.
A woman is most powerful when she is passionate, inspiring, decisive, visionary and courageous. It’s almost in that order. I think sometimes we dip into something and don’t even recognize the enormity of it. There’s an inner knowing about the potential.
What I wish I had told myself when I was starting out is that the challenges you will experience are what will help you differentiate yourself from everyone else. At Intimacy, there were a lot of moments when we were committed and overcommitted. We weren’t sure we would work our way through. I wish I had been able to tell myself at that moment in time that every step was an important step in learning the things that would make us extraordinary. Now, I’m able to tell this to entrepreneurs: That challenge is going to make you different. That challenge is going to cause you to really think outside the box. That’s what’s going to give you a unique advantage to disrupt an industry or remake a customer experience.
My favorite skirt is always being okay with asking people for help and surrounding myself with great people. Some people I worked with were surprised sometimes that I spoke up as much as I did, and some would even say, “God, I can’t believe you asked for that.” However, I never asked for anything that I wasn’t prepared to give back. In other words, I always asked for things that I felt I needed and was always prepared to give back in the relationship as much, if not more, than what I ever asked for. Though people saw that in time, some in the short-term may not have. I think people might have thought I was super demanding, or really bold, but I had full commitment behind the relationship, or I wouldn’t have made the ask in the first place.