Finding Founders of Anomalie Leslie and Calley Means - Helping women find a wedding dress just as unique as they are
Anomalie is the best idea to happen to brides since the wedding planner. You're engaged, YAYYAYAYYAYYYAY! So begins the elephant planning of your big celebration. And one of the staples of bridal lists is THE DRESS. Say you've tried on multiple dresses. You like the bust on one, the backlessness on another and perhaps the train of another. As I've learned, wedding dress shopping with a friend of mine, THIS becomes a major problem. I found most brides like 80 percent of their dress with "wishes" that a few details are a tad different. Sound familiar? ENTER Anomalie. They essentially cut out the middle people and started helping brides design their own dresses for a FRACTION of the price creating a unique cat-walk down the aisle. And to enhance the romance the company is founded (only a year ago I might add) by husband and wife, Leslie and Calley. SWOOOON.
You guys noticed an antiquated way of purchasing a dress and decided to change this. Tell me in your own words about Anomalie.
Anomalie came directly out of my personal pain points with wedding dress shopping. During my engagement in 2016, I couldn't find a dress that fit my size, style or budget. I was surprised that in an age where I buy almost everything online, 95% of wedding dresses were still sold in brick and mortar boutiques with insane markups, limited selection, and almost no transparency into the process.
Serendipitously, I stumbled upon a city that makes the majority of the world's wedding dresses and saw firsthand that dresses which sell for thousands in the U.S. boutiques costs mere hundreds to make. I made my dress in one of these workshops and was soon contacted by many other brides who wanted a more transparent, customizable wedding dress experience.
Over the past year, Anomalie has built an incredible team and been so lucky to work with women around the country to create custom dresses for such an important day.
How many dresses have you produced so far?
We just entered our second year of operation and are on track to deliver thousands of dresses this year.
What has been your biggest challenge?
A. To start this particular sort of e-commerce business (think no store and not all customers get to meet you)
Our biggest challenge is straightforward but also incredibly complicated: To build technology and processes to deliver an incredible experience and custom dress to every bride.
In regard to the question about difficulties of not having a store, there is an assumption in the industry that the wedding dress needs to be purchased in-store (which is why 95% of them still are). Our insight is that an online-first experience for a top-quality custom dress isn't only possible, it actually has some benefits over brick-and-mortar. Through our model, we're able to tap into a supply chain with nearly endless possibilities and give brides transparency into every step of the process.
B. Working together as husband and wife?
I think the challenges we face are what every founding team faces: we have found communication, role definition, and modulating emotions through the inevitable roller coaster are table stakes for success and things we work on every day :)
This was not the lowest stress way to start a marriage - there is never a time where we turn "off." But after taking the plunge, we couldn't imagine doing anything else. Launching a company stretches and tests you in amazing ways, and it is special experiencing this together.
Some of the most successful startups not have husband/wife team (ThirdLove, Houzz), and I think we'll see an increasing amount. I really identify with Paul Graham's insight that the best way to increase chances of success for a startup is to eliminate any backups plans, and that's doubly true for a married couple! We feel a significant obligation to deliver for the incredible customers who put trust in us!
Obviously you cracked the code because you just celebrated your one year and it seems like business is cascading in. You must be doing something right! How many people are working for you now?
We have a team of over 20 incredible women (plus Calley) between San Francisco and Hong Kong.
What where the both of you doing prior to designing custom dresses for ladies in love?
Calley and I never expected to launch a company together, but we've found that both from a personality + skills standpoint, we have complementary skills.
I've spent my entire career in product development and supply chain management. I received a mechanical engineering degree and Duke and went to work for Nike (my lifelong dream). At Nike, I managed factories throughout Vietnam, Korea, China and Indonesia (where I lived for two years). In 2013, I attended Harvard Business School (where I met Calley). While there, I was one of the first employees at M. Gemi (direct to consumer luxury shoe company) where I helped set up their supply chain in Italy. I then went to work for Apple, where I discovered the idea for Anomalie while in China overseeing production of the Apple Watch.
Calley brings more marketing and business operations experience. He started his career in politics (traveling with John McCain on the 2008 campaign), and spent his early career advising companies and startups on high-stakes public affairs/communications issues. He's launched several companies and managed operations teams at several startups including Zenefits.
And looking ahead what is one of your main business focuses this year? Any company launches or surprises you can give us a hint of or elude to?
A blessing and a curse of being a startup founder is there are a ton of ideas of where we should take the business. A big area people talk about is other product categories. We have made the decision to laser focus on wedding dresses for the near future - this is the most important/emotional garment a woman buys, and also the most broken industry.
Our goal over the next year is to give an incredible experience and dress to as many women as possible, while continuing to fortify our technology and processes for scale so we can make the industry more pro-bride.
Last but not least - I am a photographer shooting for companies like you. What kind of impact do good images have on your business?
Great images are existential for an e-commerce business in our business. We don't have a store, so connecting with customers visually through our website and Instagram is crucial. We are so lucky to have professional wedding pictures come from our events, and think our brides are by far our best models.
We have also been so lucky to partner with talented photographers like you and Reny Preussker (also an Anomalie bride!) to capture images of our team and office.
Do you instagram? Facebook? Twitter? Blog?
Follow us on Instagram and Facebook! We are constantly posting new pictures of Anomalie brides and updates from our office + workshops.
How many hours a week are you "working"?
With the exceptions of a weekend wedding or Vegas trip, we're working nonstop and loving it.
Biggest meal of the day?
Inspired by Warren Buffet, Calley and I stop at McDonald's for breakfast on our walk to work almost every day.
How do you get to work every day?
For the first 9 months of the company, getting to work involved walking downstairs because the business was run out of our loft in Lower Pac Heights. We recently moved into an office on Hayes and Octavia (6 block commute) - come say hi!
Where do you go to for creative or business inspiration?
Our customers - we are so lucky to speak to hundreds of incredible women every month and are amazed by their creativity. We also have a business where we can constantly innovate/improve our processes based on customer feedback. I also love home decorating / organization and always find great ideas on Pinterest.
Most used app this week?
Seamless/Caviar - I used to love cooking but don't have time now!
Last item you purchased?
Another batch of The Ordinary skincare (I'm obsessed with their scientific approach and it's SO cheap. My favs are the Retinoid 2% Emulsion and Niacinamide/Zinc serum.)
Thank you BOTH for taking time to let me cruise through your studio and chat the revolution of wedding dresses. Excited to watch the next turn in your already BOOOOMING company!
If you're a parent, man or woman, Winnie going to be your favorite website. Anne (left) and Sara are changing the way you find kid friendly restaurants, changing tables and other parents full of help, advice and camaraderie.
I know you and I chatted briefly about this but why quit your amazing jobs and go out on a limb? What need did you see?
Anne - Getting parenting info online right now is like shopping online before Amazon. You're looking on a million different sites, you're not sure who to trust, none of it is personalized and the experience just sucks. It was actually a big culture shock for us as we became moms and realized first hand just how bad the status quo is — it shouldn't be that way in 2018. Compounding that is the fact that becoming a parent can be isolating — unless you already have a bunch of parents in your social circle, you're going to lose touch with some friends and probably have to dial back on hobbies as well. The network you had before becoming a parent may not be able to support you in your new role, and we wanted to build a platform where people can make new connections.
Tell me in your own words how Winne is solving those problems.
Anne - We're making the big aggregation play. We're trying to bring literally all parents, in all walks of life, with all ages of kids, onto one platform where they can share knowledge and help each other. This allows us to do SO many interesting things that wouldn't have been possible before. We can build the best resource in the world for parents, that reflects the infinite diversity of their problems and needs. We can literally map the world for parents, down to something as granular as where the nearest changing table is. We can also make it easier for other companies and businesses to build solutions for parents and kids, by making it easier and more efficient for them to get in front of the right audience.
Where did you two come from that powered this dream team of an ALL FEMALE ENGINEER COMPANY (celebrate!!!)?
Sara - We’re not all female. We're a women-led team and our Head of Engineering is also a woman. This was not by design but just how it worked out!
Anne - 4 out of 6 of us are female :) We have two male employees. But we are majority female, thanks to having two technical woman founders and access to some of the best talent from Reddit, Google YouTube, etc.
How does being parents add to your work and personal life?
I asked that because so many people ask the question how does being a parent "affect" your life. And to me this is a slightly negative connotation. As if children might hinder a career or our \social city lives. But I've seen a rise of women and men who make children work and personal life look like it truly all fits together. And I see your company vision as fitting into this. You're encouraging people to get OUT, meet people and engage is that right?
Anne - Right, we never wanted to build something like an addictive social app that just sucks up all your free time. Winnie isn't meant to be something you look at because you're bored and it becomes this lamprey on your attention. Parents don't need more of that. We want to empower people to get out their front door and have magical experiences with their children. We want Winnie to be that trusted network you can turn to when you're struggling and need advice. We think one of the reasons it seems so hard to have kids AND a life is that there are no good tools to help parents be more efficient. It's astonishing really — it's been decades since the majority of American households had a stay-at-home parent, yet the world is still designed for that. This is an area truly ripe for disruption.
Sara - Being parents is what made us realize that this was a huge need, and it also is what motivates us. We owe our success to our kids honestly (but don't tell them that). I also feel like being a mom is my superpower at work. It helps me prioritize what I do so that I'm always working on the most important stuff.
As far as having a life, we wanted with Winnie to give parents a tool so they could spend less time figuring stuff out and instead spend more quality time with their families. It's working! 90% of our active users reported that they actually visited a business or activity they were searching for on Winnie. We are enabling people to get out and do more in real life.
And what is happening at Winnie now? What are you working on?
Anne - A few months ago we launched a really magical daycare and preschool search, currently available in the Bay Area only (winnie.com/childcare). It was INCREDIBLY successful and it was immediately clear that we really hit on a major pain point for people, so we're now working on rolling it out in ALL 50 states... stay tuned for that later this month!
I'd be interested to know what kind of fears you had when you started compared to what kind of fears you have now? If any :)
Anne - At first I just needed to convince myself I could do it. I don't need convincing anymore. I've found things inside me I never knew were there and I truly believe we're the best people to solve this problem, and it's more important than ever for us to do it.
Sara - I am not afraid of anything. I have absolutely nothing to lose. Winnie didn't exist and I wanted it to exist so the worst that could happen is that it still wouldn't exist.
Any piece of advice you'd give our entrepreneurs out there of any genre teetering on starting a dream of their own?
Anne - Being a founder is an uncomfortable life. You know exactly what's going wrong in terrifying detail, and no one will pat you on the back or tell you what to do. It's stressful and can be very scary. But that discomfort is a symptom of real responsibility, and it's a responsibility that I'm incredibly grateful to have. Just like being a mother. No one is ever really ready for it, but you rise to the occasion somehow. You wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.
Sara - Starting a company is hard. Work on something you're passionate about because it will get you through the hard times. At the end of the day, Anne and I care deeply about is making parents' lives easier and remembering that mission helps us overcome all obstacles.
What time do you wake up in the morning?
Anne - 6 AM.
Sara - I usually wake up around 7:30am. That's "late" for a parent :-)
How much time do you spend working together?
Anne - About 8 hours per day in person, but we have a near-constant low-level background chatter in Slack. We're both moms so we aren't shy about messaging each other at all hours of the night.
Sara - I'm in the office for about 8-9 hours a day. It's really important to me that Winnie is a company where people don't need to be in the office at all hours of the day. I want my employees to have fulfilling lives outside of the office so they come into work refreshed, healthy and happy.
When you have an hour of personal time what are you doing?
Anne - Playing video games. I'm a supernerd and lifelong gamer. Lately I've been playing Elder Scrolls: Skyrim.
Sara - Spending time with my daughter exploring some place new. Maybe that doesn't count as "personal" time but she's my favorite person in the world and my best friend and I'd rather spend an extra hour with her than do anything else.
Any books or podcasts you can recommend our readers?
Anne - I really enjoy Exponent, Ben Thompson's podcast. Required listening for anyone working in tech.
Sara - Sarah Lacy's new book "A Uterus is a Feature, Not a Bug" is an awesome read. It's all about how women are actually more productive after they become moms. It really helps clear up a bunch of the misconceptions about motherhood.
Thank you ladies for allowing me into your lives and company!! One day I'll be a parent and thanks to Winnie I'll basically be set.
Summer Wilson - Creative Director and Photographer of Battle Cry
Photo by John Thatcher